The Bulls are trash again and Jim Boylen remains as frustrating as ever.
We all know this and it doesn’t appear like it will be changing anytime soon, so while still reeling from the disastrous collapse against the Lakers, let’s all take a collective reprieve and bask in the lone positive emerging from the malaise that has become this season: Wendell Carter is evolving into the team’s best and most productive player.
When it comes to Carter, it’s always more than basic box score numbers — 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds while shooting 59.5 percent from the field through the opening eight games of the season is damn good, but his workman-like game won’t be wowing fans on highlight reels anytime soon.
Perhaps we overlook since it has been a constant in his game since he stepped foot in the league, but consider this a reminder: Carter is abnormally advanced as a rim protector. It is extremely rare for a 20-year-old center to have both the nous to identify a potential defensive breakdown and the otherworldly ability to correct it, just as Carter showcased here on this possession.
After creating the mismatch and being guarded by an undersized Tomas Satoransky, Anthony Davis thought he had an easy score. He would have had Carter not been so advanced as a help defender, leaving his own assignment to vertically jump and meet Davis at the rim.
Carter can shift from the solid to the spectacular when it comes to shot blocking. Below, instead of staying home on his direct cover and allowing a layup, Carter challenging and swatting away Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s attempt momentarily prevented the Bulls from leaking fast-break points.
The above possession looks good for Carter, but also shows so many things that are wrong with the Bulls right now: Too much is being left to too few. Otto Porter, a team captain, needed to run with and matchup against Caldwell-Pope (he barely broke into a jogging pace.) If that wasn’t possible, Porter at least had to be there to box out Carter’s man (JaVale McGee) from scoring an easy put-back.
Such a possession, though, typifies why Carter truly is the best player on this Bulls team: He’s the only one consistently helping his teammates and putting in work on both ends of the floor. Take this next sequence as further proof of that.
Despite being matched up against Davis, Carter yet again rotates into in help position, this time defending LeBron James as he barrelled his way to the basket. Not many players in the league can successfully contest a James attempt at the rim with such verticality, let alone force a miss. Turning defense into offense, the Bulls counter with a quality transition 3-point attempt.
Carter is directly responsible for creating this three, even if it was Lauri Markkanen who found Porter flanking on the perimeter. He’s also the one who kept the possession alive after the miss, hustling on the offensive glass and drawing the foul, ensuring his impressive defense moments earlier didn’t go unrewarded.
In a matter of seconds, Carter showcased his ability and influence as an emerging two-way beast. No other player on the Bulls roster is capable of having such effect, and very few have the ability to guard the league’s premier offensive talent on all scoring levels.
After collecting the offensive rebound, drawing the foul and converting his two free throws, Carter was back at it on defense on the very next possession. Already highlighting what he can do against James at the rim, on this occasion, Carter switched out high against the Lakers’ star.
Sure, I can already hear you say James probably helped the Bulls center by settling for jumper (shut up this a hype post). You may be right, but Carter is capable of switching out and defending in space, and the Bulls would be wise in exploiting this ability more often as their base defensive scheme instead of their blitz-happy coverages they’ve foolishly been running to start the season.
Carter doesn’t register a stat for switching out and contesting James’ jumper or rotating over and forcing Davis to miss at the rim. But that’s ok to him, something he made clear after another disappointing loss.
“I know I’m pissed. Not to talk about my past, but me coming from a winning culture and then coming here and last year wasn’t so good for us and then this year, it kind of bothers me. I don’t even care about my stats. I don’t care about anything. Because at the end of the day, none of that matters if we’re not winning. It’s just something where everybody has got to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m bought into this team. Whether I play good or I don’t play good, as long as we win, that’s all that matters.’ If everybody can say that in the room, we’re going to be successful.”
Of the players that actually matter and can realistically shape the trajectory of this Bulls rebuild, Carter is the only one matching words with action. Chalk up that up as another reason why this is now his team.