Wendell Carter Jr. is Thriving With the Orlando Magic

Orlando’s new center is making a big impact already
by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Wendell Carter Jr., the soon-to-be 22-year-old acquired by the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline from the Chicago Bulls, has gotten off to an impressive start with his new team. A change of scenery and a fresh start in a new system could be exactly what he needed to launch his game to the next level.

Let’s examine some of the things he’s excelled at in his first three games with the Magic, starting with his great hands and coordination. Not only has he caught just about every pass tossed his way, which many big men struggle to do, he’s made excellent decisions after the catch.

Most of his points thus far with Orlando have been generated off screen-and-roll action, which is his bread and butter. What helps him finish more often than not is that he typically goes up with authority. He already has four dunks since joining the Magic and is a perfect 10-for-10 on shot attempts within five feet of the basket.

As he continues to get more comfortable and gain more confidence, Carter should develop into a solid three-level scorer. He has a soft touch and really nice form on his jumper. Although he hasn’t taken many from distance in his career, the Atlanta-area native has the ability to step out and drill 3-pointers. He’s made one of his three tries from beyond the arc so far with Orlando.

Playing with his back to the basket is something else he can do. Down the stretch against New Orleans on Thursday, Carter made an outstanding move with Steven Adams defending him. He drove left toward the baseline, then spun back and finished with a jump hook.

Most impressive about his game, though, has been his defense. It’s surprising that he averaged just one block per contest with the Bulls because he’s very sprightly and has such good timing when he rises to block or alter a shot near the hoop.

Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford has raved about Carter’s lateral quickness, which is crucial for big men to have in today’s NBA. The goal on offense is to find mismatches. Usually that happens when a slow-footed big gets switched onto a speedy guard or wing and what ensues is a blow-by off the dribble.

But with Carter, he moves very swiftly around the perimeter and can hold his own when stuck on an island. What’s encouraging, too, is the fact that the Magic have so many good defenders making it hard for opponents to exploit them in one-on-one situations.

The best offensive sets in the NBA are ones in which the ball enters the paint. When a big man receives a pass in the middle of the lane, one of the first things they should do is survey the perimeter to see if there’s an open shooter to feed. Carter does this exceptionally well. He’s very unselfish and doesn’t stray away from the flow of the offense.

Through three games with the Magic, Carter is averaging 13.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per game in 23.0 minutes. He’s a big reason why the Magic have started this Western Conference road trip 2-1. There’s a lot to be excited about as he continues to develop.

“Very, like very, very (impressive),” Clifford said. “He’s smart. He’s got good instincts. He has a chance defensively watching him, he can really move his feet. His lateral quickness I would say is exceptional. His instincts (are good) of when to attack the ball, when to drop, get back to his man and obviously he’s got a basket protection component. It’s three games but I couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s doing already.”

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