Hawks draft prospect watch: Wendell Carter Jr., Duke

Wendell Carter Jr.

College: Duke

Hometown: Atlanta

Class: Freshman

Height/weight: 6-foot-10, 257 (2017 Nike Hoop Summit)

Age: 18 (April 16,1999)

ESPN draft projection : 8th

The Hawks could have as many as three first-round picks in the 2018 draft. Their own pick almost certainly will be in the lottery. Barring epic collapses by the Rockets and Timberwolves, the Hawks also will own the lottery-protected, first-round picks for those two teams via trades. This is the fourth of my occasional reports on prospects expected to be selected in the first round of the draft.

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NEW YORK -- Duke has five players who could be selected in the first round of this year’s NBA draft. Big men Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III both are expected to be selected in the lottery if they declare for the draft. I was at Madison Square Garden on Saturday to get a look at Duke’s future NBA players against St. John’s. (Look for a write-up Grayson Allen later.)

Carter, a five-star recruit out of Pace Academy, draws inevitable comparisons to Bagley but they have different styles. Whereas Bagley is a smooth and explosive athlete, Carter plays more of a below-the-basket game. But Carter is exceptionally skilled at it, with good feel and impressive mobility for a man his size.

The thing that most stands out about Carter is his powerful frame. He’s got an NBA-ready body and knows how to use it. (Carter also has giant hands, confirmed with a shake after introducing myself.) Against St. John’s, Carter gave great effort while playing through contact around the basket, defending the rim and corralling rebounds against St. John’s lithe front court players.

In 34 minutes Carter scored 14 points on six shots (8-for-8 free throws), collected 15 rebounds (six offensive), blocked four shots and committed just one turnover. That production and efficiency is typical for Carter, who has been remarkably consistent for Duke.

Carter had more success than Bagley at navigating the Red Storm’s collapsing defense.

“They tried to be very physical,” Carter said. “They doubled sometimes whenever we caught it down there. They fronted the post. Against the great defensive teams, they change it up a lot. We have to learn to adjust. It’s difficult (to play against) but it’s something we are capable of fixing. It’s something we can capitalize off of instead of turning the ball over.”

Carter isn't nearly as athletic as Bagley (few prospects are) but he’s decisive with his moves around the basket. Not many collegiate opponents have been able to prevent Carter from bullying his way to the basket. According to Synergy Sports, Carter has scored 1.46 points per possessions used on 94 non-post ups with a 69.1 field-goal percentage on those plays.

Carter’s physicality is reflected in his ability to draw fouls. According to Kenpom.com, opponents have committed 5.4 fouls per 40 minutes against Bagley, fifth-most in the Atlantic Coast Conference (Bagley ranks first at 6.4). Carter’s free-throw rate (54.3) ranks fourth-best in the ACC.

Like Bagley, Carter hasn’t attempted many 3-pointers but he’s made 13 of 28 (46.4) and his free-throw percentage (69.4) is a good sign for his potential to increase his shooting range in the NBA. Carter appears confident and comfortable when shooting jump shots and has posted a 65.2 effective field-goal percentage on 33 of them, according to Synergy.

Carter also has had excellent production as a passer. His 11.5 assist rate ranks  third in the ACC among front court players, according to Kenpom. In the St. John’s game you could see Carter's knack for making decisions with the ball from the high post and his good feel for passing out of the low post.

Carter has excellent defensive potential as an NBA center because of his bulk, strength and length. At the 2017 Nike Hoop Summit, Carter’s wingspan measured 7-foot-3, which is good for an NBA center. (See my post on Bagley for the strong correlation between wingspan and potential for NBA centers.)

Carter is a very good NBA prospect with a seemingly high floor. He could make an immediate defensive impact, and has the strength and skills to be an effective scorer around the basket despite relatively limited athleticism. Carter also has potential as a play-making big.

Carter is a good student — he considered Harvard before choosing Duke. Before this season there was some speculation that Carter might stay there for more than one year to pursue his degree. He said his experience at Duke has been positive: “I’ve made a lot of great friends, probably my best friends for life.”

Now that he’s emerged as a top NBA prospect Carter would face what could be a difficult choice on whether to return to school. Carter admitted that it’s hard not to think about his NBA future.

“But I just kind of let things come and cross that bridge when I come to it,” he said.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.