Wendell Carter will thrive however Orlando Magic want to use him next year

Wendell Carter has emerged as a solid offensive option and an ace defender for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter has emerged as a solid offensive option and an ace defender for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic have begun turning their attention to next season and the changes that will inevitably come.

The team kept its starters on the bench during a close game in Monday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. There seems to be no indication Jalen Suggs will return this year with just six games remaining in the season.

Now, Wendell Carter is starting to find himself going in and out of the lineup with a wrist sprain — that he said apparently has been bothering him since December.

Carter was still stupendous in his first game back after missing two with that wrist injury. He scored 15 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out six assists in less than 27 minutes. That goes in line with Carter’s stupendous run since the All-Star Break — 19.6 points per game and 11.6 rebounds per game in 11 games played — has previewed his potential growth.

Carter’s season has been a revelation and he has thrived in the context of this team. At last, it seems like Carter will have some stability and comfort.

But that stability will get upset. Inevitably, Orlando’s roster will look different next season, especially at the center position.

Wendell Carter has had a breakthrough season for the Orlando Magic this year. But his role will inevitably change as he shifts back to center next season.

There will be a new draft pick added to the mix. His partner at center Mo Bamba may be gone in restricted free agency. Jonathan Isaac will likely be returning from a torn ACL.

The one constant in the NBA is change. Carter has had a breakthrough season this year. But he will have to change again next year as the Magic begin the next phase of their rebuild.

How Carter responds will determine much of his career. But Carter has proven himself capable of making that adjustment.

There will be a ton of changes to the Magic’s roster before next season that will shift everyone’s roles.

As expected for months, Jonathan Isaac was ruled out for the rest of this season. But he should be at full strength for the start of next season after having more than two years to recuperate from a torn ACL.

His quintessential NBA position is the 4. With Franz Wagner entrenched as the 3, Isaac going back into the starting lineup as a power forward, there is a void at center that Orlando will ask Carter to fill.

Carter has spent much of the season playing alongside Bamba in the starting lineup. According to Basketball-Reference, Carter has played only 37-percent of his minutes at center this year. That is by far the fewest of his career.

Bamba will likely hit restricted free agency this summer and it is unlikely Orlando keeps him this offseason. That leaves Carter as the most sensible in-house option to play the 5. Especially when most of the top draft prospects for Orlando are best suited to play one of the forward spots with this team.

Carter may not be as tall as Bamba, but he is much stronger with more than 50 pounds on him and still listed at 6-foot-10. A height you can live with for a starting-caliber NBA center.

Carter spent the majority of his time with the Chicago Bulls at the center position. He struggled there, sometimes getting overpowered by bigger players at that position. But some of Carter’s problems were disagreements with his coach and a lack of confidence with his role.

The Magic have provided him more stability and unlocked more of his playmaking and shooting offensively to go with his versatility and rim protection on defense.

Carter does everything a modern center has to do.

He has proven to be adroit at screening in terms of allowing his teammates to go downhill and have had an open lane to work with, something several players have noted about him.

His size and versatility are exceptional, along with his ability to rim run and then make plays in the post.

Carter has also had experience this season playing against some of the top centers. The Magic often gave him the toughest post assignment. It was Carter’s job to lock down the best player and the team used Bamba to roam and be the last line of defense behind him.

The toughest one was guarding Joel Embiid in an overtime loss on March 13 at the Amway Center. Embiid has been arguably the top center this season and Carter held his own against him.

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The stat line that Embiid put against Carter when the Magic played the 76ers does not tell the whole story. Embiid was 9 for 28 from the field that game as the 76ers narrowly escaped with a win.

In that game, Embiid made just 6 of 19 shots when Carter was the primary defender, according to NBA.com’s stats database. He also took just two free throws — he finished the game with 17 free throw attempts to pad his scoreline.

This is something Carter said he will relish as he only gets better at learning how to comprehend the nuances of guarding centers. At least for his sake, none will be a more arduous task than going about against prime Embiid.

Carter more than held his own.

Above all, it is worth noting this budding star is still only 22 years old. He is having his best season so far and is not even close to his zenith with this team. It is nice to know he has already locked up with the Magic Kingdom for four more years after this season. Even better, it is for a very reasonable price of $50 million.

Even better, he seems to have played his best basketball of late. Just scrutinize his stats after the All-Star break and juxtapose them with his pre-all-Star break numbers. He has seen his scoring jump from 14.0 points to 19.6 points per game, his rebounds from 10.2 to 11.6 per game and his field goal percentage from 50.7-percent to 59.0-percent.

Everything has improved and Carter has started to come into his own.

In a year where very little has gone right for this team, Carter has been one of the few bright spots. He has even become a leader and served as a big mentoring voice to mollify the younger players.

He seems altruistic enough to lead by example and do what is best for the team. So, if coach Jamahl Mosley wants him to start at center next season, he will have no problem doing so. If anything, Carter has proven himself as a player the Magic should feature and build around — whether that is at center or power forward. Carter has a place on this team.

It helps that he is also so versatile that if say Jonathan Isaac gets injured and they draft somebody like Chet Holmgren in the lottery, he could move back to power forward and have Holmgren play center.

Orlando Magic's rebuild off to a good start. dark. Next

Being able to play multiple positions is highly valued in today’s modern NBA for big men. Carter has proven he can play power forward for this team. Going forward, the league will see that he can be a successful starting center, too.