Wendell Carter Jr. for the first time spoke about some underlying frustrations in Chicago with publicly requesting a position change in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
Wendell Carter Jr. was one game away from playing 44 games, the same amount of games played as a rookie for the Chicago Bulls before the COVID-19 outbreak. In his sophomore season, Carter missed 21 games due to ankle, tailbone, and thumb injuries. He missed 38 games due to a thumb injury his rookie season, giving him 87 games played and started for Chicago, plus 59 missed due to injuries.
Through all 87 games, Carter has played center for the Bulls despite playing his natural and primary power forward position he was accustomed to at Duke University being 6-foot-10 inches and 270lbs.
Carter averaged per game career-highs in points (11.3), rebounds (9.4), steals (0.8), field goal percentage (53.4), three-point percentage (20.7%), field goals made (4.3), and minutes played (29.2). Unfortunately, the Bulls don’t have depth at center behind Carter as they’ve played rookie Daniel Gafford 14.2 minutes per game, Luke Kornet 15.5 per game, and surprisingly Cristiano Felicio the most of the three at 17.5 per game. Despite that, Carter openly admitted he will be requesting a position change once and if the season is over.
When interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times about talking to Head Coach Jim Boylen about the possibility of playing the power forward rather than the center position, Carter responded, “Absolutely, Coach [Jim Boylen] understands that I’m a great defender no matter who I’m guarding, but he also understands that one of the reasons we’re in the black is because of my size because I’m not as tall. I mean, I’m more mobile than most fives, so I’m able to be up, slide, all that.”
He also added, “I’ve been playing the four all of my life. . . . It’s definitely a conversation I’m going to bring up, for sure, but as of right now, I’m just trying to make it work with where I’m at.’’
On October 21, 2019, the Bulls exercised their team option to extend the contract of Carter giving him a guaranteed two or three seasons with Chicago unless there’s a trade. He is currently on a team option in 2021 and becomes a restricted free agent in 2022. A. trade is unlikely even though the Bulls have a cheap $5.448 million base salary due to Carter in 2020-21 according to Spotrac. If he stays with the team until the 2022-23 season, he would be making $9.279 million as a 23-year-old without his first free-agent contract.
As of right now with all the uncertainty surrounding the Bulls, this is another step in the wrong direction for the team.
While Carter has every right to request a position change, and at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, he’s naturally a mismatch at the power forward with his quickness and length. He improved tremendously in his second season posting a -0.5 net rating compared to -11.7 in his rookie campaign. His offensive net rating skyrocketed from 97.8 last season to 104.8 this year, and his defense that was called into question last season did improve slightly from 109.4 as a rookie to 105.3 this year.
Chicago just simply doesn’t have any other options at the center position. The Bulls are stuck with Kornet and Felicio on the books until the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, and for the sake of making the playoffs, hopefully not much longer as both are G-Leaguers rather than playoff bench pieces, respectfully. Chicago could have aggressively gone after a center like now Cleveland Cavaliers‘ Andre Drummond who was sold by the Detroit Pistons very cheaply and moved Carter to the power forward and Markkanen to the bench for a spark or a trade piece.
Instead, behind the Bulls’ second-year center is a rookie center, Daniel Gafford, who has shown promise in his limited time. Yet, still as a rookie, he could be a nice surprise for years to come with or without Carter if it comes to that point for him. Both players are going to be bright young pieces into a rebuilding effort around Zach LaVine starting with the three No. 7 overall selections in a row, Markkanen, Carter and Coby White.
If the NBA season is over, Chicago did improve believe or not, finishing the season 22-43, eight games out of the final spot for the playoffs, and the same amount of wins as last seasons’ 22-60 team. This summer will be an important one for the future of the Chicago Bulls, and something as simple as a position change affects a lot of potential moving pieces in another disappointing year for fans, players, and coaches in Chicago.
The No. 7 overall pick almost seems like destiny once again for the Chicago Bulls.