2023 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: Wendell Carter has a lot more to prove

Wendell Carter is still learning to assert himself as the Orlando Magic trust him to make more plays. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter is still learning to assert himself as the Orlando Magic trust him to make more plays. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

Although the league over the years has shifted from a big man-dominant league to a guard- and wing-dominant league, having a top center on your team is still important.

After all, the top two players in MVP voting last year were centers Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. The center has not gone extinct by any means.

Teams need centers to be able to protect the paint, grab rebounds, score inside and even stretch the floor if they are lucky enough to find a center who can do that.

After reading many lists of the top centers in the NBA on many different websites including The Sixer Sense’s top 30 centers in the NBA, it has been a continuous theme that Wendell Carter is getting ranked between 17-22 — somewhere in the middle of the pack.

That is a big step for the young big man who struggled to find his way in three seasons with the Chicago Bulls. Being a top 20 center is nothing to be ashamed of.

But it could definitely be improved. Especially by a 23-year-old center with a few years of experience who has even hit his prime yet.

Wendell Carter began to establish himself as one of the best young centers in the league. But he still has plenty to grow and develop to get to the next level for the Orlando Magic.

In his year and a half with the Magic, Carter has already pushed to do a whole lot more. He has proven to be a solid player on both ends and an increasingly confident player. By the end of the season, Carter may well have been the Magic’s best player. He was certainly the most solid.

The question he faces entering the 2023 season is just how much higher he can go. There is plenty of motivation looking at these preseason player rankings. Carter still has a lot to prove.

Carter already ranks pretty well among centers.

He was ninth in scoring among centers at 15.0 points per game, he was seventh in rebounds per game among centers and 12th overall with 10.5 per game. He was even ninth in assists per game for centers at 2.8 per game.

All of those are top 10 marks among centers. It is pretty astounding that he is not thought of already as a top-10 center, considering his age and untapped potential.

Carter has grown a ton. The Magic unlocking more of his offense and trusting him as a sort of fulcrum to their offense has only added to his game. His defense, always solid, has continued to improve. He merely needs the stage and the consistency for others to give notice.

This is a season where he could take that next step.

The first place to start is by continuing his offensive repertoire and efficiency.

Centers normally lead the league in field goal percentage because most of their shots are around the rim and dunks.

Carter did not shoot badly by any means as he shot 52.5 percent from the field, but this can definitely go up. He ranked 13th amongst centers in this category but if he can slip into that top-10 mark, then he will absolutely be in a better position to be looked at as a top ten center.

A big reason for this is that Carter began expanding his range. He took a career-high 3.5 3-pointers per game last year at 32.7 percent 3-point field goal percentage. That was more than double the amount he took after the trade to Orlando.

This is something Carter has been working on for a while and he has slowly improved on during his career. In Chicago and his first season with the Magic he mostly shot around the rim, but he has been expanding his range ever since.

He had made 42 career threes before making 70 last season. This is much like Nikola Vucevic in Orlando who shot 75 threes in the 2017 season to 204 the next season.

If he can really become a consistent three-point shooter he can help himself out and the Magic so much.

Carter hitting threes at a higher rate and maybe even making more threes can put him above the average center and bring him to the elite. Spacing is so important in today’s NBA. Any team that can find a center that can stretch the floor as well as do other things at a high rate like defense and inside scoring, knows that they are valuable.

The top centers in the league like Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns can all shoot the three-ball, so it would be hard to not put him up there with them if he can do the same. Those three were also the top three centers on almost every list.

Carter at least gained a nominal enough three-point shot that teams respected him to stretch out to the 3-point line. Carter could freeze defenders with a pump fake and drive by them into the paint.

Carter still takes more than two-thirds of his shot inside the arc. That part is not going anywhere. More than half of those shots come within 10 feet. He still gets plenty of shots around the basket.

As Carter gets more confident as a shooter, he will have to find the right balance of these shots and not settle for mid-range shots or 3-pointers, despite his ability to make them.

Certainly playing alongside Mo Bamba for most of the season forced him to the perimeter more. Where Carter touches the ball and gets his shots may change if Paolo Banchero enters the lineup.

He needs more patience and to find the best shot possible to raise his field goal percentage.

Overall efficiency outside of the paint is still an area of clear growth.

Carter shot pretty well from mid-range as he shot 47 percent from mid-range. This is not bad but if he is going to take a lot of mid-range shots to keep the paint clear, this number could improve.

Where Carter’s greatest value is on defense.

Carter is a terrific and versatile defender. He has a great defensive IQ, he is quick and athletic and he is great at staying in front of the person he is guarding. He is great at shutting down the best centers in the league.

When Carter was the primary defender, Jokic shot 33.3 percent, Embiid shot 38.5 percent, Vucevic shot 37.1 percent and Townes shot 40.0 percent. These numbers are not perfect representations of Carter’s defense, but he was more than solid against all the top centers in the league.

His versatility showed as he could guard wings too. He could at least step out and hold his own against bigger forwards when the Magic moved to a switching scheme or opted to have Bamba guard the center, leaving Carter on the perimeter to guard stretch-4s and bigger forwards.

Carter’s defense is not in question. But he is not much of a shot blocker.

He averaged just 0.7 blocks per game last season and has 0.9 for his career. He has only one season where he averaged at least a block per game and that was his rookie year.

Although he is a great on-ball defender, being a paint protector is a key part of being a top center, and something that is really important in today’s NBA. His lack of shot blocking probably gives opposing guards and big centers confidence that they can drive into the paint against the Magic especially if he is the help or paint defender.

Carter does not have to block shots to be effective though. Last year, opponents shot 57.4 percent against Carter at the rim, a number comparable to Bamba’s 57.0 percent.

That is a number both could stand to improve, but Carter more than holds his own. A few extra blocks would make the Magic’s defense all the more formidable.

This would give him that all-around center talent as he is already on his way to being multi-dimensional with his inside scoring, shooting and defensive ability. Shot blocking is just a key aspect of being a center and the Magic will need it most this season.

Overall being a top-10 center is not out of reach for Carter this year. He already ranks top 10 among centers in many categories and is nearing the top 10 in others.

Carter already gets less recognition than he deserves. He is a great player who seems to be surging in confidence.

This all has the opportunity to change this upcoming season. He will have the best team around him that he has had on the Magic. at 23 years old, he is just learning the game and getting into his prime.

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He has all the skills, tools and, now, help to be a top center in the league. He can play a big role in a Magic play-in push. Carter forming into a top 10 center will directly result in the Magic winning games and him making his own mark on the game.