The Bulls Tuesday lost their second straight in the NBA Summer League, 101-93 to the Atlanta Hawks and 24 points with seven three pointers from Trae Young. But the Bulls are smiling because they appear to have a big winner.
It’s rookie Wendell Carter Jr. with yet another excellent effort, 23 points on nine of 13 shooting with six rebounds and another two blocks to lead all league players in total blocks. Carter made his only three-point attempt and was poised, physical and productive from the start as the Bulls built up at early 19-point lead.
They would be shot out of the game by 14 Atlanta threes led by Young, though the Bulls can feel awfully good despite an awful second half watching Carter play like a savvy veteran who even at 19 years old is showing the stuff of legends.
“His defensive instincts for a 19-year-old kid are off the charts,” marveled Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who is a spectator with assistant Randy Brown coaching. “So many kids want to get on SportsCenter throwing the ball into the third row. He keeps his blocks in play, which fuels your fast break. That’s a great skill. He’s mastered at a young age the art of verticality.”
Anyone say Bill Russell and Hakeem?
Perhaps that is a bit of an overstatement since the Hall of Fame doesn’t have Carter’s bust completed yet. But here’s a kid who is not going to be a bust and whom the team can envision in a tandem with Lauri Markkanen for years.
Summer League now moves to a single elimination playoff format the rest of the week. Though early losers also will play a consolation game to get a minimum of five games. The Bulls play Dallas Wednesday 5:30 p.m. CT on NBA-TV.
Antonio Blakeney Tuesday also had 23 points and added five assists as he looked to move the ball more against pressure. Undrafted Kaiser Gates from Xavier was the only other Bulls player in double figures with 14 points with four of six threes. Fellow first round pick Chandler Hutchison led the team with eight assists after having eight rebounds in the Game 2 loss. But he again was passive offensively and had five turnovers. Ryan Arcidiacono was again feisty and had a little elbowing with Young while fifth starter Donte Ingram was mostly quiet again.
Not so with Carter, except in his post game interviews.
Carter is personable and cooperative, though a bit guarded, occasionally offering a sly smile.
“I just use whatever I am good at,” the 6-10 Carter said when asked about averaging almost four blocks per game with yet another helping effort. “Shot blocking is something I am really good at. I try to make that a strength and force them into shots I know I can block.”
And in walking into a three late, Carter said that, too, can be an option.
“That can be a focal point (for me),” he said. “I took that shot numerous times at Duke. It's just something I'm very comfortable with. If my team asks that of me, I think I'll be a great three-point shooter. It feels pretty natural.”
The Bulls looked natural to start with a 33-18 lead after one quarter. They opened the game with a sharp play featuring Carter in the middle running offense with Hutchison sliding in. Carter added a pair of three-point plays blowing through contact and scoring, which has troubled Hutchison. Hutchison did make a pair of threes, but again in the half court was uncertain and began to look to pass instead of shoot. He’s an excellent passer on the move, but obviously was reminded by the coaching staff to be more aggressive offensively.
“A couple of points I passed up shots I have to shoot,” Hutchison acknowledged. “They trusted me to stay aggressive. For me, it’s finding a balance, being aggressive when my opportunity comes. (I have been) struggling to finish at the rim when that is a big part of my game. I have to adjust, continue to be aggressive. I’m always extremely hard on myself. I have to do better. Defensively with my length height and athleticism, I’ve got to be relied upon to be a defensive stopper and rebound the ball; those two things no matter what happens on the other end every night can be valuable. So I have to be able to do that and help the team in every area I can.”
Even though Hutchison was a four-year player, he’s obviously going to come on more slowly and more like a typical rookie.
“The three days in Chicago (minicamp) Chandler was as impressive as anyone we had,” said Hoiberg. "A lot of that was he was getting the ball off the glass, going coast to coast and finishing at a high level. He’s got to be tougher mentally and physically to fight through these tough stretches; Chandler will be fine. It’s all a learning experience. I thought he had a huge impact even if he’s not scoring because he covers so much ground.”
Which makes the play of Carter that more special.
Blakeney rebounded from his tough shooting Game 2 and made some uncanny shots when plays broke down, though Blakeney needed 21 shots for his 23 points to 13 for Carter. Blakeney had to take them as the Bulls aren’t loaded with offensive options on this Summer League team with Hutchison not often looking to score. Loyola’s Ingram seems to have struggled with the speed of the play while Arcidiacono also is a reluctant shooter.
The Hawks took advantage, taking the lead early in the second half and then pulling away for the rest of the game. Though Carter continued to be a reason for Bulls partisans not to look away. And continue shaking their heads. Can he really be that good?