When it comes to Duke draft prospects, all the talk is surrounding Marvin Bagley III. The athletic, big-number-posting freshman dazzled with 18 double-doubles and a ton of dunking.
Move beyond the flash, though, and you’ll see the best draft prospect Duke has to offer this season: Wendell Carter Jr.
Bagley III was the top rated prospect of his class coming out of high school, but Carter Jr. wasn’t far behind at sixth. Coming out of Pace Academy in Atlanta, Carter Jr. looked ready to shine at Duke.
Carter Jr.’s stats in his lone season as a Blue Devil didn’t scream star: 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 2.0 assists, and 0.8 steals on .561/.413/.738 shooting splits.
A lot of Carter Jr.’s stats were taken off the board by his frontcourt partner, Bagley III. With another dominant paint presence by his side, Carter Jr. didn’t have much opportunity to take over games.
He shined here and there, however, especially in Duke’s game against Florida State.
Considering Carter Jr. is a giant human being, it would make sense to start off by championing his post presence. But I would like to start off by highlighting his passing ability.
In a game where movement off the ball is becoming key in modern offense, big men who can dish out of the paint are a big factor in that player rotation paying off.
Passing big men that can score near the rim can stress defenses like ball-handlers that can shoot off the dribble: can defenses afford to help guard Carter Jr. down low when he can pass off to open shooters on the perimeter?
It didn’t get much easier than this dish against Virgina.
Carter Jr. is also modern in the fact that he 1) must be respected on the perimeter and 2) can dribble. A simple pump fake can open up a lot of options, and when one of those options is a post presence like Bagley III, that seems like a wise route to go.
Now let’s get to his post presence.
Carter Jr. is not super bouncy and explosive off the ground like some of his draft counterparts, but he is simply a load to handle down low — and not just for skinny college dudes. At 6-foot-10, 259 pounds, he has a ready-made NBA body.
Plays like these are why I chose the “monster” moniker for Carter Jr. He rips down a tough rebound, rips through a compact paint and drops in a tough left-handed shot off the glass.
Having a big body on the floor is just outright useful, as Carter Jr. shows here by (illegally?) creating a tight seal for Bagley III.
Carter Jr.’s off-the-dribble game is under construction, but will be something to monitor in his rookie campaign. A big being comfortable dribbling isn’t nothing.
In transition, Carter Jr. will be a factor. He isn’t ultra-quick, but he gets up the floor — and off the floor — just fine.
Get a body on the big man!
Carter Jr. was not on Deandre Ayton’s level as a shooter this season, but he showed some ability that bumps up his NBA ceiling quite a bit. Even in the misses, his mechanics were pretty sound — and he even shoots off the hop in this clip.
An area on offense where Carter Jr. certainly needs to improve is in the pick-and-roll. Duke rarely used him in any, and it showed his inexperienced when he was in one.
In this, Carter Jr. doesn’t make much contact with the ball-handler’s man and then plods towards the rim. He didn’t think to look for the pass, and was lucky enough to pick up the loose ball for an open dunk
On defense, Carter Jr. is also a presence down low.
He isn’t perfect, however. Duke’s scheme kept him around the rim most of the time, playing in a no-man’s-land zone system.
This play is a pretty good example of Carter Jr.’s defense. He’s a little slow recovering on the pick-and-roll, but he ends up with a block anyway.
Duke’s scheme and the talent around him often put Carter Jr. in a tough spot defensively. Both Bagley III and Trevon Duval’s inability to contain the pick-and-roll puts Carter Jr. in a sandwich — he’s stuck between his man and the penetrating ball-handler.
The Virgina guard does score here, but Carter Jr. recognized quickly that Duval got beat and did his best to alter the shot at the rim.
Similar here, except Carter Jr. gets the block.
Carter Jr. does a nice job on this play staying in front of the ball-handler while also keeping close to his man.
Carter Jr. will probably not go top five, but anywhere from six-to-nine seems reasonable. They are all good fits. Orlando at six would play Carter Jr. next to Aaron Gordon. Chicago at seven has Lauri Markkanen. Cleveland at eight has Kevin Love. New York at nine has Kristaps Porzingis. Not only would Carter Jr. play next to high-level talent in either location; he would play in space!
With the talent Carter Jr. played with at Duke, it is not hard to imagine him looking better immediately in the NBA. More space would allow Carter Jr. to operate with more ease in the post, and he wouldn’t be compromised as much defensively with better defenders on the perimeter.
He may not have the upside of Ayton, Mo Bamba, or any of the other projected lottery picks, but Carter Jr. has an incredibly high floor. And if he improves in the pick-and-roll (on both sides of the floor), becomes a knock-down shooter, can create off-the-dribble, and isn’t totally useless defending to perimeter, Carter Jr. should have no trouble being a 10-to-15-year starter in the NBA.