Orlando Magic Playbook: How Wendell Carter's screening unlocks the offense

Wendell Carter has had a rough season statistically as he has dealt with injuries throughout the season. But the Orlando Magic big has a valuable skill that matters for this team. His screening remains one of his biggest strengths.
Wendell Carter's screening remains a valuable asset for the Orlando Magic and a key for this team offensively.
Wendell Carter's screening remains a valuable asset for the Orlando Magic and a key for this team offensively. / Rich Storry/GettyImages

Franz Wagner is always looking to get downhill. That is where he has made his money this year. He can dart through the lane in a straight line or work his way around the screen, changing pace to work his way to the basket.

Getting Wagner to the basket is a team sport though. It is about winding his way through the lane and trying to expose holes to get him to the basket. Wendell Carter inevitably is the one creating these holes and pathways to the basket.

Carter has had a down year by almost every statistical measure. There is a lot of frustration with the way Carter has played and what he has lost from previous seasons.

But there is still one area where Carter is still at his best and where he is still infinitely valuable. Carter can step out and hit threes, but he is also a physical screener. And he will block guys from challenging the Magic's drivers at the rim.

As the Magic prepare for the Playoffs and their need to get to the basket and the rim to score increases, how they use Carter to create space at the rim is going to matter.

Nowhere is that seen better than in his ability to set screens and seal off his man to create lanes to the basket.

This is how Wagner and Carter work together a lot on pick and rolls.

Wagner will get downhill and go one direction and then quickly turn to the other to get to space created by Carter. With an open paint and space, Wagner will cross back over. to the trap Carter has set, sealing off his man to create a lane going to the basket.

When the Magic have enough shooting on the floor, defenses are not able to close that lane and Wagner is good enough to dish out to the perimeter. This is why coach Jamahl Mosley talks a lot about basketball IQ with his players. This is an understanding from Carter on how to help his teammates get open.

Carter's contributions like this often go unnoticed in this way. But it has been a difficult season for him.

Carter is averaging 11.2 points per game, and 7.2 rebounds per game, both lows for his time with the Magic. But he is shooting 52.0 percent and a career-best 37.5 percent from three, even on decreased volume.

Carter averages 2.7 screen assists per game and the Magic average 5.8 screen assist points per game last year (he averaged 3.8 screen assists per game and 8.3 screen assist points per game last year). His 4.1 screen assists per 75 possessions is in the 88th percentile in the league.

This is another area where Carter has seen a downturn -- partly because he spends much more time on the perimeter to leave the paint open for Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner.

This has not been a good season for Carter from a raw production place. And he has not been able to elevate his game in key spots. Carter has not been the consistent presence he was much of last season. He knows that.

"I just try to find ways to affect the game in different ways and letting the offense come to me," Carter said after the win over the Memphis Grizzlies on March 31. "I feel like I have been playing pretty good defense, rebounding the ball somewhat well.

"Offensively, I've just been struggling. Going into this game, I told myself I'm just going to grab every rebound I can and just play defense. Whatever happens on offense happens. I also have a lot of fantastic teammates that knew I was struggling and helped me get more involved on offense. I give a lot of credit to all of those."

Carter's defensive numbers have looked better than the stats might suggest. But Carter has shrunk in some big moments -- including this week's slate of games when the Magic absolutely need wins.

The Magic need that fire more often from Carter. It has been lacking, even since that game where he has averaged 11.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in February. Carter has had to find other ways to contribute to this team.

Orlando plays a lot better when Carter is engaged and active like he was in that game and on these plays -- and note, the plays we are breaking down are not screen assists. Active screening though is vital to the team.

Take a look at this play from the win over the New Orleans Pelicans in March:

Here, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter run a typical pick and roll. But Paolo Banchero weaves his way through traffic thanks to the good defense from Larry Nance Jr. Nance stops the path to the basket. And Banchero, knowing Zion Williamson is on his hip, crosses back around to keep Williamson behind him.

That gives Carter enough time to roll down the lane and set another crushing screen to seal off Nance and allow Banchero to explode to the basket.

The Magic like to play this methodical style and if they can create space in the paint to play this kind of 2-on-2 game, they can create advantages like this.

And Carter is really good at recognizing when to turn and seal his man to get guys open. This is the grunt work that the Magic need from their center.

On this play, the Magic get a switch with Herb Jones on Paolo Banchero instead of Zion Williamson. That is still a difficult matchup considering Jones is an All-NBA defender. But Banchero attacks quicker against an empty paint. Carter sets a ghost screen to set up the seal and Banchero quickly crosses over to get to the rim.

Wendell Carter successfully seals off Dyson Daniels to prevent him from helping once Banchero gets downhill and that frees the lane for the layup.

Carter is an essential part of this play. And despite the struggles he has faced this year, he remains a crucial part of the offense for these kinds of plays -- in addition to his ability to stretch the floor at the center position.

There are going to be a lot of questions the Magic are going to face in these final two games, the postseason beyond and into the offseason. Carter will face a lot of these questions himself after struggling through this season.

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But Orlando is always looking for creative ways to free up their drivers. And having a strong screener like Carter and someone who can seal the paint away like this is going to be a big factor in whatever postseason the Magic play.