Wendell Carter steps into the lead to organize Orlando Magic

Wendell Carter has been a big part of the Orlando Magic's offense, used as a high-post fulcrum for the offense to operate around. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter has been a big part of the Orlando Magic's offense, used as a high-post fulcrum for the offense to operate around. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

During a third-quarter possession in Thursday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Franz Wagner gave the ball to Wendell Carter at the elbow in the high post. Carter held the ball high and pointed for Wagner to make the backdoor cut.

Of course, by the time that point is made, it is too late. The defense has reset and knows what is coming. So Wagner cycled through.

Gary Harris came around to the top of the key and started his two-man game with Wendell Carter. They ran a pick and roll and Harris dumped the ball off to Carter above the 3-point line.

This time, there was no hesitation. As Carter got the ball from Harris, Harris turned backdoor and got to the basket for the layin.

Carter has been making plays like that all season long as the fulcrum around which the Magic operate, especially since Cole Anthony’s ankle injury.

The team runs a lot of sets through him at the elbow, trusting him to make decisions to set up pick and rolls or initiate the offense. Carter has been the director for the team, oftentimes organizing players and getting them going through the offense.

Carter may not score the most points on the team — he averages only 12.9 points per game — and he may not show up a ton on the box score, but Carter has been as key as anyone to organizing the team.

The Orlando Magic have helped expand Wendell Carter’s offense beyond just an improved 3-point shooter, but a high-post fulcrum for the team to operate around.

With Anthony out, Carter has stepped into that leadership role to help get the Magic organized and keep them competitive.

"“I think Wendell has grown a lot in his offensive game and his offensive package,” R.J. Hampton said after Thursday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. “I always tell him, ‘Trust yourself.’ I think he’s a great offensively player. Don’t hesitate. If you shoot your shot and miss, don’t worry about it. Don’t look down, get back on defense. You get it right back, shoot it again. He has the ball in his hands a lot and that’s because we trust him. He’s a great decisionmaker and he’s only going to get better from there.”"

Carter has worked to expand that offensive game. His overall scoring numbers may be low but he has still gotten a lot better.

He has expanded his shooting beyond the arc, making 44 3-pointers already this year when he made only 27 in his previous three seasons. Carter is hitting 33.8-percent, a solid number for a first-year volume 3-point shooter.

He has probably been most solid on defense where he is not only a good shot-blocker and rim protector but also increasingly a versatile threat able to handle bigger forwards on the perimeter. That ability has enabled the Magic to use their two-big lineup, even if that is not likely his or the team’s future at the position.

His growth offensively in areas besides his scoring has been equally impressive.

Carter is averaging a career-best 2.5 assists per game. A low number, but one that is still high for a post player and one who is not traditionally a distributor.

He had five assists in the Magic’s loss to the Bucks on Thursday. It was his fourth game of five assists or more. He had only three five-assist games last year (all while he was still with the Chicago Bulls) and only two more in his two seasons before that (both in his rookie season).

This has been one of the more intriguing areas Carter has shown growth this year. The Magic have put the ball in his hands a lot as a fulcrum on which the rest of the offense works.

"“He’s a willing passer,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday’s loss. “That’s the one thing about him. All the guys are willing to make the extra pass and the simple play. Teams who come off switching, being able to facilitate through our bigs is very important. I think he does a great job making the right read and finding guys when they are open.”"

Carter is heavily involved in the offense for that reason. Teams that switch force everyone to become something of a playmaker and force everyone to make good decisions to break through.

That is why Carter has become so heavily involved, especially as injuries have hit the roster.

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He is third on the team in touches per game, averaging 60.6 touches per game according to data from Second Spectrum. Only point guards Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs are ahead of him. And Carter is not too far behind Suggs in touches.

Carter also averages a team-best 4.0 screen assists per game. That is 13th in the entire league. It suggests the level of Carter’s involvement offensively.

The team will often give him the ball at the top of the key to initiate offense, using dribble hand-offs and curls around him to create pick and rolls and try to get downhill and into the paint. Carter has proven to be a critical part of the Magic’s offense in this way.

"“His skill level is where this league is going at with non-traditional big men stepping out and shooting threes,” Tim Frazier said after Thursday’s loss. “He can hit them and he can pass. Only the sky is the limit. He’s so young and he’s still going all the way up. His game is going to be top-notch.”"

The Magic are still finding new ways to use him and build with him as part of their offense. That is something that is ever-expanding when it comes to Carter.

A lot of it still depends on Carter and the aggression he plays with.

Carter will be the first to say he sometimes lets bad plays get him down and lower his energy. That was a criticism that followed him from Chicago. Hampton said teammates still encourage him to keep playing through missed shots and imbue that trust in him to make the right play. They all believe in him.

The Magic have seen a different Carter. One who is much more consistent on that front. And one whom the Magic put a lot of faith in their offense in.

He generates a lot of decisions within the offense and is often the one getting things going. At least until Anthony returns.

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Carter has stepped up in this regard. And how he continues to develop as this playmaker will be key to the Magic evolving offensively.