Wendell Carter Jr. is One of Draft's Most Intriguing Big Men
ORLANDO - With the Orlando Magic slated to pick sixth in the June 21st NBA Draft, sure-fire standouts DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley III will likely be long gone, forcing them to dig deeper for an under-the-radar talent on the verge of blossoming at the pro level.
Big man Wendell Carter Jr. just might qualify after circumstances at Duke University kept him from completely shinning this past season. Just listen to what one of Carter’s Duke teammates, shooting guard Gary Trent Jr., had to say about Carter’s big-time potential.
``Wendell is a really talented player,’’ Trent Jr. said. ``If Marvin (Bagley III) wasn’t at Duke, Wendell would be in the conversation to be the No. 1 pick. He’s just that talented. He can finish with his left or right hand, he can bring you out to the mid-range and face you up or shoot the three. On the defensive end, he’s exceptional, as well. He’s a great talent and I think more and more teams will see that as he works out with them.’’
NBA teams, such as the Magic, are undoubtedly eager to get the 6-foot-10, 251-pound Carter into their practice facilities so they can see for themselves the untapped potential that he has. People in college basketball got to see Carter’s full-scale abilities last February when Bagley missed a four-game stretch because of a knee sprain and Duke’s other five-star recruit shined.
In defeats of Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Louisville, Carter came within one rebound of having four straight double-doubles. Given the freedom to be the focal point on the inside, Carter averaged 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots while shooting 46.8 percent from the floor.
That stretch gave scouts a peek at just how talented of a prospect that Carter Jr. was coming out of Pace Academy in Atlanta and just how good of a player he might become with a bigger role in the future. For the season, Carter Jr. played in four more games than Bagley III (37 to 33), but still logged fewer minutes (1,118 to 997) and scored fewer overall points (694 to 501). He admitted recently at the NBA Draft Combine that it was an adjustment playing on a team where he often was behind Bagley III, Grayson Allen and Trent Jr. in the Blue Devils’ offense.
``It was, at first, but I knew what I could do,’’ Carter Jr. said confidently. ``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 well. And 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.’’
For the season, Carter Jr. showed off his all-around skills by averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 2.0 rebounds and 0.8 steals a game while shooting 56.1 percent from the floor, 41.3 percent from 3-point range and 73.8 percent from the free throw line. Because he has both exceptional size and plus agility that allows him to excel away from the rim, Carter Jr. actually thinks he will be a better player at the professional level than he was in college at Duke.
``The college game does put a limit on a lot of players. But the NBA, that’s more of my realm of showing what I can do,’’ Carter Jr. said. ``I definitely buy into that (being better in 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, my lateral quickness. On the offensive end, I didn’t get to show much of it at Duke, but I’m pretty versatile and can bring the ball up against pressure, at times, and compete at all positive levels.
``Without me even playing an NBA game, just from watching, I can tell there’s a lot more space and more one-on-one type, more pick-and-rolls and playing in a lot of space,’’ he added. ``I’m definitely looking to do more of that.’’
Carter Jr., 19, speaks with a confidence and charisma well beyond his years. Some of that likely comes from his smarts as he was a top-scholar-athlete award winner coming out of high school and his collegiate choice ultimately came down to Harvard or Duke. Also, basketball is in his bloodlines with his father, Wendell Sr. playing collegiately at Delta State (Miss.) and professionally in the Dominican Republic and his mother, Kylia, starring previously at Ole Miss. It was Kylia who was outspoken about the treatment of collegiate athletes by the NCAA, comparing their pay-for-no-pay conditions to that of slavery.
``My mom is my mom. She has her opinion and she doesn’t mind sharing them,’’ Carter Jr. said. ``In some aspects, I do agree with her, and in some aspects, you’ll probably have to ask her if you want to know more.
``A lot of people thought what she was saying about players were slaves and coaches were slave owners, that’s not what she was saying at all,’’ he added. ``Just the fact that when you do go to college, we’re not paid for working for someone above us and the someone above us is making all of the money. Not talking about the merchandise, food or a free education because if that was the case, a lot of players would go straight (to the NBA) out of high school instead of having them play one year of college, which doesn’t do much in terms of academics. I never thought my mom was ever wrong.’’
Carter Jr., who is projected to go anywhere from No. 6 to 20 in mock drafts, said scouts and GMs aren’t wrong when they project him as being a better player at the pro level than he was in college. Carter Jr. said that when given the opportunity to play big minutes, he will become a tremendous all-around player for any team.
``I think I’m pretty versatile as a player. I’ll just find a way to fit into the team and buy into the system. I’m a winner, and I’ll do whatever I have to do to win,’’ he stressed. ``The NBA game is changing. There are no more true centers anymore. You have to be versatile and shoot from the outside, while also guarding on the perimeter. That’s what I’ve been working on in the draft process and I really think I’ll be able to do that in the NBA.’’
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