Wendell Carter has instilled in the Orlando Magic that he is the go-to option for the starting center role. He is great on the offensive end coming a year when he averaged 15.2 points per game on 52.5-percent shooting from the field. He was also a 35-plus-percent shooter from three-point range.
Carter fills up the stat sheet and seems capable of about anything, averaging 8.7 rebounds per game becoming a good glass eater. He also had 21 double-doubles last season. This was among the top 30 in the NBA.
One of the more versatile parts of his game is the three-point shot. He made 21% of the Magic’s three-pointers last year as he was shockingly one of the more productive guys on the team beyond the arc. However, he only takes four attempts per game. It may not be in coach Jamahl Mosley’s playbook, but a few more three-point attempts from Carter may be a help to Orlando’s three-point woes they are trying to overcome.
Carter’s issues have never been on the offensive end of the floor. But, he is at the forefront of one of Orlando’s biggest deficiencies which is protecting the rim and contesting shots around the basket.
Wendell Carter is already a good offensive center. He is a double-double machine with a sneaky three-pointer. But, his defense keeps him from becoming great. If it gets improved, it will not only help himself but also the Orlando Magic.
As a team, the Magic ranked 15th in team defense as they were in the middle of the road in the majority of stat categories. Orlando ranked sixth in the league giving up 47.6 points in the paint per game. Teams found it difficult to get to the basket against them.
But when they did, they were able to score. According to data from Second Spectrum, the Magic gave up 68.4 percent shooting at the rim, the fourth-worst mark in the league.
Carter despite some solid defensive statistics, struggled in this area too. The centers on the team in general need to become more of an anchor with this issue and Carter’s defense is a start that will not only benefit him but also his team.
Carter did get a good portion of blocks amongst the Magic players (he had 21.2 percent of all of Orlando’s blocks). Keep in mind, that this was also on a team that was average in the block department with blocks per game (15th overall in the league).
The spot on defense where Carter seemingly is exposed is the points in the paint he allows. In each game during the 2023 season, he gave up an average of 29.6 points in the paint to opponents per game. This is the highest mark he has given up in a season so far in his NBA career.
Opponents shot 64.0 percent at the rim against Carter, according to data from Second Spectrum. This despite the fact Carter ranked highly in several rim-protecting stats — he was in the 86th percentile in the league giving up 4.30 percentage points worse than expected at the rim and in the 97th percentile with 0.61 rim points saved per 75 possessions according to data from Basketball Index.
Orlando as a team was good with allowing minimal points in the paint. As a team last season, they ranked sixth overall in the league allowing 47.6 per contest. But, when you take this into context with the points in the paint Carter allows, it is shown he gives up about 63 percent of all the points Orlando gives up around the rim.
Some of this could very well be poor defense on the perimeter that Carter has to clean up. Some of it could be how few shots opponents get in the paint.
According to tracking data from NBA.com, opponents shot the fifth-fewest field goal attempts in the restricted area against the Magic (24.3 attempts per game) but made 70.6 percent of those shots (the second-worst mark in the league) and took the fourth-fewest shots in the paint outside of the restricted area (15.1 attempts per game) and made 44.0 percent of those shots.
The Magic could help Carter become a better defender simply by playing better defense around him and giving him less to try to clean up. As the center, most of those shots in the paint are going to fall to his responsibility with how defensive stats are tracked in the NBA.
Overall, the Magic had a 111.4 defensive rating with Carter on the floor. That was 2.3 points per 100 possessions better than the team’s season average. It is clear Carter can make a huge impact defensively.
Still, this is the point in his game that will transform Carter into a phenomenal player. The paint defense will allow the Magic’s defense to become tops in the league breaking away from the middle of the pack and it will make their paint presence one of the best in the NBA.
Defense is huge for building to where Orlando wants to be.
Last season, nine out of the top 10 teams for team defense went to the playoffs. The Magic currently sit right outside of that threshold and getting to that point may help them get back to postseason basketball for the first time since the COVID bubble.
This can lead to success down the road for Orlando as Carter is key to the way they can turn it up a notch on defense to help push them to be competitive in the playoffs for a play-in opportunity.