Player breakdowns: Bulls’ Wendell Carter Jr. wants a position change
With the NBA season still up in the air, the Sun-Times will look at all the Bulls, the seasons they had and the upcoming seasons they could have, in Chicago or elsewhere. Next up is Carter.
Bulls big man Wendell Carter Jr. is a power forward. Unfortunately, he’s asked to dwell in a residency occupied by centers.
But Carter is hoping it’s only a rental.
“Absolutely,’’ he said when asked last month if he would talk to his bosses about a possible position change whenever the regular season eventually ends. “Coach [Jim Boylen] understands that I’m a great defender no matter who I’m guarding, but he also understands that one of the reasons we’re in the black is because of my size, because I’m not as tall. I mean, I’m more mobile than most fives, so I’m able to be up, slide, all that.
“I mean, I’ve been playing the four all of my life. . . . It’s definitely a conversation I’m going to bring up, for sure, but as of right now, I’m just trying to make it work with where I’m at.’’
It wasn’t the first time Carter brought up his plight to the media, but it was the first time he openly said it bothered him enough to discuss it with the organization.
When that conversation happens, especially with the league in a complete shutdown because of the coronavirus, is anyone’s guess. It will happen, though.
On most nights, the 6-9 Carter can get away with life in the paint because of his solid 280-pound build, his 7-5 wingspan and his ability to block shots and rebound.
But he is handicapped against bigger, stronger centers and, more important, on the offensive end. The center in the Bulls’ offense went from a post threat last season, with Boylen running a lot of four-out, one-in motion sets in which he wanted the five to get touches, to being an afterthought.
Being a rim-runner and screener is huge in the offense Boylen, his coaching staff and the analytics department came up with this season, but there are few opportunities for Carter to score unless he plays garbage man — grabbing offensive rebounds and doing it himself — especially when Zach LaVine or Coby White gets hot. Then again, when those two get rolling, everyone is an afterthought.
Carter’s smooth midrange jumper — as well as a growing ability to shoot the long ball — is what initially caught the Bulls’ eye in his private workouts before the 2018 draft. And there were glimpses of those skills last season. But that seed barely has been watered.
Boylen often talks about being able to have “difficult conversations’’ with his players. Expect Carter to find out if it’s a two-way street.
Carter has no choice but to accept the center role, especially with the Bulls’ lack of depth in the middle. Daniel Gafford has shown promise but is still a raw rookie. Luke Kornet is a stretch four disguised as a center, and Cristiano Felicio is a G Leaguer whom general manager Gar Forman completely mis-scouted and overpaid.
Carter has emerged as the second-best defender on the team behind Kris Dunn — and the best frontcourt defender — while also showing promise as a big man who should average a double-double. He needs to show he can stay healthy, however.
If the Bulls find a trade partner that would land them a star, they undoubtedly would have to include current starting four Lauri Markkanen in the package. That’s about the only opening Carter has to get his wish to be a power forward.
The Bulls’ front office is incapable of pulling off the organizational-changing trade, so expect Carter to stay in his current role. But he will continue to emerge as a leader and will have a major voice on the team in two years. That’s his makeup.