Player Preview: Wendell Carter's tall task of transforming a defense

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Player: Wendell Carter Jr.
Position: Center
Year: 1st
17-18 stats (at Duke): 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 56.1% FG

Outlook: Prior to the 2018 NBA Draft the Bulls had spent their last four first-round picks on offensively gifted prospects. Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine and Lauri Markkanen were all touted as shooters and scorers but lacked defensive presence. So it wasn't surprising that the Bulls targeted the best remaining rim protector after the likes of Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson and Mo Bamba went off the board in the first six picks.

Wendell Carter Jr. might not have the same instant impact as those bigs, but there's no denying the Bulls see him as the core piece to rebuilding the defense. The Bulls ranked 28th in efficiency last season and, aside from Carter, didn't add any reinforcements. They essentially swapped out David Nwaba, their best perimeter defender, for Jabari Parker. Kris Dunn is a legitimate defender and Lauri Markkanen should be better with 17 pounds added to his frame. But Carter is the complement to the offensively talented Bulls roster.

Without looking too far ahead - this is a preview for the upcoming season afterall - Carter's role will likely be different in March from what it is now. Whether it's Robin Lopez or Carter in the starting lineup, the latter will be asked to make an impact defensively. He'll either be paired with Markkanen (as a starter) or Portis (off the bench), so he won't be asked to do much scoring but will need to defend at a high level.

It'll start at the rim. Carter is agile enough and has quick enough feet that he'll be able to help on pick and rolls, but the Bulls need him at the rim. Opponents shot 63.9 percent from 5 feet on in against the Bulls last season, the third highest mark in the league. Only the Mavericks and Timberwolves were worse. Robin Lopez has provided value in two seasons with the Bulls but, again, it's been on offense. Cristiano Felicio...well, let's continue.

The Bulls didn't have a rim protector. They do now. #SmallSampleSizeAlert, but Carter more than looked the part in the Las Vegas Summer League. He grabbed 9.4 rebounds and blocked 13 shots in 144 minutes. The game will speed up but he's apparently already drawing rave reviews in practice.

Carter showed a soft touch around the rim in Las Vegas but this author still expects him to struggle there in the early going. His numbers weren't great at Duke and even if he comes off the bench he'll be the second option in his own frontcourt (behind either Markkanen or Portis). The 3-point stroke is there (he was 3-for-7 in Las Vegas) but we expect him to take a backseat on offense. Again, his value is going to come on the defensive end this coming season. Allow him to work on his offensive game while getting coached up by Lopez before he takes over as a full-time starter in a year.

Carter's development is every bit important as Markkanen's if the Bulls want to compete in the next few years. He doesn't have to be the savior from Day 1, but at 19 years old he's already their best interior big. And on a team that must make strides defensively, a lot will fall on him to make it happen.

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