On the surface, Wendell Carter Jr. is having a solid rookie season for the Bulls. His 10.5 points per game is tenth among rookies, his 6.7 rebounds per game is tied for second among rookies, and his 48 total blocks this season is also third among rookies. He’s frequently looked very good in anchoring the team’s defense, which is impressive for a player still only 19.
But there have been some troubling developments with Carter Jr. game too.
Carter always seems to be in foul trouble. The 3.52 personal fouls he’s averaged per game this season is the fourth highest average in the NBA. He’s already fouled out four times this season.
“Yeah, for sure I’m frustrated,” Carter Jr. told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “I feel I can be an effective player and help my team win. So (foul trouble) definitely frustrates me a lot.”
While some of this is obviously his own doing, referees seem to go into games with a predisposition that Carter regularly fouls and the calls sometime reflect this mindset. He seems to be the victim of a lot of touch fouls.
Frontcourt of the future, not the present
Like he did at Duke with Marvin Bagley, Carter has also frequently deferred to a teammate at the expense of his own offensive game this season. Since Lauri Markkanen returned from injury on Dec. 1, Carter’s field goal attempts per game have dropped from 9.4 attempts per game to to 5.9 attempts.
The early team-wide returns on the Markkanen-Carter Jr. frontcourt haven’t been great either. In 135 minutes together this season, they have a net rating of -17.9. Not good news for the Bulls frontcourt of the future, although it’s extremely early in the gelling process.
Poor shooting from all levels
When he does shoot the ball, Carter hasn’t been making enough. On shot attempts 10 feet from the basket and closer Carter is at 56 percent, which is is tied for 51st best among NBA centers that have appeared in at least 10 games this season.
Another disappointing aspect of Carter Jr. game is how slowly his 3-point shooting has developed. At Duke, Carter Jr. shot 41.3 percent from 3-point land at Duke and 73.8 percent from the free-throw stripe, suggesting that outside shooting could be a strength at the NBA level. This season as a whole he’s merely 5-for-25 from deep, which averages out to less than one attempt per game. He’s also attempted just one 3-point field goal since Markkanen returned from his injury.
If Boylen is instructing Carter to ignore offense and focus strictly on being a rim-protector, so be it. An excellent defense-first big man with complementary offensive skills is what Chicago needs long-term anyway. But Carter is struggling mightily, shooting a very low (for a big man) 61 percent on his shots at the rim. As he works on improving his finishing (and strength), Boylen needs to empower him to take the 3-point shot, specifically the “trail 3-pointer”.
A lot of Carter’s issues may easily be chalked up to a young rookie trying to find his footing, almost literally. He tries to do too much defensively sometimes and picks up fouls as a result. He’s unsure about his position in the offensive pecking order so he’s deferring to guys who have been there longer than he has.
All of these problems are fixable, though if they persist into next season and we still see Carter receiving bad coaching then maybe start to worry. For now, just be thankful that the uniform Carter Jr. wears is black and red.