A first quarter stint and several defensive possessions is all it took for Wendell Carter Jr. to prove he’s the real deal.
After one Summer League game, any proclamation may sound excessive, but it felt that Wendell Carter Jr. is the real deal while watching the rookie center during his impressive debut.
For those who may have missed the game, the box score statistics certainly read well: 16 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and two made threes. This performance, though, was so much more than numbers.
Leading into the draft, valid concerns existed about Carter Jr. and his fit in modern basketball, pairing him with another traditionally-sized big when the rest of the league continues to push the boundaries on conventional position. It was unclear if he would ever be able stay on the floor at the close of games, his lack of lateral quickness potentially being sought out and exposed.
Though the sample may be small — and against limited competition — we got a glimpse of what Carter Jr. can do defending on the perimeter.
Shuffling his feet and keeping his body firmly planted on his quicker opponent, not once did the Bulls center look lost an island. Staying close the whole time, great initial perimeter defense was finished with a vicious block.
It was one of many for Carter Jr., who deterred driving lanes and swatted shots all game long.
As good as that denial at rim was, none were better than this soul-eating block from behind.
This was an incredible play. Firstly, note where Carter Jr. is when the ball as inbounded into the paint. Again we see Carter Jr. switching out high and looking comfortable. Noticing the Bulls center was floating out high, the Cavaliers opting for the mismatch should’ve resulted in a basket. Instead, Carter Jr. rolled back into the paint, helping his smaller teammates by swallowing his opponents shot with both hands. As if that effort wasn’t enough, defense quickly led to offense, as Carter Jr. himself started and pushed a transition break.
Beyond the highlight blocks, what was most impressive the intelligence to be in position and recover was truly impressive. Carter Jr. may not jump out of the gym like DeAndre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III, but he won’t need to if he’s constantly reading the movements of each defensive possession.
On the other side of the ball, Carter Jr. was just as good, showing glimpses of what he can be as jump shooter.
The ability to step out and hit the jumper is critical for any modern big, and if that corner three hadn’t convinced you that legitimate three-point range already exists in the rookie’s game, perhaps this absurd play might?
Seriously, how many guys with so little pro experience would even dare stepping into a three after corralling an offensive rebound? The fluidity in his shooting motion was just impressive as his quiet confidence to even attempt that shot.
In many ways, this was as good and complete of a game you could expect a rookie big man to have in his first outing. As a rim protector who can step out to the three-point line, it’s easy to see how Carter Jr. can be a success in the NBA. More than that, it’s hard not to immediately think how perfect of fit Carter Jr. will be next to Lauri Markkanen. Theoretically, though some concerns of mobility and quickness had its merits, their pairing made functional sense. After one game, that feeling should be reinforced.