Here’s What We Can Expect From Wendell Carter Jr.

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Wendell Carter Jr.’s 2020-21 season high in scoring is 23, amassed against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 8. Much of that game he was matched up against Marc Gasol, a player that gave the Orlando Magic fits, especially defensively, during his time with both the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors.

That night at STAPLES Center, the 6-foot-10, 270-pound Carter, acquired by the Magic at the trade deadline on Thursday, showed what he’s capable of when the offense runs through him.

Impressive, perhaps more than anything else, were his short rolls. Since he’s a very good screener, Carter has no issue carving out space in mid-range pick-and-pop scenarios. This season, he’s shooting 53.5% between five and nine feet from the basket, well above the league average at his position.

Three times this season, he has accumulated five assists, including in a game against the Sacramento Kings. Prior to the 2018 NBA Draft, in which he was selected seventh overall by the Chicago Bulls, passing was considered one of his greatest strengths, unique to say about a big man.

One of his specialties is facilitating from the middle of the lane, significant considering usually the best 3-point looks in the NBA come off kickout deliveries. Especially under Steve Clifford, who preaches the importance of paint touches, Carter should increase his assists with the Magic and be an unselfish target in the paint where he can find open teammates along the perimeter.

One thing missing from Nikola Vucevic’s repertoire was initiating contact and getting to the free throw line. That is something Carter has a chance to excel at if he’s more involved in the offense. His season and career high for free throw tries is eight, not a huge number by any means, but he definitely has shown a willingness to absorb contact. In his one year in college at Duke, he averaged 4.5 foul shots per game.

Especially with his size and strength, the 21-year-old, who will be 22 next month, should be able to out-muscle most of his opponents inside.

One of the big unknowns prior to the 2018 draft was whether he could defend in space. The way centers guard speedsters on an island is something NBA scouts pay very close attention to, and Carter has done a solid job in that area.

During a game against the Utah Jazz this season, he was switched onto Donovan Mitchell, one of the league’s most explosive players. Mitchell was unable to elude Carter off the dribble, and Carter forced him to retreat before having to settle for a contested jumper. To this point of his career, he hasn’t been much of a shot blocker. But, as a drop-down defender, he’s big enough and agile enough to alter shots, or at least obstruct opponents’ view of the hoop.

Up next in Carter’s development is floor spacing. We saw Vucevic blossom into one of the best 3-point shooting centers this season, and Carter, although nowhere close to having the shooting touch that Vucevic has, could ripen into a decent long-range shooter. He’s taken 22 threes this season, making eight of them. He has good form and appears willing to take threes when he’s open.

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