2023 Orlando Magic Time To Step Up: Wendell Carter’s pick and roll balance

Wendell Carter has proven himself capable of filling in many gaps for the Orlando Magic. Now he has to find a better balance for all those skills. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Wendell Carter has proven himself capable of filling in many gaps for the Orlando Magic. Now he has to find a better balance for all those skills. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Versatility is certainly the name of the Orlando Magic’s game.

It is the guiding principle of seemingly everything they try to do. Part of their defensive strength is they can throw different coverages at opponents and keep them off balance. Offensively that versatility means they can invert their plays and put defenders in unfamiliar and unsure situations.

As much as everyone is excited about what Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner can do as the leaders of this offense or what Markelle Fultz can do with a fully healthy offseason or any number of young players who can grow and develop offensively.

At the center of it all is Wendell Carter though. He helps make a lot of things work within the offense in ways stats do not always capture.

And that is why Carter’s decision-making in pick and rolls is so important. His ability to mix aggressive dives to the basket with the ability to pop out to the 3-point line makes him an incredibly versatile offensive weapon.

Wendell Carter has proven himself a versatile and capable big man in the pick and roll. Finding better balance on rolling to the rim or popping out for threes will be key for his improvement.

The trick for Carter as he develops more of his offensive game is to learn the right balance — when to dive to the basket and when to pop out for the 3-pointer. There were several moments throughout the season when Carter seemed to settle for 3-pointers.

If there is an area for Carter to grow and develop as the veteran big man enters his sixth season in the league, it is learning how to better balance his pick-and-roll diet. And make sure he is getting the good deep looks he thrives on.

This is a small change for Carter because he has come such a long way. And it is important to recognize Carter played the majority of his season with a plantar fascia issue.

Still, Carter has really come into his own with the Magic.

Last year, he averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game. He did this on shooting splits of 52.5/35.6/73.8. His 35.6 percent 3-point shooting was a career-high and the second straight (and his second season overall) shooting better than 30 percent from three. He also averaged a career-high 3.9 3-point attempts per game.

Carter was far more willing to take shots from beyond the arc last year. He had 21 games with five or more 3-pointers (the Magic went 10-11 in those games with Carter shooting 34 for 116 for 29.3 percent). He had seven games with six or more 3-point attempts (the Magic went 3-4 in those games shooting 13 for 46 for 28.2 percent).

This is all proof that Carter is more than capable and comfortable shooting 3-pointers. But this is still largely a shot defenses are willing to give Carter — 161 of his 225 3-point attempts (71.6 percent) came with the closest defender six or more feet away according to NBA.com’s tracking stats.

And it is a shot that he can sometimes fall in love with to his detriment.

Carter is a very effective pick-and-roll player. According to data from Synergy, the Magic scored 1.11 points per possession on Carter’s pick-and-roll possessions as the roll man. That is about the league average, but still a solid number. It is an effective play for the Magic overall.

Carter did not rate particularly highly as a screener, but he did average 4.7 screen assists per 75 possessions. His screens did get others open.

The question for him is: How does he find balance and make sure he is getting his shots in the most effective areas or how does he get to the most effective parts on the court for his teammates to operate?

No doubt, Carter being able to be a nominal threat from three is a plus. If he can slip out to the top of the key and drain a few 3-pointers, that will force the defense to account for him. He has reached that level.

His problem arises when he settles for that shot and does not ensure he gets his paint touches too. Carter averaged only 5.8 paint touches per game, according to data from Second Spectrum. That put him 28th among centers, right behind Dallas Mavericks big man Dwight Powell.

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This is not to say the Magic need to get Carter post-ups — he scored only 0.89 points per possession on his limited post-up possessions according to data from Synergy. That is not what we are saying.

It is just important that Carter balances his time in the paint with his time on the perimeter. There is no hard and fast number of a percentage split. It is just better recognizing when there is a chance to get into the lane and when and how many threes he ends up taking.

Carter can have a big offensive season for the Magic. He has been solid in almost every aspect, making good on the “Jack of all trades” analysis that draft expers gave him.

Still, Carter can be somewhat forgotten because he is just so solid in several ways for the Magic. The Magic love using him in the high post as something of a fulcrum for players to run off for dribble handoffs and as a way to pull the center away from the basket and open up the paint.

Carter has consistently proven himself as a versatile player on both ends of the floor. He is capable of showing on the perimeter and holding his own in space. He is also quietly one of the best post defenders in the league even if he is not a classic shot-blocker.

Offensively, Carter is solid on the block. He is an excellent screener. And he has developed and improved as a 3-point shooter to become a threat from beyond the arc.

Next. Time To Step Up: Wendell Carter's rim protection. dark

He does all of this very quietly it seems. You can almost take Carter’s presence for granted because nothing is loud. Yet he makes so much work for his teammates.

Finding a better pick-and-roll balance will help make his teammates that much better.