It’s easy to poke at Wendell Carter Jr., but Bulls have a bigger issue

Carter might be miscast as a center in certain matchups, but until the Bulls can find a generational talent, their warts will continue to stand out against the NBA’s best.

SHARE It’s easy to poke at Wendell Carter Jr., but Bulls have a bigger issue
Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr., rebounds the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves last month.

Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr., rebounds the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves last month.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

It has been easy to kick around Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. recently.

Heck, he was doing it to himself Tuesday.

‘‘I’m a competitor,’’ Carter said in a Zoom call before the Bulls flew to New Orleans for a game Wednesday against the Pelicans. ‘‘For me to go out there and have those types of performances that I had, for us to lose, I kind of feel like it’s all on me.’’

For a player who is overly hard on himself, as Carter has been since high school, it’s easy to see why he feels that way.

Ever since 76ers big man Joel Embiid put on a 50-point, 17-rebound clinic against him Feb. 19, things have been ugly for Carter.

Getting outplayed by Embiid or watching Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic go off for 39 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists Monday isn’t ideal, but players with that size and those skills can make any center look bad.

What’s concerning is that Carter also has been outplayed recently by the Kings’ Hassan Whiteside, the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns and the Suns’ Deandre Ayton. Towns has superior skills, but Carter should have dominated him physically, considering Towns’ reputation of being soft.

That’s why Bulls coach Billy Donovan was asked about the idea that Carter, who is listed at 6-10, gets overwhelmed too often because he is undersized for his position.

Donovan agreed with that assessment to a degree and said that was one of the reasons the Bulls are trying to get Carter to improve his outside shot and shooting range. That would enable them to use him at power forward in certain matchups.

Carter acknowledged he has been thrown into some tough situations and likely will continue to be.

‘‘I’m a center,’’ he said. ‘‘There are a lot of centers in this league 7 feet or [taller]. I mean, it’s just physics. I’m shorter. I don’t necessarily think I’m not as strong, but I’m just shorter. Whenever they can get a hook shot in, they’re usually shooting over me.

‘‘What I have to do a better job of is using my strength, pushing catches out to make it more difficult for them to get to those areas around the rim. But that’s just physics. I’m shorter than them. That’s the end of the statement right there.’’

But there’s more going on than Carter likely being in the wrong position in certain matchups. The losses to the 76ers and Nuggets are reminders that the Bulls lack superstar talent. Sure, guard Zach LaVine is taking strides in that direction, but he hasn’t reached superstar status yet.

There’s a reason the Bulls have gone 2-14 against teams with winning records at the time they played them. Star power matters, and until the Bulls have that, it will be hard for them to beat teams that do.

‘‘I try not to take the approach of: ‘Hey, listen, if we don’t have one of those [superstars], it’s all for nothing. We just can’t compete,’ ’’ Donovan said. ‘‘Our roster, our team, how do we get this group better instead of maybe having the approach of: ‘Geez, if we don’t get one of these guys, it’s going to be really hard’?

‘‘You go against the Clippers, you go against the Lakers, you go against Denver, yeah, you’re having to deal with those guys.’’

With someone who is 6-10, if necessary.

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