Bulls big man Wendell Carter Jr. knows how he can help the Markkanen express
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Of course, Wendell Carter Jr. has been watching.
Relegated to spectator status after season-ending surgery Jan. 21 on his left thumb, Carter, a 6-10 center selected with the seventh pick in the 2018 draft, also is taking notes because he wants to form a franchise-cornerstone combo with forward Lauri Markkanen.
“I’m looking at how I can fit in the system now,’’ Carter said. “I’ve been watching, obviously from the sideline, especially with [Markkanen] playing as well as he’s been playing lately, just seeing how I can get in there, fit in. Just be a key component.’’
A lot has changed since Carter went down. In February, Markkanen went on an offensive tear.
In an 11-game span, he averaged 26 points and 12.2 rebounds, and the Bulls won five of those games.
Coach Jim Boylen let the offense off its leash, and Markkanen played with a newfound aggressiveness, but veteran center Robin Lopez’s dirty work was instrumental in making Markkanen’s life easier.
Carter had better pay attention to that.
“You can’t help but watch what Robin does out there,’’ Carter said. “I see how effective Lauri is coming off the screen.
‘‘I mean, three and four screens on one set are pretty tough to guard. Drag screens when Lauri is bringing the ball up, the way Robin rebounds and looks to kick it out to [Markkanen], that all comes with the territory once I’m able to get back out there and play.’’
Before his injury, Carter, 19, was the starting center, Lopez was the backup and the Bulls were going through some serious growing pains.
Carter averaged 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in 44 games, but the Bulls only won 10 of those.
Lopez is a free agent this summer, and Boylen has insisted several times that the organization would love to have him back, but he also said Carter would be the starting center.
Obviously, Carter wants to make his own mark in the offense, but Lopez has instituted an unselfish style that has helped Markkanen take strides toward becoming an All-Star.
And that factor cannot be overlooked by Carter.
“I feel like Lauri and I complement each other really well, especially with him being such a great offensive player,’’ Carter said. “I feel like we’re just a great one-two punch.’’
The good news is Carter is expected to be cleared to start full basketball activity within the next month, and all signs point to him being ready for the summer.
Unfortunately, Carter and Markkanen won’t actually get to work together much this offseason outside of the voluntary block sessions the organization will schedule.
But Carter says he played an unselfish style in his one season at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski, letting other teammates shine, so he’s well-versed in that philosophy.
“This is a game I love to play, so hearing how excited the organization is about me moving forward motivates me, gives me a target to hit,’’ Carter said. “When I was in college, my goal was to make it to the NBA. Now that I’ve made it to the NBA, another goal is to be that cornerstone piece for this team that the front office wants me to be. I’m looking forward to making that happen.’’