Wendell Carter creates competition for Orlando Magic’s center position

Wendell Carter is getting a chance to contribute and grow with the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter is getting a chance to contribute and grow with the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic have played two games since inserting their new acquisition from the trade deadline into the lineup. And their young core has made some impressions lighting the way for the future.

So far, the new players have provided a bit of a spark and excitement, giving some justification that this rebuild is not starting from scratch and the Magic exacted some return for trading away their best players.

Center Wendell Carter has stood out as much, if not more, staking a claim to a potential starting spot in the very near future thanks to his defense. The energy and boost he has provided has been noticeable in two close fourth-quarter games.

It speaks volumes that coach Steve Clifford has opted to finish games with Wendell Carter manning the middle.

There has been an assumption that former Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen destroyed Wendell Carter’s confidence. His scoring average never really jumped — hanging around 10 points per game — as his field goal attempts slowly dropped, cratering at 7.9 per game this year.

In the first two games, he has broken from his shell and has made a first impression that might end up creating competition for the future center spot.

The Orlando Magic did not appear to get merely future assets in their trade deadline sell-off. Wendell Carter has made his presence felt as the new scenery has re-invigorated the former seventh overall pick.

In the 96-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, everyone showed flashes but seemed very unorganized, which is understandable for being the first game. Carter still contributed eight points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. He was essentially the last man off the bench in Clifford’s still-developing rotation as he gets a feel for his game.

But in the 103-96 win against the LA Clippers, Carter showed out. He finished the game with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists in only 18 minutes. He also blocked three shots, two in the final two minutes of the game. He was a perfect 4 for 4 from the floor, including hitting his lone 3-pointer of the game.

Seeing Carter shoot confidently was as much a victory as anything else. He seemed to be playing freer and that unlocked this high level of play.

The talent level was never the question when it comes to Carter. Instead, it was more of how confident can he be.

Carter’s career-high in shot attempts per game was in his rookie year at 8.4 in the 2019 season. The numbers kept going down from 8.0 and 7.6 until this season with a new coach, which is up to 7.9 until he was traded to the Magic.

Carter needed a fresh start with a new team and has gotten off to a great start. As Wendell gets more comfortable, it will unleash other parts of his game and will translate to giving the Magic’s offense more room to breathe.

Getting a young prospect like Wendell Carter was essential to the Orlando Magic moving Nikola Vucevic to a team like the Chicago Bulls.

But this brings up the question of what the Magic do at the center position moving forward.

While the ceilings are unknown for the Magic’s young centers in Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba, it is clear Carter is the better player as of now. While Bamba has more abilities such as elite shot-blocking and 3-point shooting, Carter does not make simple mistakes of positioning on defense and positioning for rebounds.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

According to data from Basketball Index, Carter gives up 8.6 percentage points lower shooting at the rim than expected compared to Bamba’s 4.7 percentage points worse. Both are very good in this metric.

But Carter is a significantly better rebounder. His block attempts do not knock him out of position to give up boards. Some of this may be because of Bamba’s lack of playing time. But Bamba has struggled locking down the glass in the last three games despite strong raw rebounding numbers.

Bamba has shown plenty of potential as a strong rebounder, but he remains inconsistent in this area.

Through the eye test, Bamba is not able to keep his positioning on defense. This was a big part of the reason Ivica Zubac was able to grab eight offensive rebounds. Carter does not have that problem as he can block shots and be in a position to rebound.

There are only so many minutes at center. And in these early days, Clifford is opting to split the center minutes essentially even between his three big men. His willingness to play Khem Birch at power forward could mean that he would be willing to play Wendell Carter at power forward some too, opening an avenue to a big lineup with Mohamed Bamba.

But that might depend on whether Carter develops as a better shooter. He has only dipped his toe into the water of shooting from the outside.

The likely outcome is that the decision of who plays or who ticks with the Magic beyond their rookie contract (which expires at the end of the 2022 season when both will become restricted free agents) will be based on how the two centers perform next season.

For now, Clifford still seems to be tinkering and evaluating these players as their minutes increase and he works to define roles. It is hard to figure exactly where he will settle.

In the end, these decisions will be made down and road. We still have not seen Carter fully implemented to the team yet. He has only scratched the potential that he can reach with his new team.

Next. Effort is a good place for Orlando Magic to restart. dark

One thing is clear, the assumption that Bamba would become the franchise center is out the window. Carter is the reason that it is going to be the best player win.