It’s been a tough 2019-20 campaign for Wendell Carter Jr.. He’s battled injuries, and the team has had a lackluster season. Carter returned over the weekend after missing the last 22 games with a right ankle sprain, but his team lost again. That aside, the return of Carter will be a boost to a team that is searching for positives. Their defense is sure to pick up with him on the court with him being in the middle to clean up the mistakes made on the perimeter.
However, Carter Jr.’s strengths on offense have to be maximized for him to keep developing.
There is a lot to like about WCJ’s offensive game even after seeing only a couple abbreviated seasons. He won’t be a player who will take over a game on that end of the court, but he can still be a huge positive for the Bulls. Carter gets into the right spaces in the paint for easy buckets under the basket. He’s always there for a dump-off pass and can finish over bigger defenders. Carter so far this season is shooting 70.4 percent on shots at the rim and is a good outlet for any Chicago player when the defense collapses on them. WCJ is also able to operate at the top of the key. He can pick out teammates for open shots or show his range and knock down a jumper if his defender gives him too much room. There is also his ability to truly punish defenses by stretching the floor even further. Although the shooting numbers look poor (21.4 percent from three), Carter Jr. has shown himself to be a capable three-point shooter when given the time. He can spot up in the corner and be a kick-out option.
With an overall true shooting percentage of 59.2, Carter Jr. has shown to be efficient scorer. While he doesn’t try to do too much and force things, this can also lead to some moments where he can disappear on the court. WCJ only attempts 13.4 field goals per 100 possessions, good for 12th highest on the Bulls. Being more aggressive should be a priority when he gets back into game action. The Bulls coaching staff also has a role in this as well to encourage him by giving him a bigger role to show off his strengths, which are his passing and high-efficiency shot taking.
Carter knows this. I was covering All-Star weekend in Chicago, and Carter was asked about him being used more in the offense. Carter acknowledged that he has more in his toolbox to use, especially when it came to his passing:
“Yeah that was definitely a focus of mine coming into this year. Just being aggressive on the offensive end so it’s something I definitely do want to showcase more of my passing ability, just my IQ for the game. Just allowing coach to allow me to make the right decisions, just putting the ball in my hand and stuff like that you know”
Letting Carter be one of the focal points of the offense can lead to easier shots for the Bulls offense. As much as Jim Boylen likes to tout his team’s shot profile, his team has struggled with generating looks for the guys not named Zach LaVine or Coby White. By having a guy who is a willing passer and is always looking to get his teammates open shots, the Bulls offense can run more smoothly. In the times where LaVine is on the bench or needs a rest, Carter Jr. can take the ball at the top of the key and pick out the best available option given to him. For his career, WCJ has averaged 1.5 assists per game and that number should go up if Chicago wants to have a more impactful offense.
There’s also the flip side to this passing ability, and it’s knowing when to take the shot instead of moving the ball. Whether it’s a three-pointer in the corner and a shot from right outside of the paint, Carter Jr. does have opportunities to take these shots. While it’s good to keep looking for higher quality shots on offense, there are times where his shot is the best one the Bulls will get on that possession. Passing the ball off and letting that opportunity go isn’t always the best option.
Wendell Carter talked about the desire to shoot more 3's after the All-Star break. Kind of disappointing that he's still not really looking for that shot. pic.twitter.com/4wTEjbStx4— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) February 29, 2020
About his lack of shooting when he catches the ball away from the rim:
“It’s more so me trying to find a better shot. Anytime I catch the ball inside the three-point line I feel like I can make the shot but sometimes I feel like we can always get a better shot.”
When asked specifically about getting his three-point attempt numbers up, Carter again acknowledged this was something he is still trying to work on:
“Yeah I definitely want to get up at least 2-3 a game. That feels like a comfort zone for me. I’m pretty confident whenever I shoot them.”
Carter is averaging 0.8 attempts per game, so the goal he has set for himself is an ambitious one that can pay off for the Bulls offense. If he starts taking those shots more consistently, defenses will have to account for it, opening up driving lanes for other guys.
In a league where pace and space are emphasized, having a center who can splash shots from deep is a huge plus. While he doesn’t have to constantly be hovering around the three-point line, the Bulls can certainly draw up some plays to get WCJ open look either off the pick and roll or other ways.
They still have to figure what exactly they have when their core of players all plays together, so the return of WCJ should be a welcomed one as the Bulls will get some much-needed help at the center spot.
As it has been with much of the Bulls younger players, the team needs to do more to help out WCJ on offense. With the playoffs hopes slipping away with each loss, development becomes even more crucial for the rest of the season. While part of this is on Carter himself, the coaching and development staff need to put him in a better place to excel. This means putting the ball in his hands and letting him make more decisions while also encouraging him to be more aggressive. Allowing him to take more responsibility in the offense and learn from his mistakes is part of the growing process.
The Bulls have a potentially special player in Wendell Carter Jr.. Now it’s just about utilizing him to the team’s highest potential.