The season is almost over now.
After taking the helm in Central Florida one of the things that first-year head coach Jamahl Mosley stated he wanted to do with this group is work hard every day and develop players.
His vision was on full display Sunday night as the Orlando Magic took down the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-85 with huge contributions from fourth-year power forward Wendell Carter.
Carter finished the game with a career-high 30 points and 16 rebounds in the win snapping a three-game losing streak and putting a little bit of confidence in a team desperately in need of it.
It has undoubtedly been a rough season. The Magic knew they would struggle with wins and losses — the team’s 19 wins are the second-fewest in the league — and they have openly talked about how they are focused on the team’s future and long-term goals.
It truly is about the team’s development.
Still, this has been made more difficult with both Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac missing a majority of the season with significant injuries. On a team this young, both of those players are rightly considered veterans and the Magic missed their presence.
But Wendell Carter has stepped in to fill that void. He has been a consistent bright spot for the Magic.
Wendell Carter was a mystery entering the season for the Orlando Magic. But he has quickly established himself as a team leader and a key player in this rebuild.
Carter has solidified himself as a key member of this organization’s rebuild. He is clearly the Magic’s best active player in the paint and has a chip on his shoulder to prove his doubters wrong after struggling early in his career with the Chicago Bulls.
As much as anyone, he has attacked the opportunity a rebuilding Magic team has afforded him.
Carter is having a career season, averaging 15.0 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game and 2.8 assists per game. Those are all career highs. He is shooting 52.4-percent from the floor on a career-high 11.0 field goal attempts per game, the first time he has ever averaged more than 10.0 per game. This has come even as he has added a 3-pointer to his game.
In many ways, Carter has been the glue for a young Magic team still learning how to operate offensively. All of their best lineups and best moments likely include Carter on the floor.
The 6-foot-10, 270-pound former Duke Blue Devil has all the tools to improve and become a significant part of a team looking for leadership inside of the paint. His paint presence has given confidence to fans in Central Florida and helps the organization be optimistic about next season.
His 30-16 game Sunday night reminded fans of Dwight Howard, who was more athletic than Carter but did not have an overall game like him. In fact, in scoring 30 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and making 12 of 15 shots, Wendell Carter joined Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal as the only players in Magic history to record a 30/15 game on 80-percent shooting.
That is some elite company and continues a legacy of big men for the Magic. Orlando feels like it has an anchor in the post in Carter.
But it is not just Carter’s low-post game or work in the paint. Carter has shown he can make the baseline turn around fadeaway jumper and can run the pick and roll outside of the paint better than Howard as well because of his ability to shoot the basketball.
One of the biggest things that stands out about his game is Carter’s ability to stretch the floor and make open shots. This ability to step outside the paint is similar to what former Magic center, Nikola Vucevic brought to the table.
The biggest difference in their games is Carter’s ability to play defense and his athleticism. Both skills can propel the organization in the near future.
The Magic have a 109.0 defensive rating while Carter is on the floor this year. While that is holistically not a good number, it is still more than two points per 100 possessions than the team’s season average and the best mark among the team’s starters (trailing only Chuma Okeke among rotation players).
Carter has been a stalwart defender not only helping protect the rim and lane but also doing a good job in individual matchups — like when he frustrated Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers a few weeks ago.
Carter has the ability to dominate the paint too. He can catch lobs and create double teams in the paint once he gets his position on a defender. He also is willing to be a team player and find open players on the perimeter if need be.
There are few players at his age and position who can dominate inside of the paint like this which makes him extremely valuable to the organization moving forward. At this point, the franchise needs to see what he is capable of consistently doing for a bad team in these last 10 games.
His skills are definitely something the franchise can build around. Only time will tell how he consistently fits with Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac.
The injuries to both of those players allowed time for the team to focus more on developing Carter’s skill set and also helped him gain much-needed confidence. The team has to feel good about his ability and upside going forward into 2023.