Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. showing that taking him at No. 7 wasn’t a reach
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Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. sat in front of his locker Saturday, struggling with his emotions.
Carter was discussing the handful of NBA games on his résumé and seemed to be having a debate with himself.
“I just have to get better at it; I just have to be more aggressive,’’ said Carter, the seventh pick in the 2018 draft. “I keep saying it, telling myself that I need to go out there and just do it . . . be aggressive, play my game.’’
At that point, Carter was averaging 6.6 points, learning Big Man 101 in the NBA.
His regular-season debut came in Philadelphia against Joel Embiid, an elite center who takes no prisoners and likes to tell you about it.
“I knew he would talk trash,” Carter said, “but he did it the entire game.’’
Embiid led the 76ers to victory with 30 points and 12 rebounds. Carter had eight points, got into foul trouble and finished with a bruised ego.
A game later against Pistons All-Star Andre Drummond, Carter held his own defensively, though Drummond got into early foul trouble.
Rock-bottom came in Dallas. Carter looked lost offensively and defensively during the Bulls’ third consecutive defeat.
When Carter reached Atlanta on Saturday — a sort of homecoming for the native of Fairburn, Georgia — enough was enough. He scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 22 minutes.
“I know that my time is going to come,’’ Carter said. “I don’t want to force anything. I just need to be patient with it, make sure that I assert myself the right way. That’s been the obstacle, asserting myself.’’
That’s a common problem for a rookie, especially one who doesn’t have the ball in his hands on offense. Rookie guards Luka Doncic and Trae Young have a certain freedom, bringing the ball up and controlling the action.
Carter has been relying on second-chance baskets and the occasional dump-in to the post from Zach LaVine or Cameron Payne. When he did get the ball, some uncertainty was obvious.
“I hate making mistakes,’’ Carter said. “I need to make sure the ball is in the right person’s hands each time down the court.’’
But Carter also has realized something: The right person’s hands might be his own.
Notching his first double-double in the victory against the Hawks seems to have boosted his confidence. He scored 18 in the blowout loss to the Warriors, then had a career-best 25 points in the one-point overtime loss Wednesday to the Nuggets.
When comparing the 2018 rookie class, the selection of Carter at No. 7 was definitely a value purchase.
Carter, averaging 10.8 points, was seventh in scoring behind Doncic (19.6), Young (19.1), Deandre Ayton (16.9), Marvin Bagley (12.4), Collin Sexton (12.0) and Jaren Jackson (11.5). He’s tied for third in rebounding with Doncic (6.3) behind Ayton (10.0) and Bagley (7.1) and is tied for first with Mohamed Bamba with 14 blocked shots.
Doncic is definitely the standout of the class, but Carter is beginning to stand taller.
“I was talking about not being passive, talking about it, talking about it,’’ Carter said. “But this league is about actually doing it. That’s where I’m at right now.’’