The Bulls’ Wendell Carter Jr. called Zion Williamson special, but he won’t tank
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NEW ORLEANS — Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. knew what his alma mater was about to unleash was going to be special.
He just couldn’t fathom the actual carnage that took place in Indianapolis on Tuesday night, when Duke performed basketball surgery on Kentucky 118-84 and served notice that the Death Star was fully operational once again.
“That was something special,’’ Carter said Wednesday. “That’s a phenomenal team right there. You can just see that everyone has bought in. Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] does a hell of a job recruiting players, and it was a very exciting game, promising year for them.’’
Carter, who was a one-and-done player for the Blue Devils last season before being drafted No. 7 overall by the Bulls, is still in contact with Brennan Besser and Marques Bolden, and they had been telling Carter that a storm was coming.
The three-headed freshman monster of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish put on a show against the Wildcats.
Williamson, who had 28 points, was the talk after the game because a 6-7, 285-pounder is not supposed to have a 45-inch vertical leap.
“He was unreal,’’ Carter said. “It wasn’t fair.’’
Carter sees Williamson’s game easily making the transition to the NBA.
“I feel like he’s going to translate perfectly,’’ Carter said.
“He’s very explosive, very quick, and he has a very, very large frame, and that’s very, very rare. Not many people can guard that.’’
The Bulls entered Wednesday tied for the fourth-worst record in the league, so do they dare go into tank mode — disguised as “developmental’’ mode — to try to land one of the three Dukies?
The front office can have a huge hand in deciding that, but Carter’s mind was already made up.
“I feel like we’ve just got to try to win every game,’’ Carter said. “If we lose, but we’re playing hard, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t feel good losing games on purpose.’’
According to vice president John Paxson, Denzel Valentine’s injured left ankle was not responding well to the ramped-up basketball activity, so the idea of a return in a few weeks has been downgraded to “indefinite.’’
Paxson also said that Lauri Markkanen has started shooting despite his injured right elbow, but he still has to increase his distance. Reconditioning will be the next big obstacle.
The original timetable for Markkanen was six to eight weeks, which would fall around mid- to late November, but it sounds as though late November would be optimistic, early December more realistic.
Playing the good soldier
With Carter in foul trouble against the Knicks on Monday and Cristiano Felicio awful off the bench defensively, coach Fred Hoiberg wiped the cobwebs off veteran big man Robin Lopez and unleashed the 7-footer.
Lopez grabbed five rebounds, blocked two shots, finished plus-1 and, more important, slowed down Knicks center Enes Kanter, who was killing the Bulls with 24 rebounds, including nine offensive boards.
So how is Lopez staying ready despite earning six DNP-CDs this season?
“I’m not too worried about it,’’ Lopez said of his lack of playing time. “The coaching staff, [especially assistant coach] Pete Myers, has been working a lot with [me].’’