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MikeCheck: Grizzlies Draft Files – Wendell Carter Jr.

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies are closing in on the June 21 NBA Draft with their options as wide open and diverse as the talent among projected top players on the board.

As pre-draft workouts continue and potential trade scenarios are discussed regarding what the Grizzlies will do with the No. 4 overall pick, we’ll examine the case of eight potential franchise-altering players in the draft who are – or should be – under strong consideration for that selection.

Wendell Carter Jr.

Player: Wendell Carter Jr.

Height/Weight: 6-10, 251

Team: Duke

2017-18 Stats: 13.5 ppg., 9.1 rpg., 2.1 bpg., 56.1 FG% overall, 41.3 3pt. FG%

Projected Draft Range: Picks 5-10

Opening Statement

“I’ve heard as late as No. 17 and I’ve heard as early as No. 3 or No. 4. As I meet with teams, I’m starting to see and feel how they feel about me and if I’ll be a good fit for them … I’m just going to try to come in and outwork anybody ahead of me. That’s the beauty of the beast. There are players that are going to be there in front of you who have been in the league three, four or five years and know exactly what it takes. I will learn those things (too), and may the best man win.” – Wendell Carter Jr. on where he may land in the draft and how he’ll approach roster competition at the NBA level.

The Case For Carter

Playing alongside a fellow freshman and highly decorated All-American in Marvin Bagley III – at essentially the same position – at Duke last season could have been an intimidating process for Carter. It turned out to be the exact opposite. Carter only enhanced his all-around game and impressed NBA scouts more thoroughly because of his team-first attitude and approach.

I knew I could affect the game without many opportunities to score or get the ball. So I did those things and I did those things exceptionally. I found a way to stand out without always putting the ball in the basket. It allowed me to show that I can play with great players and still hold my own.
-- Wendell Carter Jr.

Perhaps that explains why Carter has the widest variance of any draft prospect in terms of potential landing spots. If Jaren Jackson Jr. is the most versatile, raw talent among lottery bigs, then Carter should be viewed as the most refined, do-everything prospect on the board at power forward/center after Deandre Ayton is taken by Phoenix. There’s nothing Carter can’t do, from scoring inside and out to rebounding out of area to rim protection to team positional defense. He falls short of being an ‘A+’ draft prospect, but he’s certainly a strong ‘B’ who should carve out a long, productive NBA career.

Carter has been on a workout tear in recent days, and is likely to continue auditioning for teams throughout the lottery until within 48 hours of draft night. Carter was the highest-rated lottery prospect the Grizzlies confirmed they’ve worked out in Memphis. But that acknowledgement didn't come until after he departed last Tuesday following a private session for front-office staff and coaches.

“This is another great, tangible, IQ, character guy – all that stuff – it’s as high as it gets,” Grizzlies’ general manager Chris Wallace said of Carter. “He’s got great length. He measures around 6-10, but he’s a little over 7-3 in wingspan. He can use both hands around the basket and shoot the ball. Rebounding is one of his best attributes, which is hard to gauge in a solo workout. He runs very, very hard. He’s a try-hard, skilled guy, a guy with real strength and length and intangibles. So that’s the entire package.”

Wendell Carter Jr.

Unpacking that package should be a relatively seamless process for Carter, who was only the sixth player in Duke history to finish a season shooting at least 50-percent from the field, 40-percent from three-point range and 70-percent on free-throws. The last player to do it was former Grizzlies favorite Shane Battier nearly 20 years ago. Carter fits the plug-and-play mode and, theoretically, can play both alongside Marc Gasol and behind him to anchor a second-unit front line in need of stability and consistency.

The fact that Carter was a major impact player on a deep Duke team that rarely prioritized him on offense should bode well for his transition to an NBA squad that already has veteran catalysts.

“It was a challenge at first, but I knew what I could do,” Carter said of being overshadowed at times by Bagley, Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. at Duke. “I knew I could affect the game without many opportunities to score or get the ball. So I did those things and I did those things exceptionally. I found a way to stand out without always putting the ball in the basket. It allowed me to show that I can play with great players and still hold my own.”

The Case Against Carter

The first concern that resonates with Carter or Bagley is that coach Mike Krzyzewski chucked his traditional man-to-man defensive philosophy to play zone in order to keep both bigs on the court. This was perceived as masking defensive liabilities as opposed to Duke simply wanting to get its two best and most efficient offensive players maximum minutes.

Regardless, the reality is Carter must improve his perimeter foot speed and defensive instincts to make the smooth transition to NBA concepts of switching. His 105 fouls last season were by far the most at Duke. On the other hand, so were his 76 blocked shots. Carter’s 92.8 defensive rating at Duke was nearly six points better than the number Bagley registered on that end. But Carter also committed three or more turnovers in nearly a third of his games, which is both a credit to the trust Duke had in his playmaking skill as well as a lingering concern because, perhaps, he tries to force him impact.

Carter is aware of those areas of needed improvement.

“For the most part, the college game does put a limit on a lot of players,” said Carter, who dropped nearly 10 pounds since Duke's season ended. “But the NBA, that’s more of my realm of showing what I can do. I definitely buy into (needing to get better at the NBA level), because I’m a competitor, especially at the defensive end. Being able to guard guards is something I’ve been working on, as well as my lateral quickness. On the offensive end, I didn’t get to show much at Duke, but I’m pretty versatile and can bring the ball up against pressure.”

A drawback that tempers some enthusiasm about Carter is that he’s a tweener, and the Grizzlies are already sorting through a power rotation that includes Gasol, JaMychal Green, Jarell Martin, Deyonta Davis, Ivan Rabb and Chandler Parsons, whose limited role has shifted more to power forward. Carter wouldn’t likely arrive as a player featured in the offense. Still, the fact that Memphis thought enough of Carter to bring him in for a look, while positioned with the No. 4 pick, shows the level of respect they have for the player and his NBA stock.

The Verdict

Wendell Carter Jr.

Carter should be seriously on the Grizzlies' draft radar if they're considering trading down into the middle of the lottery and also acquiring veteran help or additional assets. So bringing in Carter 10 days out from the draft represents the textbook definition of due diligence.

There’s nothing about Carter that screams superstar. But his potential, skillset and mindset place him on a similar path that Juwan Howard and Al Horford took to successful NBA careers. Coincidentally, like Carter, both Howard (Chris Webber) and Horford (Joakim Noah) were the relatively quiet grinders who carved out their respective niches alongside flashier and more dynamic bigs in college.

There’s essentially zero bust potential in Carter. So there’s little to no chance the team that drafts him will be making anything other than a smart, safe decision on a player who should contribute in the NBA for at least a decade. The Grizzlies, should they stay at No. 4 on the draft board and pass on Carter, would most likely be in pursuit of more upside and immediate offensive impact on the wing.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.