ORLANDO – Wendell Carter Jr.’s confidence is at an all-time high.
And with good reason. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Orlando Magic big man is coming off his best season in the NBA where he averaged career highs in points (15.0), rebounds (10.5), and assists (2.8) per game, while shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and making more 3-pointers (70) in 62-games played than he had in the rest of his league tenure combined.
However, that confidence is not only limited to a belief in himself and what he can accomplish this upcoming season, but it also permeates to a strong conviction that the Magic can make tremendous strides in the very near future.
At the center of that belief is optimism surrounding what the Magic are building on and off the court. Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley has helped instill a culture of players celebrating each other’s success and assisting in each other’s growth.
Recently, that tenet has manifested in acts like R.J. Hampton volunteering to play in Summer League and other players such as Chuma Okeke, Terrence Ross and Carter periodically coming through those summer league practice sessions to offer guidance and support to their teammates.
Eager to build chemistry with his newest frontcourt mate Paolo Banchero – who also happens to be a fellow Duke alum – Carter not only came by to observe, but also get on the floor with the 2022 NBA Draft’s No. 1 overall pick. And after their time on the court together, Carter is even more convinced that a frontline of Banchero, 2021 NBA All-Rookie first teamer Franz Wagner, and himself have the chance to be an extremely formidable group.
“That (group) can be very special,” Carter explained. “Even just me running up and down with Paolo today, he’s a very unselfish player. He plays to win, and he plays the right way. I think just him going to Duke, I feel like that definitely helped a lot with just learning how to win. They win over there at Duke, so he understands what it takes and I’m here to just help him get better and help him tap into that potential that we all see in him.”
Banchero, Carter, and Wagner are all at least 6-foot-10 and possess a blend of scoring, playmaking, and defensive versatility that can help create matchup problems for the opposition. With the roster makeup that surrounds them, they certainly have the potential to be a special defensive group, which was a key component of each team that made the conference finals this past season. That’s something that’s been at the front of Carter’s mind as he’s approached this offseason.
“For myself, defensively being able to guard one through five,” said Carter, whose team had the league’s best defensive rating from the All-Star break until March 25. “Getting in better shape. And building off my confidence that I started to tap into at the end of the season. Those last thirty games, I felt like I definitely tapped into a different side of myself. Just building off of that and just continue to go up from there. Helping my team.”
Despite the enormous potential for the group, Carter is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead for the Magic’s rookie. He recalls the difficulties of his first summer league, being a lottery pick, and the whirlwind experience that surrounded it.
“It’s difficult. That transition from college to the NBA is a monster,” he explained. “You’re used to one thing at college, then, learning new terminology, getting in better shape, getting stronger to be able to play against bigger guys and things like that is always a challenge. So, my first time in summer league was definitely a challenge for me, but all competitors love that kind of stuff. Even though it was hard, I had a lot of fun.”
As mentioned, Carter believes that Banchero’s experience at Duke will aid him in his transition to the pros. After all, it’s hard to imagine any pressure being greater than coming into college as a top-tier recruit at a historic basketball program and being expected to live up to attain great success both as a player and a team in a legendary coach’s highly publicized final season.
“The pressure of just playing for Duke is already out of this world, but then it being (coach Mike Krzyzewski) last year, I can only imagine the pressure they had on them, especially the last game they had at Cameron (Indoor Stadium),” Carter said. “Just the nerves and all that. Coach K is a legend. He’ll always be a legend and he’ll always be remembered for being one of the winningest coaches in basketball. So, it was tough for him, I’m sure. It was tough on the whole team, I’m assuming. That’s the beauty of the game. You get that pressure, but you put the time in when the lights are off and nobody is here, so when you go out there and have all the pressure on you, you’re calm and collected.”
In addition to stopping by the AdventHealth practice court at Amway Center, Carter is also planning on heading out to Las Vegas to support his teammates and be a spectator for one or two of their games. He’s looking forward to seeing the first action for Magic rookies Banchero and Caleb Houstan as well as the growth of the players he’s taken the court with previously like Hampton, Devin Cannady, Admiral Schofield, and Aleem Ford.
Along with their development, it’ll be a big summer for all of the Magic’s young core that features seven lottery selections under the age of 25, including Banchero, Markelle Fultz (first overall - 2017), Jalen Suggs (fifth overall - 2021), Jonathan Isaac (sixth overall - 2017), Mo Bamba (sixth overall – 2018), Carter (seventh overall - 2018), and Wagner (eighth overall - 2021) to go along with other promising young pieces such as Cole Anthony, Hampton, and Okeke.
“As a team, our potential is through the roof,” Carter said. “With the first pick, we got Paolo and I think he’s going to help us tremendously immediately. With another year for all the young guys on our team under their belts, they’re going to come back better. I think the biggest thing for us is going to be being injury free. Taking care of our bodies a little bit better to make sure we’re able to be able to play all eighty-two of these things. That will give us the best chance to be very special this year.”