I have a confession; I watched a lot of Duke basketball this past season. Yes, I still feel dirty about it and yes, this may be a sin Mother Theresa herself wouldn’t have forgiven me for. I get it; I am a monster. Like most reasonable people, I was programmed from an early age to hate Duke. They are the New York Yankees of college basketball; a team with a national profile regardless of their performance on the court that consistently employs some of the most hateable players and even worse fans. Seriously, Duke fans are the worst.
Despite being the Voldemort of college basketball, I spent many a winters night last season watching the Blue Devils because of freshman phenom Marvin Bagley Jr. His size, athleticism, and sheer dominance of college basketball this year was too much fun not to watch. Despite not fitting the profile of what I grew up knowing a “Duke player” to be, Duke is the school he chose (and all top prospects seem to be choosing these days), so Duke is who I ended up watching.
So, did I warm up to Grayson Allen after watching this team play all year? Or do I think Coach K is god himself? Nah. This is not one of those feel good stories where I grew to see Duke as a misunderstood program and began rooting for them to succeed. As of today, I still see Duke as the evil empire it most definitely is and took great pleasure watching them fail to make it to the Final Four, despite having the most talented team in the country. However, by watching Duke all year long, I happened to become well-acquainted with their other star freshman big man, Wendell Carter Jr, as well, stumbling upon a player I didn’t really know much about heading into the season. I quickly realized Bagley Jr. wasn’t the only player on Duke that I hoped the Chicago Bulls scouts had their eyes on.
Carter Jr. is a factory-made center for today’s NBA. At 6’11” and 250 pounds, he has old-school center size, but possesses a new-school center skill set. He is an excellent rebounder, talented passer, and can finish around the rim with either hand. Carter Jr. also has the ability to stretch the floor, shooting an impressive 41% from three in his lone year in Durham. He has a beautiful stroke for someone his size and the thought of him and Lauri draining threes together is intoxicating. The 7-foot splash bros. Sound like a perfect center to complement Bulls cornerstone Lauri Markkenen? Are you standing? If so, sit. If you are sitting already, you are good. Anyway, now that you are most definitely sitting down, I can let you know that it gets even better.
Besides the excellent inside/outside game, ability to pass, ideal size, and high basketball IQ, Carter Jr. most importantly brings an excellent defensive game to the NBA. Now as much as I love Lauri, we all understand his main weakness, no matter hard he tries, will be his defense. Best case scenario is that Lauri will eventually become an average defender. By sliding Carter Jr. next to Lauri in the frontcourt, the Bulls can hide Lauri’s main weakness. It cannot be understated how important that is, as we need Lauri to be on the floor as much as possible, especially late in games. Carter Jr’s presence in the lineup would allow that.
With a 7’4″ wingspan, Carter has the length needed to protect the paint and did so effectively at Duke, averaging just over two blocks a game. Not to hide behind statistics, watch Carter Jr. on the defensive end and you will realize that, despite not being an elite athlete like Bagley Jr., Carter Jr. still is quite nimble on his feet and rarely got beat on the block. He will have no trouble defending smaller and quicker NBA frontcourt players, yet at 250 pounds, has the body to bang against traditional big-men as well. As I write this, I feel like I am just beginning to realize how versatile Carter Jr. really is on both defense and offense and leads me to question how could we really go in any other direction if Carter Jr. is available. He is perfect.
Or is he? (I think he is, but just in case we don’t draft him in June, I need something written in stone that details his weaknesses. By running through this exercise now, we can quickly revert back to this if the Bulls don’t draft him at #7, re-read this passage about his weaknesses, and quickly turn on him. He is an ex-Duke player as it is. The turn should come natural). Carter Jr. did tend to disappear in games at times and come off as a passive player. I don’t see him as having any alpha in him and know Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who is almost a foot shorter, would have no problem shoving him into a locker (to be fair, I think Smart would probably win in a fight against 99% of the players in the NBA. Scratch that; 100% of the players in the NBA. On a side note, the second time travel becomes a thing, I think it is important to set up a fight between 2018 Marcus Smart and 2004 Ron Artest in the octagon ASAP. Or in an alley. Really doesn’t matter). As I stated before, he isn’t a freak athlete and won’t make Sportscenter’s top 10 play list most nights (not like anyone watches it anyway). His ceiling isn’t as high as other prospects and I have trouble picturing ever averaging over 20 points a game, a milestone I expect Lauri to exceed within this decade.
With the draft still about a month away, there will be plenty of time to dissect every direction the Bulls can go with the #7 pick and you can bet I will be there every step of the way, making up hypothetical scenarios and flip flopping on who I think we should draft. Picks may be traded, players stock will rise and fall, and injuries could occur.
However, whatever happens from here on out and no matter what I say about other draft prospects leading up until June 26th, remember this; a month out from the draft, when I still had a level head and wasn’t favoring one prospect over another because I agreed with their choice of breakfast over the other, I was all in on Wendell Carter Jr. He is the perfect piece to the puzzle we got going on in Chicago.
So, in that spirit, I ask everyone to flood social media with negative comments about Wendell Carter Jr from here on out. We must come together to hurt his draft stock as much as possible so he is available when the Bulls pick. A complete smokescreen in order to land our guy. Draft 101. Help the Bulls land the ideal player.