Wendell Carter is like most of the young Orlando Magic team, even if he seems like the most adult of the bunch. But even he could not help himself.
The eyes are watching the man wearing the shades (at least for the moment):
Wendell Carter told Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel earlier in the week that he was aiming for a return Friday against the San Antonio Spurs when the team returned from its road trip. That appears to be the plan as the Magic have upgraded both Wendell Carter and Gary Harris to QUESTIONABLE for Friday’s game.
Yes, that would leave the Magic with just three players on the injury report. A dream of a healthy Magic team is slowly coming true.
As has the dream of a Magic team capable of winning games and putting together wins. A lot has changed since Carter last played on Nov. 18.
Wendell Carter is set to return for the Orlando Magic on Friday against the San Antonio Spurs. His impact, especially on defense, should be immediate and clear.
There was a nine-game losing streak that showed how clearly the team missed him and his defensive presence and solidity. Then slowly the team got healthier, especially with Moe Wagner’s return, and rediscovered its defense.
The whiplash this team has faced on that end is quite astounding, going from giving up 119.1 points per 100 possessions during the losing streak to 109.5 points per 100 possessions since the winning streak began on Dec. 6.
The one thing everyone knows is that the place where Carter will immediately pay dividends is on defense.
At the time of Carter’s injury, he was the only player with a positive on-court net rating at +0.7 points per 100 possessions. He has since been joined by Terrence Ross (+0.7), Kevon Harris (+1.6) and Mo Bamba (+2.4).
Still, Carter leads the team with an on-court defensive rating 107.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. Ross is the next-closest player at 110.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. Only four players (Kevon Harris, Mo Bamba, Admiral Schofield and Franz Wagner) had better on-court defensive ratings during this win streak and only two players (Harris and Bamba) have a better on-court defensive rating while Carter was out.
It should be noted then too that most of these players are players coming off the bench — along with Wagner who typically plays with the bench unit. This is where Carter will provide a big boost. He will give the team a more solid and consistent defensive presence.
Carter is solid defensively in every way.
According to data from Basketball-Index, opponents shoot 5.5 percentage points worse than expected at the rim with Carter defending them. According to data from Second Spectrum, opponents shoot 59.3 percent at the rim with Carter defending them.
This makes clear how much of a positive impact he has defensively.
Even though Carter is not much of a rim protector, his defense is impeccable. Considering how bad the Magic’s defense was overall with Carter in the lineup, it is a minor miracle that many of Carter’s catch-all defensive statistics show him making such a positive impact.
It is not like he is too shabby offensively either.
Carter is averaging a career-best 16.6 points per game and shooting 51.5 percent from the floor, even as his 3-point shooting volume increases (34.6 percent shooting on 3.5 3-pointers per game).
It is again the little things that matter with him.
How Carter is able to make the right pass from the high post to find a cutter or a teammate near the basket. Or how Carter is able to set the right screen — according to Basketball-Index, he averages 6.1 screen assists per 75 possessions putting him in the 96th percentile.
That is something the Magic have been missing. And while the team has been able to cover of late, it is also pretty clear how much Carter can help.
The Magic saw the same kind of impact when Fultz, another intangible and hard-to-define player who just makes everyone better. They can expect a lot of the same things with Carter. He will just fill in all the gaps that the team needs.
It is hard to imagine the Magic getting better having now won seven of their past eight games. But the team has seen some noticeable slips defensively.
The Orlando Magic gave up 126.0 points per 100 possessions in the loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday. And until switching to that zone defense in the second half of Wednesday’s win over the Houston Rockets, they gave up 128.3 points per 100 possessions.
There are some noticeable slips and the team could tighten up that back-line defense. That is certainly what they hope Carter can add to the fold pretty quickly.
Just having that solid backstop could change so much for the Magic and make their defensive gains much more consistent and solid. And unlike Moe Wagner, Mo Bamba or even Bol Bol, Wendell Carter is very capable of blitzing ball handlers and defending on the perimeter — the ball-handler scores just 0.5 points per possession in limited possessions with Carter as the primary defender.
There is always going to be an adjustment period that happens when a team adds any new player to the mix, even one as important as Carter. The team experienced this when both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony returned to the lineup a few weeks ago.
It took some time for the Magic to cement their rotation and playing groups. Things may not be perfect when Carter returns Friday — and adding Harris will also add some needed shooting and defense although it feels more likely he comes off the bench while Carter starts immediately.
But Carter is going to make this team more solid on both ends.
Now that the team seems to be overflowing with confidence, this could only make the team better and give them a bigger margin for error. It is an exciting time for the Magic to see this team finally look healthier.