Chicago Bulls: What happened to Wendell Carter Jr.?

(Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Poor play of late for Chicago Bulls starting center Wendell Carter Jr. should lead to questions being asked about the offensive scheming.

A two-game winning streak is a big deal for head coach Jim Boylen and the Chicago Bulls this season. Since the Bulls didn’t produce the desired results yet, at least by the standard they set heading into the preseason, the fans started growing impatient. And rightly so.

The product the Bulls were putting out on the court at the United Center, that led to an 11-19 start through the first 30 games, warranted some type of change. At least the Bulls won their last two games over teams in similar positions as them in the Eastern Conference. They knocked off the Washington Wizards in overtime to start the streak, and added to it by beating the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 21.

The Bulls made a solid late run to knock off the Pistons on the road on Saturday night by the final score of 119-107. That moved their record to a still-less than stellar 12-19 on the season.

A big night from shooting guard Zach LaVine put the Bulls in position to beat the Pistons by a margin of 18-points in the second half. LaVine posted a game-high 33 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field last night.

Moreover, while LaVine is trending up of late after a slow start, another key piece of this Bulls young core is starting to decline. Second-year center Wendell Carter Jr. was about the only positive point for the Bulls through the first 20 games of the regular season.

But through roughly the last dozen games, WCJ is seeing his production fall off. He’s still averaging 11.9 points per game, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.1 assists so far this season, but those looks worse than they did about three or four weeks ago. In four of the last 10 games, WCJ was held in single-digits scoring. Two of those bad scoring nights saw him play in more than 38 minutes on the floor.

WCJ has also shot 50 percent or worse from the field in more than half of his outings since the Bulls reached the 20-game mark this season.

The per 36 scoring numbers have actually dropped for Carter since his rookie season. He’s averaging 14.2 points per 36 minutes, compared to 14.8 during his rookie campaign.

And despite a solid start to his sophomore season in the NBA, WCJ’s field goal attempt numbers, blocks, and rebounds are all down. He’s attempting around two less two pointers per 36, has one less block, and half as many rebounds, as he did as a rookie.

Most of that dip in production is a result of his declining production on the floor in the last 10 games or so.

So, what happened?

I’ve mentioned this before, and will keep beating this drum until the narrative changes, but Boylen has to believe more in WCJ’s vision and smooth shooting stroke. He’s attempted just three looks from downtown in the last 10 games. And he has seen his usage rate drop and his assist rate cut in half compared to last season.

It also appears that WCJ is just lost on the floor at times. He’s missing open cutting lanes and not being aggressive on open looks when the ball is in his hands. That sounds like a direct result of bad coaching and a lack of confidence.

While WCJ should be improving his off-ball awareness and movement on both ends of the floor in his second-year, he can’t help a lack of usage and poor scheming. Carter needs to be involved in the screen-and-roll game more often and needs to be trusted more to facilitate the offense with the ball in his hands beyond 16-feet from the rim.

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Another spot where the Bulls can improve the methods in which WCJ is used is by leveraging the ascending efficiency and confidence of LaVine and power forward Lauri Markkanen. We should be discovering that Lauri isn’t going to be a primary star scorer in this league, but he can stroke it. Let him cut around and get going with WCJ using his vision to found him outside and in open lanes.

There’s a good fix to WCJ’s woes, but not much reason to believe that Boylen will find a solution.