Wendell Carter was getting interviewed during a late-season game by Bally Sports Florida’s Dante Marchitelli after a win. He is typically fairly soft-spoken and quiet, but this was a big game and an exciting one.
Markelle Fultz, usually also fairly stoic and calm on the court, was celebrating next to him. He shouted loud into the camera when Carter gave him a look. Fultz suddenly became stone-faced, and, as if to drive that point home, stood next to Carter staring expressionless for the rest of the interview, even as other young players came to shout and celebrate as young teams do.
This was all done to try to get Carter to crack and smile. Fultz was trying to break that impenetrable seriousness that Carter brings to the game and his demeanor.
Amazingly, Carter has taken on the role of veteran player on this team at just 24 years old. That is the reality for a team as young as the Magic are. He feels like the adult in the room at time and the rock the Magic can rely on.
That is how he played too. He was a strong backstop for the team defensively, showing off his smarts and versatility. He was a great screener to spring teammates free and work as a pivot for the Magic’s offense to get going.
Wendell Carter does not do anything super flashy for the Orlando Magic. But he remains a strong base for the team to build off and a consistently solid option on both eends.
Carter is extremely underrated and he turned in one of the strongest seasons of his career, cementing his place as a key cog in the Magic’s growing young core.
His importance though goes beyond those stats. He is literally the embodiment of maturity for a young team, consistently doing the little things that help a team operate.
Carter averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game, adding 8.7 rebounds per game (a decrease from last year even though he was playing the primary center most of his minutes) and 2.3 assists per game. He got more comfortable offensively too, shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent from beyond the arc.
He averaged 3.8 screen assists per game, according to NBA.com’s tracking stats, placing him 13th in the league among regular rotation players.
He rated well defensively too. The Magic had a 111.4 defensive rating with Carter on the floor, a mark that was better than the team’s overall average.
He acted as a solid rim deterrent even though he is not a natural shot blocker. According to Basketball-Index, opponents shot 4.3 percentage points worse at the rim when Carter was the primary defender. That put him in the 86th percentile. His 0.61 rim points saved per 75 possessions was in the 97th percentile.
Carter is not a great shot blocker, but he contests and makes those shots near the rim difficult while gobbling up any rebound nearby — a 69.8 percent defensive rebound success rate was in the 75th percentile in the league.
Carter was not always the most boisterous or stand-out player on either end. That is not necessarily what the Magic needed from him. They needed him to be a rock. A measure of predictability that everyone else could play off.
He needed to be the team’s calm in rocky waters on both ends of the floor. And this is where Carter really stood out. He was just a rock the Magic could rely on.
It is an impressive thing from such a young player. But it is still one of the areas this young center needs to continue to develop.
He wants to be a better leader. That starts with stepping up his play on the court and becoming more assertive. Carter is already solid and a foundation for this team. But he still has more areas he can continue to develop.
For Carter, it is about solidifying himself and playing confidently and more consistently. That will expand the other parts of his game.
It has been a slow progression and improvement offensively as Carter starts to get more comfortable and confident in his second full season as the lead big man for the team — and coming off the disaster of his tenure with the Chicago Bulls.
Carter has regained the confidence to shoot and shoot often. The next stage of his development is very much about Carter learning how to impose himself on each game and doing it in the right and most efficient way.
Being a rock is not just about the demeanor and seriousness he brings to the locker room. It is about the consistency in which he plays. As any game expands, there will be hiccups as a player learns when to throw in this new skill.
Carter, who struggled mightily with his shot in his first three years with the Bulls, is confident enough to shoot from deep now. He took 3.9 3-point attempts per game last year. At times, he would settle into popping on pick and rolls. He would take a lot of threes that teams were more happy to give him.
Carter is simply still finding his fit and aggression is still something he seemingly needs to put a priority on to succeed.
His screens could certainly spring teammates free. But Carter was not effective in pick and rolls. According to Basketball-Index, the Magic scored -0.11 points per 75 possessions fewer than expected on Carter’s pick and rolls. That puts him in the 27th percentile in the league.
His pick-and-roll defense did not much rate much better.
Opponents scored 1.61 points per possession from the roll man in pick and rolls Carter defended. That placed him near the bottom of the league.
It was only 0.3 possessions per game, so perhaps Carter’s reputation as a good defender prevented him from seeing a lot of these plays — ball handlers scored just 0.82 points per possession when Carter was defending the pick-and-roll.
Do not let these stats deter you from thinking Carter is a poor defender then. He rates well in most defensive catch-all stats — +1.3 D-LEBRON, +2.7 Defensive RPM, +1.5 Defensive RAPTOR — and he is a solid positional player. He is someone the Magic could trust to execute their defensive schemes and be in a spot to help and recover before gobbling up rebounds.
This consistency is what the Magic are seeking from Carter every night. It has become what they rely on every night. For the most part, Carter delivers.
Wendell Carter turned in another solid season where he proved himself to be a steady base for the team to grow from. Whether that came from his defense and his positioning to be in the right spot to deter shots in the paint or his ability to set screens to spring others free, Carter is someone who helped his teammates be in a great position to succeed.
That is where his leadership stood out on the floor. He was a traffic director to help younger players stay on task and in the right spot. The Orlando Magic were a better team for Carter being out on the floor.
His even-handed demeanor helped behind the scenes. He was the first one to say where he needed to be better — including speaking up as a leader in the locker room. And Carter knows his voice carries a lot of weight with his teammates.
One of the areas where he needs to continue to improve is to use this voice at key moments and find ways to help his teammates stay in positions to succeed.
He has areas he has to grow his game too. He can continue to improve his 3-point shooting and learning when and where to take those threes or keep the ball moving or dive to the basket. Those are all things that come with experience, of course.
Carter has come a long way since arriving in Orlando. He is willing to take shots and unafraid of what the team is asking of him, no matter what it is. That is not something anyone would have said when he arrived from Chicago.
There is still far for him to go though.
Now that the Magic are beginning to think about their postseason future, Carter’s understated play at center is more valuable than ever. But he still has to prove he can handle the pressure offenses will put on him in the postseason. He is a great paint protector, but the team may need a rim threat on both ends of the floor.
That will remain a quesiton Carter cannot answer until the team gets to the postseason. But everything is building toward that moment.
Carter’s versatility and consistency at this level have proven themselves valuable and he will remain a key cog for the team as they continue to grow and develop.