In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
Today’s edition examines Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr.
Before Marvin Bagley III elected to reclassify and commit to play for Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils, it was Wendell Carter Jr. that was the big-name addition for the program in the frontcourt. The talented big man from Pace Academy operated as a top-10 overall prospect in the 2017 high school class and, by any objective measure, Carter Jr. performed up to the considerable hype while succeeding at a high level during his one and only college season.
While Bagley III garners more headlines and is seen, at least by many, as a superior prospect at this juncture, Carter Jr. is a near-consensus top 10 overall player in the 2018 NBA Draft class and a deeper dive into his skill set backs up that peripheral assumption. At 6’10 with a 7’4.5 wingspan, Carter Jr. has more than enough size to operate as a full-time NBA center and he brings a diverse and interesting skill set to the table.
Offensively, he is a very polished prospect. Carter Jr. excels with his back to the basket in the post, offering an array of moves matched by very few prospects in this particular class. Beyond that, he can also face up with effectiveness, shooting jumpers or using his sneakily effective off-the-dribble game to get to the rim and finish.
Elsewhere, Carter is a terrific screener for a college player (especially at just 19 years old) and he brings a potentially interesting dynamic to the table with his jump shot. The one-and-done center connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts in college and, while that was a very small sample (46 attempts), his mechanics are clean and Carter Jr.’s jumper looks the part as an effective weapon in the NBA.
In addition, Carter displayed the ability to score efficiently against high-level college competition and there is no reason to think that won’t translate to the professional ranks. He displays great hands for a young big man, is a strong and willing passer and even knocks down 74 percent of his free throws, taking away a potential weakness that many big men face.
Defensively, Carter Jr. also proved to be a very strong contributor at Duke, even with a team that had all kinds of issues on that end of the floor. While he wasn’t always spectacular, Carter Jr. flashed strong footwork around the rim and has good instincts, length and verticality as a rim protector, especially when considering his substantial size.
Perhaps the biggest question with Carter Jr.’s game, though, is his lack of high-end burst and athleticism. While he moves well in certain situations on both ends of the floor, no one would equate Carter Jr. with the type of high-end foot speed and burst displayed by his former teammate in Bagley III, and there is at least some risk that Carter Jr. will be unable to stay on the floor defensively against small-ball lineups in the NBA.
Of course, there is nothing to say that a fundamentally sound, high basketball IQ player like Carter Jr. can’t adapt but, in short, his athleticism is an open question at this juncture. If you’re looking for a “bright side” to that particular argument, he entered the NBA Draft Combine with a sub-part 7.85 percent body fat, leaving some work to be done on his body and perhaps providing optimism that he can develop more quickness alongside NBA-level training staffs.
While comparisons are often fraught when considering NBA Draft prospects, Al Horford and Derrick Favors have been posited for Carter Jr. at this early point in his career. The Horford comp is particularly interesting in that they are both versatile, talented prospects with similar theoretical skill sets, though Horford entered the league as a better lateral athlete and has performed at a high level as a switch defender in the NBA as a result. It would be aggressive to forecast Carter Jr. in that light but, in the same breath, it is fair to argue that Carter Jr. could even be underrated athletically right now, simply because he looks average in comparison to Bagley III, Deandre Ayton and Mo Bamba.
It is very unlikely that the Atlanta Hawks will have the opportunity to draft Wendell Carter Jr., as many expect him to be drafted between No. 6 and No. 13 when June 21 arrives. In short, the Hawks would have to get quite creative in order to secure a pick in his range and Carter Jr. will likely be operating elsewhere.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to like Carter Jr.’s game and, as a local product, there will always be additional interest in his progress. Stay tuned.