Wendell Carter shows flashes but also has ‘Welcome to the NBA' moments in Bulls debut


It didn’t take long for Wendell Carter Jr. to have his “Welcome to the NBA” moment.

Carter Jr. subbed in midway through the first quarter of the Bulls’ preseason opener against the New Orleans Pelicans and took his assignment: All-NBA First Teamer Anthony Davis.

Carter’s professional debut included multiple possessions defending Davis, Julius Randle welcoming him to the league with some first half bully ball and fellow Duke alum Jahlil Okafor putting him on a poster in his professional debut. But Carter’s night also included some nice defensive possessions, a pure 15-foot jumper and a handful of smooth pick-and-roll finishes. All in an eventful night’s work.

“Just playing against Anthony Davis, that was one of my favorite players growing up,” Carter said. “So just to be on the same court as him was a lot of fun, but just having one (game) under my belt now I think the jitters will be out as the games keep going.”

Carter came off the bench behind Robin Lopez on Sunday, marking the first time at any level he hadn’t started. The Bulls made their first substitutions of the night – Fred Hoiberg also inserted Bobby Portis – before the Pelicans, pitting the rookie against the MVP candidate in Davis.

Davis actually turned the ball over on consecutive possessions against Carter, on a travel and lost dribble out of bounds. Randle wasn’t as clumsy, continually going at Carter and scoring on three different possessions. But Carter also drew a charge on Randle during the first-half sequence, and he secured three defensive rebounds in 12 minutes.

“Wendell’s not going to back down from anybody,” Hoiberg said. “That’s what we love about him. He’s a 19-year-old kid, sometimes I think we forget that because he’s a very mature, high IQ player.”

Carter found more success in the second half against a frontcourt of Cheick Diallo and Jahlil Okafor. He finished with 11 points on 5 of 8 shooting, making three shots at the rim, a turnaround jumper on the block and a 15-footer late in the second half. He seemed comfortable in pick-and-roll action with Cameron Payne, who will be Carter’s point guard on the second unit; three of Payne’s team-high seven assists went to Carter, including an alley-oop that Carter slammed home out of a timeout in the fourth quarter as the Bulls pulled away.

That fourth quarter also included Okafor’s drive, spin and dunk over an outstretched Carter under the basket. Zach LaVine joked with Carter in the locker room after the game that eventually Carter, who didn’t block any shots in 15 minutes, will have more blocks than posters. And that’s Carter’s goal. While he may not be asked to do much offensively in his first season – especially paired with Bobby Portis, who shot 19 times in 19 minutes – his hope is that he establishes himself on the defensive end.

“Just hold your own, just establish yourself in this league so people don’t see you as a weak link, coming down the court like, ‘Oh, we’ve got a mismatch right here,’” he said. “That’s something I don’t want to be.”

He won’t be that, but his performance was also a reminder that he won’t turn 20 years old until after the regular season. Robin Lopez looked like himself in 15 quiet minutes and will likely have the starting reins for the time being. And even with Lauri Markkanen on the mend for the next 6 to 8 weeks, Carter isn’t pressing or attempting to change his game. The Bulls will take it slow with the next piece of their rebuild, through the ups and downs like the ones he had Sunday night.

“Those aren’t easy covers,” Hoiberg said. “Good first experience for him. I think he played very well.”

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