20-year-old Wendell Carter Jr. has had bad injury luck but hopes to return soon after the All-Star break to help the Bulls push for the playoffs.
The NBA All-Stars and the premier young players, shooters and dunkers will be in Chicago this weekend for the media interviews, the appearances, the pomp no matter the circumstances. The Bulls Wendell Carter Jr. will stand proudly among them.
"I'll be doing everything everyone is doing," Carter was saying, "the media, the appearances, you know, everything but play."
Oh yeah, that. Which has been a big part of this 19-35 Bulls season as the close of the effective first part for the Bulls comes Tuesday in Washington in—it's not over yet—with a potential playoff tiebreaker game. Stay with me here. The Bulls remain four games out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, though in 10th, a half game behind the Wizards. The Bulls are 2-0 against Washington with two more games. Sure, there's Orlando in eighth, but there's Carter to return. And Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Kris Dunn. And hope and belief.
Wendell Carter Jr. early '19-'20 season highlights.
"That's really the toughest part," Carter said. "We're not that far out of the playoffs. We really have a chance being three, four games out; it's an opportunity to make it. I'm a competitor and I want to get out there and help my team."
The Bulls hope that will be in the next few weeks for all four of the injured regulars. Then with perhaps 20 games left….Sure, everyone has heard that before. Like Missouri native Porter knows, it's a show me thing.
The irony with this All-Star weekend which is so lacking of Bulls presence other than Zach LaVine in the three-point contest is that Carter was a player who was showing he belonged and would be there. Carter was selected for the Rising Stars game of top freshman and sophomore players this year, though replaced by Zion Williamson because of injury.
"To get the recognition also is important," Carter said. "Of course, I do want to play. But they recognized I'm one of the premier first or second year players in the league. So that feels good they see that."
They probably were about to see that last year when Carter was averaging 10.3 points and seven rebounds as a rookie starting center with some monster games, 28 points and seven rebounds at Detroit against Andre Drummond, 25 points and eight rebounds against Denver and Nikola Jokic, 22 points and six rebounds against Jusuf Nurkic. Then in January, Carter suffered a torn thumb ligament just trying to brace himself in a fall. Having improved and on the verge of averaging a double/double this season at 11.7 points and 9.9 rebounds and leading the Bulls to a top 10 defensive rating, Carter last month stepped on the foot of Dallas' Dwight Powell for a serious sprained ankle.
He's still working toward a return, which he hopes comes soon after the All-Star break. He'd hoped to compete at least in the Rising Stars game in the United Center Friday with the Bulls badly underrepresented in the weekend activities. But still just 20, the 6-9 center believes there are bigger things to come for he and his teammates.
Wendell Carter Jr. gets excited after an And-1 opportunity against the Boston Celtics.
"When I look at all my injuries what's so frustrating is they were all freak accidents, ones I couldn't prevent," Carter points out. "I never missed games. From like eight until last year I never sat out. But I feel everything happens for a reason. I am always out there playing as hard as I can and I strongly believe in faith and that we have a destination and I just do what I do."
"It does suck not being able to play in Chicago this weekend," Carter admits. "But I look at myself as a player who will be in this league for a long time. So I feel I will have opportunities to make the All-Star game and all the other festivities. I was nominated this year and even though I was hurt, I look later down the road two or three year from now when I will be one of those All-Stars."
It's hardly inconceivable with big man role players like Domantas Sabonis and Bam Adebayo selected to the Eastern All-Star team this year as reserves. Clearly that is based on team record since LaVine is a far superior player compared to either.
Wendell Carter Jr. puts up a hook shot against the Milwaukee Bucks.
So Carter says he knows the path and he is confident the Bulls can recover with the return of the injured players. Carter says he still needs some recovery time because he doesn't want to come back and not be able to help the team enough. He says he's been excited by the play lately of Luke Kornet and Cristiano Felicio, who Sunday in Philadelphia combined for 38 points and nine rebounds in 48 minutes. But Carter also knows his value to the team.
"It's tough when we're not winning because I feel my presence can change some things," Carter says. "I feel the players around the league respect me. l'm a hard worker and do what I can to help the team. I know my family, friends, teammates are asking me, ‘What's going on?' I feel I have to be in position where I won't hurt the team. I need to be able to move the way I want. So I'm getting this injury right. I felt I was getting better and the team was getting better. I'll be glad to get back out there."