It's never easy to play in the shadow of one of the most talked about players in your sport, but that was the situation Duke's Wendell Carter Jr. found himself in this season. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound freshman arrived in Durham as one of the top prospects in the high school class of 2017, but he didn't have the explosive leaping ability or all-around skill set of fellow freshman big man, Marvin Bagley III.
So, while national broadcasters and writers focused their attention on how good Bagley might be on the NBA level, Carter Jr. toiled in relative anonymity, averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in helping the Blue Devils reach the Midwest Regional Final in the NCAA Tournament.
And while the national media compared Bagley to Chris Bosh (they're both 6-goot-11, skinny and left-handed), they ignored the fact Carter Jr. shot a higher percentage from the 3-point line (.413 to .397) and the charity stripe (.738 to .627). Because of his NBA-ready frame, Carter Jr. is by far the better interior defender and his offensive numbers figure to go up when he gets more opportunities on the pro level.
As we all know by now, NBA teams draft on potential, and there's no denying Bagley has the higher upside because of his athleticism and scoring ability. Still, Carter Jr. has quietly worked his way up draft boards with his work ethic and consistency. He played center at Duke to allow the taller Bagley to roam on the perimeter, and Carter Jr. projects well at both center and power forward as a pro.
Where does Carter Jr. fit with the Bulls? Well, power forward is not a position of need with Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis on the roster, but I've seen Carter Jr. going to the Bulls in a couple different mock drafts. Given his underrated shooting touch from long range, he could eventually emerge as a small ball center in the mold of Portis. Depending on where the Bulls land after the lottery is held on May 15, they might consider Carter Jr. a better option than any of the small forwards available on the board.
The old philosophy among NBA scouts and general managers when faced with the choice of a comparably talented big man or perimeter player is always go for size. This year's draft is a bit of a throwback with 6 players 6-foot-10 or taller expected to go in the top eight picks, and Carter Jr. should be in that group, provided he does well during individual team workouts.