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Prospect Breakdown: Wendell Carter Jr.

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In the latest edition of Prospect Breakdown, we take a look at Duke forward Wendell Carter, Jr.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Kansas vs Duke Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Another edition of Prospect Breakdown is here, this time breaking down Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr., a 6-foot-10, dynamic forward with an outside chance to fall to the Sixers at No. 10 overall. Carter’s hyper-efficient freshman campaign was predominantly overshadowed by his frontcourt mate, Marvin Bagley III, who was tabbed ACC Player of the Year and produced gaudier numbers than Carter.

”I wouldn’t say [I’m] underrated, but I’d probably say I just wasn’t able to show everything that I can do,” Carter told ESPN of his year at Duke playing alongside Bagley, who was the focal point offensively.

It’s a trend that’s carried into the draft process as bigs like Bagley, DeAndre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mohamed Bamba all rank higher on draft boards than Carter and have dominated the conversation since early November.

In 26.8 minutes a night, Carter averaged 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.1 blocks on .561/.413/.738 shooting splits during his lone year as a Blue Devil. Without further ado, let’s dive into some analysis.

Offense

Carter’s offensive arsenal revolves around his post game as he doesn’t have much flair off the dribble to this point. He’s most comfortable with his back to the basket, is adept at establishing position and sports the ability to finish with either hand inside, which he uses to loft silky hook shots over the top of opponents — one of his preferred scoring moves down low. Using ballerina-esque speed and footwork, he often wriggles around defenders with a quick drop step (usually on the left block):

However, while many words have been spilled about Carter’s dexterity, his left-hand range is inconsistent beyond 3-5 feet of the hoop. Once he’s pushed farther out, he’s often sapped of the feathery touch required to score in the post and the results vary.

Therein lies another issue for Carter. Too often is he forced off his spot after sealing a defender and flashing to the ball — though it seems to be less of a matter of strength and more to do with establishing and maintaining a better center of gravity.

Moreover, while he found success when opting to present himself as an option down low, there were too many possessions when he lacked the necessary aggressiveness and simply wandered around the court, setting off-ball screens or meandering in the lane.

He also struggled against double teams down low, amassing a 24 percent turnover rate on post-ups last season, per Synergy. But enough about Carter’s weaknesses as his offensive package composes a fair amount of his allure as a prospect.

As for his potential as a stretch-4 or 5-man, the Atlanta, Georgia, native connected on 41.3 percent of his triples in college, albeit on just 46 attempts, and according to The Stepien’s shot chart, he was 8-of-24 from NBA range.

During an interview at the NBA Combine, he stated that improving his outside shot has been one of his primary goals during pre-draft workouts. Carter owns fluid shot mechanics, signaling that the opportunity for development and growth exists:

There’s a couple wrinkles Carter exhibits that would bring a smile to the face of any scout watching this play. First, Luke Maye’s closeout doesn’t dissuade Carter from hoisting it up from deep — even though most of his 3-point attempts were wide open last season — and it doesn’t alter his shooting form. Second, it highlights his high basketball IQ (for what it’s worth, as a senior in high school he considered attending Harvard). Gary Trent Jr.’s drive to the baseline forces Theo Pinson to rotate over and Maye slides off Carter to cover Bagley. Then, Joel Berry II and Pinson double Trent in the corner, Carter flashes to the wing as a safety valve and buries the trey.

Carter’s offensive package extends beyond just post-ups and the occasional spot-up 3, however.

On both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, Carter is a terrorizing rebounder. Despite playing alongside Bagley, who inhaled 11.1 boards each game, Carter gobbled up 9.1 rebounds a night, 2.9 of which came on the offensive glass.

According to Synergy, putbacks composed 14.5 percent of Carter’s offensive usage, his third-most frequented playtype, and he bred 1.46 points per possession, which ranked in the 94th percentile throughout the Division I landscape.

Carter is fundamentally sound, paying homage to the lost art of the box out as he plants into his man more often than not, and secures boards with two hands, something ESPN’s Jay Bilas seemingly always raved about during telecasts. When his defender has inside position, he’ll bust out a football-like swim move to discard them and regain the upper hand:

The clip above, while a testament to his relentlessness on the glass, makes clear one of his daunting shortcomings. Carter isn’t uber-athletic or explosive like some of his draftmates, which proves problematic when he tries to finish amongst the trees inside. If he isn’t the first off the ground, he can’t out-leap opponents to finish over the top.

Furthermore, Carter has a tendency to bring the ball low on the catch, allowing opponents to recover on the play or undersized defenders, who are no longer hindered by the height disadvantage, to swipe at the ball.

Watch as Carter slips the pick and is in position for an easy layup, but brings the ball below his waist and a Virginia defender pokes it free, eliminating a scoring opportunity against the nation’s stingiest defensive unit:

While Carter was rarely involved in the pick and roll, he was still able to turn a nifty profit on the action, yielding 1.16 PPP (72nd percentile) on 25 possessions. His blend of basketball savvy and quickness made him a difficult cover for traditional big men. When he dove hard to the rim, which he usually did, he was almost always open, even if the ball handler couldn’t locate him every trip.

Duke frequently employed Carter as a screener on and off the ball, which meant he was constantly in motion and keeping his defender engaged, but far too often he slipped or brushed on the pick, failing to manufacture separation for his teammates. When he did commit to rubbing shoulders with defenders, though, good things came about. Ensuring that he consistently makes contact as the screener should be a point of emphasis for whomever drafts him.

Watch as the Blue Devils flow a dribble handoff into a pick and roll between Grayson Allen and Carter, who sets a hard-nosed screen, leading to an alley-oop jam:

Allen’s defender gets hung up on the pick, which forces Carter’s man to play higher up and take away the pull-up jumper. This gives Carter a one-step advantage on his roll to the rim and Allen tosses it up to the big man for the bucket.

Below, he stonewalls Michigan State’s Joshua Langford on the dribble handoff and catalyzes an open midrange jumper off the bounce for Allen:

Dribble handoffs are a staple of most modern NBA offenses, including Philadelphia’s, and Carter was a cog in such sets numerous times last season, which bodes well for his pliancy at the next level.

Another trait that should serve Carter well is his energy and speed in the open floor, particularly following defensive stops. After Duke had secured a rebound or loose ball, Carter made a habit of bolting down court, leaving his defender in the dust and sparking easy transition buckets:

An underrated facet in Carter’s game is his facilitating chops. He’s a skilled passer out of the high and low post, dishing it to teammates and making quick, decisive reads, an important attribute at the next level.

Defense

Much of Carter’s charm defensively resides in his shot-blocking prowess as he utilized his 7-foot-5 wingspan to swat 2.1 shots per game and 3.1 per-40 minutes. When contesting shots, Carter remains vertical and he frequently applied this quality to anchor Duke’s tough-to-crack 2-3 zone.

Carter boasts acute timing as a rim protector and alters shots using his length and 259-pound frame. He projects as a high-level interior defender in the NBA, regardless of where he ends up:

At times, however, it appeared as though Carter was tethered to the middle of the zone. He didn’t venture outside the lane on defense very often and surrendered some easy midrange jumpers as a result. Whether that was a schematic preference or simply a lack of confidence in his ability to defend in space remains to seen — though it’s probably a bit of both.

As the man in the middle, Carter was effective when decisive. If he opted to stay at home and defend the rim, it usually spelled trouble for the opposition; if he chose to cut off the ball handler’s drive, it forced a reset of the offensive possession (or a turnover) as his length made passing angles difficult to find.

However, decisive actions weren’t always in the cards for Carter. There were instances when his decision-making was too slow, inviting open shots in the lane for perimeter players or simple dump-offs to big men looming behind him. Some of that, though, was a product of Duke regularly playing multiple poor defensive guards together, forcing Carter to constantly mask their shortcomings.

Carter told reporters that another area of emphasis, along with his 3-point shooting, has been defending on the perimeter. During his lone year at Duke, Carter’s perimeter defense was a mixed bag stuffed with contrasting results.

There were possessions when quicker guards or forwards couldn’t slither around Carter and chucked up ugly looks or reinitiated the offense while other times, a simple dribble move was the only thing required to overmatch him.

That dichotomy was no more evident than on two plays that occurred within 70 seconds of one another during Duke’s game against Florida last season:

The first time, Jalen Hudson slips by Carter with a quick crossover and finishes at the tin. The second time, Carter gets switched onto Egor Koulechov and contains his drive, inducing a tough, off-balance runner.

Where Carter struggles the most is on closeouts when shooters are open on the perimeter. He takes poor angles and lacks requisite 0-60 speed, producing uninhibited dashes to the rim or open 3-pointers:

Carter was a rugged and skilled post defender last season, allowing just 0.41 PPP (97th percentile). He’s burly enough to hold his ground, quick enough to mirror (most) twitchy movements and possesses the length to influence shots inside. For all that defensive mastery, though, he’s also prone to biting on shot fakes, which played a part in his high foul rate (4.2 per-40 minutes), one of his concerns as a prospect.

Positional Fit

One of the glaring holes in franchise cornerstone Joel Embiid’s game is his conditioning (a healthy offseason could change that, however), a flaw that reared its head during the Sixers’ second-round loss to the Celtics. Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes took turns bouncing in and out of the rotation as Embiid’s backup center, but neither took a stranglehold of the spot and could very well be in new threads next season (Johnson inked a one-year deal last summer and Holmes has a $1.6 million team option yet to be picked up).

Carter would immediately slot in as a primary reserve big, providing a welcomed blend of Johnson’s defense and Holmes’ offense. On offense, he offers post scoring and potential floor spacing and defensively, he’d patrol the paint, perhaps capable of periodically holding his own on switches.

Draft Projection

Philadelphia would need a few things to break in its favor to land Carter as most mock drafts have him falling in the 5-8 range. However, stranger developments have transpired on draft day. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that after the Luka Doncic and the premier bigs are off the board, the teams positioned directly ahead of the Sixers opt for wings (Miles and Mikal Bridges, Michael Porter Jr.) or guards (Trae Young, Collin Sexton) and Carter slides to Philly at No. 10 overall.

All stats and videos via Synergy, Sports-Reference and YouTube, and are accurate as of May 30.