2024 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: A healthy Wendell Carter Jr. key to playoff push

Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic are making some significant and proven leaps as they continue to learn to win. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic are making some significant and proven leaps as they continue to learn to win. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

It is easy for fans around the league to hear the Orlando Magic and think of players such as Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and the plethora of guards on the roster. Those seem to be the central figures in the Magic’s season and their future. The uncertain part of this Magic’s rebuild and its future stars.

But this upcoming season, seventh-year veteran Wendell Carter has an opportunity not only to take his game to the next level but the team to new heights as well.

The last time Orlando made the playoffs was back in 2020. Since then, the Magic have been putting together pieces not only to make it back to the playoffs but to compete and win once they are in. Orlando has completely revamped its roster since then.

Wendell Carter is one of the acquisitions that paid off significantly. He has taken on a vital role for this young Magic team and will be as key as any piece in the Magic’s push to return to the postseason.

Wendell Carter does not grab the headlines, but he is a vital piece of the Orlando Magic’s future and an anchor for the team hoping to return to the postseason this year.

Take a look back and the Orlando Magic put together a deal with the Chicago Bulls sending center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the Bulls for Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter and two future first-round picks in return. Those two first-round picks Orlando received turned into Franz Wagner and Anthony Black.

Wendell Carter has proven to be a great fit for the Magic moving forward and at a great price.

The Magic signed Carter to a $50-million fully guaranteed deal back in 2021 which was front-loaded, meaning he received more of his salary toward the start of the deal and less of a salary down the line of the deal. The contract constructed makes it beneficial for Orlando moving forward as they continue to build and sign players down the line.

Carter though earned his place on the court, shedding the inconsistency he had with the Bulls and becoming a vital part of the Magic’s team this year.

Since his arrival in Central Florida, the former Duke big man has improved in nearly every statistical category.

Carter had a career year in multiple categories where he averaged 15.2 points per game on 52.5 percent shooting, 8.7 rebounds per game and 2.8 assists per game. Carter knocked down a career-high 70 3-pointers.

When you compare his career high in three-point field goals made compared to the players drafted ahead of him Deandre Ayton and Jaren Jackson Jr., it is pretty significant. Last year, one of his standout performances was against two-time MVP and NBA champion Nikola Jokic where Wendell Carter finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds.

He has established a decent reputation defending players like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. Carter is solid defensively while not doing anything spectacular. His real advantage may be that he has the ability to switch onto the perimeter, allowing the Magic to deploy their length fully.

Carter does not rack up a ton of blocks, but he successfully challenges and deters shots before players get to the rim. Opponents shot 4.30 percentage points worse than expected at the rim when Carter was defending them and he averaged 0.61 rim points saved per 75 possessions, according to data from Basketball Index. Both of those marks were among the top quarter percentile in the league.

This is still an area he can greatly improve on. But he embodies the Magic’s defensive strategy of deterring shots in the paint in the first place. Carter is an anchor defensively for this team.

His effectiveness and constant improvement from mid-range will boost this young group and only progress the development of those around him.

In 2023, Carter brings a “jack-of-all-trades” role when you consider how many ways he can disrupt a team’s game plan defensively and offensively.

In today’s game, it is invaluable to have a stretch big who plays consistently on both sides of the ball. With positionless basketball taking over, it is easy to notice that every team is looking for a stretch big who can shoot threes and hold their own on defense.

In 2023, the Magic were a different team without Carter on the floor. In the 25 games he missed, Orlando was 8-17. Yes, other factors play a part in those games but that ratio is significant enough to notice that his presence is needed to get the Magic where they want to be.

Not only does he bring an incredible skillset on both sides of the floor but his leadership qualities have really stood out as well.

It is no secret the Magic have one of the younger teams in the league. But when you have a young veteran in Carter it really helps set the tone and culture so people cannot use “inexperienced or young team” when talking about the Magic next season. Carter has had to grow into a leadership role in many ways. But he is a respected voice in the locker room and when he tends to speak or get serious, the team seems to follow.

Yes, this team has a young core but some of the older players within that group such as Markelle Fultz, Garry Harris, Jonathan Isaac and others are entering this season with something to prove. Carter is the established voice who has seen a lot and directs the team when it needs to be serious.

But in 2023, Carter needs to stay healthy and continue to prove he belongs in the upper echelon of centers in the NBA. Time off the court may be the only thing holding him back from reaching his maximum potential. Last year he played in 57 games, missing time and playing through a plantar fascia injury for most of the season. During his six-year career, Carter has yet to complete an entire season, maxing out at 62 games in the 2022 season.

Overall,  the playmakers and versatility on this Magic squad complement Carter’s game very well and fans can see him flirting with a potential all-star spot in 2023.

Staying healthy will be a big factor, other than that there is nothing stopping him from reaching that level.

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The big man is entering his third season with the Magic. Given the state of the roster, Carter has a good opportunity to solidify himself as a top-three player in Orlando and return the team to post-season action.