Bulls fandom panicked endlessly across social media in the days leading up to the NBA draft, desperate for their next superstar, but worried that the previous season’s 27-55 “tank job,” was not going to be good (or bad) enough to net them that player.
Less than a month after the NBA draft, the Chicago Bulls’ top pick, Wendell Carter is giving Bulls fans a taste of what the 19-year-old big-man never got to prove during his one-year stint with the Duke Blue Devils, but more importantly, a taste of what Bulls fans craved in their 2018 first round pick — a superstar.
Albeit a small taste of the possibilities that lie ahead, it’s a taste that hasn’t graced Bulls fans palate’s in sometime.
Despite boasting a 3.8 GPA in his senior year in high school, and even mulling the idea of enrolling and playing basketball at Harvard, Carter took his talents to Durham, North Carolina as the fourth best prospect in college basketball, and the top power forward. Set to be the star of the 2017-2018 Duke Blue Devils, the six-foot-ten forward/center combo would soon thereafter take a back seat to suddenly reclassified freshman, Marvin Bagley.
That was all right by Carter, because winning at Duke was more important than individual accolades. In a January 2018 story, David Hale of ESPN called Carter, “the forgotten star at Duke,” but closed the story with this quote from Wendell, “I’ve never been one to be big on ego,” Carter said. “I just want to win,” exemplifying Carter’s selflessness on, and off the court.
The former McDonald’s All-American accepted a secondary role to Bagley at Duke, and even watched him get selected second overall by the Sacramento Kings in last month’s NBA draft. In fact, Carter was the last of the five premier big-men taken in the top-10 in last month’s draft, falling to the Bulls at No. 7, only after DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Mohamed Bamba were taken in the first six picks.
Carter didn’t have to take the back seat role to Bagley at Duke, remember, he turned down Harvard for the Blue Devils. Carter was as much a scholar in high school as he was a coveted basketball prospect, taking home the Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year Award during his senior season, an honor bestowed upon student-athletes who exemplify outstanding character, leadership, and academics.
Alas, he did. And not only did Carter embraced the role, he took it as an opportunity to hone his craft and find new ways to score the basketball, and facilitate for others. Now, just a handful of games into the NBA’s 2018 Summer League slate, Carter is making it clear that this is his time to shine.
Through four games, Carter is averaging 16.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.8 blocks per contest in just 28.5 minutes per. Not only is his stat line quite simply eye-popping at this point, he is acing the eye test with ease.
In Wednesday’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks, Carter kept the Bulls alive early, and finished off the Mavs’ down the stretch with a variety of methods behind his scoring, finishing the afternoon with 19 points on a stellar 9-of-11 shooting (81.8 percent). Carter added nine rebounds and a pair of assists as well.
Bulls rookie duo: Wendell Carter with 19 + 9 on two missed shots, Hutchison with 16-11-3. Carter = A+ fundamentals, instincts around basket. Hutch, stud athlete, well-rounded, improving shooter with three 3s tonight. Chicago hit big in the draft. pic.twitter.com/Yu2xucJ2qx
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) July 12, 2018
What jumps out at me immediately — not only in this game, but all of them thus far — is the immense versatility in that performance. Carter was scoring off cuts to the basket without the ball, scoring on second-chance opportunities, hitting mid-range shots, and working the paint.
Obviously, we will take the summer league stat-line with a grain of salt, but the eye test doesn’t lie. This kid is rapidly erasing any qualms fans and pundits may have had about him when the Bulls took him at seventh-overall last month.
In fact, he’s creating the conversation that he was in fact, the best big-man in the draft after all. I remember after the Bulls picked him last month, I felt good about the pick, largely in part due to our very own Ethan Levy gushing about him in the days and weeks leading up to the draft. I felt even better when a family member — who happens to be a lifelong die-hard Duke fan — told me that he was the steal of the draft, and that he [Carter] had a whole other gear to hit after stepping out of the loaded Duke roster.
It’s often said, the to be a serious contender in the modern day NBA, you have to find a superstar, a player that can be considered a bone fide, “best player on a championship team.” Well, the Bulls may have just found theirs in the form of Wendell Carter, Jr.
It’s early, but the early returns are proving that the Atlanta-native is exactly the shot of adrenaline that the Bulls’ franchise has been longing for. Young, athletic, humble, smart, driven … quite simply, a complete package. Despite looking better and better every game, the most self-centric sound bite that Carter has offered up, was a couple of days ago when he rebutted a compliment by expressing his desire to defend smaller and quicker guards better moving forward.
If Carter could be the player that he looks like he’s going to be, the Bulls rebuild just notched a huge milestone. Time will tell, but the big-man from Duke looks like he has this all figured out.
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