Carter may absolutely be miscast as a center in certain matchups. He admitted on Tuesday that he’s undersized in a lot of situations. But until the Bulls can find a generational talent that erases opposing game plans, the warts on this team will continue to standout against the NBA’s best.
It’s easy to kick around Wendell Carter Jr. on Tuesday.
Heck, the Bulls center was at the front of the line doing it to himself.
“I’m a competitor,’’ Carter said in a Zoom call, before the team flew out to New Orleans. “For me to go out there and have those types of performances that I had, for us to lose, I kind of feel like it’s all on me.’’
Not even close, but for a player that is overly hard on himself like Carter has been going back to his high school days, it’s easy to see why he feels that way.
Ever since elite big man Joel Embiid took Carter to the woodshed with a 50-point, 17-rebound clinic less than two weeks ago, it’s been ugly for the Bulls center.
Getting outplayed by Embiid or watching Nikola Jokic go for 39 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists like he did in Denver’s Monday night win, isn’t ideal, but isn’t out of the ordinary for players with that size and skillset to make any NBA center look bad.
What’s concerning is Carter has also recently been out-played by the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Deandre Ayton since the Embiid game. Towns? Understandable because of his skillset, but Carter should have easily won the physicality aspect against the Timberwolves big man, who has a reputation of being more like a roll of Charmin in the toughness department.
That’s why Bulls coach Billy Donovan was asked about the idea that Carter – who is listed at 6-foot-10, but that feels like a stretch – gets overwhelmed at that position too often because he is undersized.
Donovan agreed with that assessment to a certain degree, and also said that’s one of the reasons they were trying to get Carter to improve on his outside shot and range, so that he can transition to the four more easily in certain matchups and be a threat at that spot.
Even Carter admitted on Tuesday that there’s some tough situations he’s been thrown into, and will continue to be thrown into.
“I’m a center,’’ Carter said. “There are a lot of centers in this league 7 foot or over. I mean, it’s just physics. I’m shorter. I don’t necessarily think I’m not as strong but I’m just shorter. Whenever they can get a hook shot in, they’re usually shooting over me. What I have to do a better job of is using my strength, pushing catches out to make it more difficult for them to get to those areas around the rim. But that’s just physics. I’m shorter than them. That’s the end of the statement right there.’’
But there’s a bigger statement going on than Carter likely being in the wrong position in certain matchups. What the losses to Philadelphia and Denver are reminders of are the fact that the Bulls still lack a superstar talent.
Sure, Zach LaVine is taking strides in that direction, but in Year 7 for him, there’s still nothing promised. There’s a reason the Bulls have struggled against playoff teams since the rebuild began, and entered Tuesday 4-12 against teams above .500 this season [2-14 at the time that they played them].
Star power matters, and until the Bulls find that then picking on Carter being undersized or Coby White not being a true point guard doesn’t solve the obvious.
“I try not to take the approach of, ‘Hey, listen, if we don’t have one of those [superstars] it’s all for nothing. We just can’t compete,’ ‘’ Donovan said, when asked if the Bulls can only go so far without a generational-type player. “Our roster, our team, how do we get this group better instead of maybe having the approach of ‘Geez, if we don’t get one of these guys it’s going to be really hard.’ I mean, listen, you go against the Clippers, you go against the Lakers, you go against Denver, yeah, you’re having to deal with those guys.’’
Six-foot-10 or not.