A show of hands: How many of you consider yourselves very familiar with Wendell Carter Jr.’s game?
I’m guessing not many. That’s not a poor reflection on those unacquainted with the former Duke player. It’s the result of several things: college basketball’s brief embrace with its stars, Duke’s roster full of purportedly top talent and a million sports options on TV every week.
Another show of hands: How many of you don’t know much about Carter, but what you do know — that he went to Duke — is enough to make you seasick 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean?
I’m guessing a decent amount, judging by the way people’s faces turned green in their social-media reaction to the Bulls picking him in the NBA Draft.
The Bulls chose Carter seventh overall, leading us anti-Blue Devils people to think that someone down there doesn’t like us.
The Bulls really like Duke players, and I wish they’d stop. They’ve had Elton Brand, Jay Williams, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr. How many of those players moved the needle for you? Brand and Deng were fine players, but they weren’t showstoppers. Williams might have been if a motorcycle accident hadn’t ruined his career.
Along with all the other Duke disappointments in the NBA through the years, at what point do you ask whether the issue is the program?
The 6-10 Carter might turn out to be the great player that Bulls vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman
say he’ll be. But we’ve all been around the block enough times to know that a team would gush that its three-legged horse shoots 75 percent from the field.
My overriding emotion to the Carter pick — and it is an emotion — was a sour ‘‘He went to Duke.’’ It was followed by a somber ‘‘God help us all.’’
Duke players don’t make great NBA players. It’s hard to pinpoint why. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s teams are loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans and do extremely well in the NCAA Tournament. But his players often underachieve in the NBA relative to their draft position. That Duke frat-boyishness doesn’t seem to translate well at the next level. Why teams continue to think it will is one of life’s great questions. Perhaps they put more emphasis on character than on, I don’t know, jumping.
Chicago was rescued from complete Duke hell Thursday when the Jazz took Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen with the 21st pick. The Bulls had the 22nd pick, thanks to the Nikola Mirotic trade. Allen, a cheap-shot artist with the eternal facial expressions of an aggrieved party, is the embodiment of Duke. If he isn’t Christian Laettner’s son, he’s at least a first cousin once removed.
With three players taken among the first 21 picks, how did Duke not win the national championship last season? That should be a question every NBA team that drafted a Dookie should be asking itself. How is it that a college with the future second and seventh overall picks, along with a four-year player who averaged 15.5 points his senior year, didn’t beat everybody? Possible answer: Because those players aren’t as good as advertised.
Krzyzewski is such an icon in basketball circles that it’s possible his lofty reputation influences the draft. Do NBA talent evaluators fall in love with his players simply because they’re his players? Do those scouts and GMs want to be in Coach K’s favor, like students wanting to please their teacher? Do the people who choose the McDonald’s All-Americans overrate incoming Duke players because those players already are associated with Krzyzewski? The answer to all those questions is yes, though in varying degrees.
If you’re saying it’s unfair to judge Carter based on the sins of Duke failures, you’re right. Completely unfair. Sort of like life is. Duke supporters point to the success of former Blue Devils Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum and say, ‘‘That’s where Carter’s headed!’’ I can’t stop thinking about former Duke star Shane Battier, who averaged 8.6 points in 14 NBA seasons. He was perfectly pretty good, if not thoroughly OK.
The whole attraction of the NBA Draft is that you never know. By trading to get Oklahoma guard Trae Young on draft night, the Hawks are hoping they have found the next Steph Curry. When the Warriors chose Curry seventh overall in the 2009 draft, they couldn’t possibly have envisioned what he would become.
That’s the good news for every team as the dust settles from the 2018 draft. No team is truly sure what it has on its hands. In Carter, the Bulls might have the next Al Horford or the next Jahlil Okafor, another Duke player who was supposed to be great but hasn’t been yet.
On Thursday, ESPN’s Chauncey Billups compared Carter to Boozer. I’ll say it again: God help us all.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.