(First posted at RealGM)
If Marvin Bagley III hadn’t reclassified and joined Duke in mid-August, perhaps Wendell Carter, Jr. would be a more prominent pro prospect right now.
In Bagley III’s absence, the six-foot-10 center would have probably benefited from extra touches and more notoriety.
Carter, Jr. could have used that bump in his numbers and perception of his dominance because he isn’t quite a perfect fit for the way the game is played in the NBA these days.
The 259-pounder is not an explosive leaper and can’t play above the rim as a target for lobs, so he figures to be a below average option as a pick-and-roll finisher. He is also yet to prove he can space the floor out to the three-point line in a way that truly threatens the opposing defense.
The 18-year-old has mostly played as an old school type who earns most of his scoring working with his back to the basket, though he has flashed traits of perimeter skills that fit more easily with the modern game in terms of handling the ball to facilitate offense on hand-offs and passing on the move as well.
The same is true on the other end where Carter, Jr. is an effective defender close to the basket but whose frame doesn’t seem to make him suited for picking up smaller players above the foul line often, though he’s done reasonably well when tested.
Even with Bagley III out there as the focal point, Carter, Jr. has been an active participant within Duke’s offense, as his 22.5% usage rate attests, and the bulk of his work is getting done in the post.
Despite his large frame, he has light feet and prefers relying on his skill a lot more than his strength advantage, showing a diverse arsenal of moves and a patient approach setting his man up with shot-fakes, head-fakes and spins in order to finish around them — converting his 66 shots at the rim at a 75.8% clip.
Carter, Jr. has great touch on his lefty turnaround hook and has even flashed a turnaround fade-away jumper, though since these are low proposition plays he has finished his two-pointers away from the basket at only a 37.5% clip.
He is getting plenty of touches with his back to the basket, though not quite in the best possible position to succeed because Duke doesn’t space Bagley III out to the three-point line enough and lead guard Trevon Duval can’t shoot. As a result, Carter, Jr. has dealt with double teams a decent amount and shown very good court vision passing out of them — assisting on 10.9% of Duke’s scores in his 314 minutes.
He is a good screener who looks to draw contact but isn’t an explosive leaper out of two feet in a crowd, needing to catch and gather himself before going up strong, so he isn’t much of an alley-oop threat.
Carter, Jr. has been an effective catch-and-score presence on the offensive glass, though. His motor is only OK but he has a seven-foot-three wingspan to rebound outside his area and a decent second jump to fight for tip-ins or 50-50 balls – collecting 13.6% of Duke’s misses when he’s been on the floor and finishing his 16 putback attempts at 85.7% clip.
He is not being put in the pick-and-pop and isn’t asked to space out to three-point line at all in the half-court but Carter, Jr. has hit a few jumpers as the trailer in transition and facing his defender in the post, which suggest he has room to develop into a real threat to make outside shots regularly at some point in the future.
He has nailed of the 14 three-point shots he’s attempted so far, all wide open looks with plenty of time to set his feet, though just 67.3% of his foul shots. His release is quite slow at this point of his development but his mechanics look comfortable and he certainly has good touch.
His passing, however, is expected to translate more quickly. Carter, Jr. has shown to be a versatile passer with very good court vision for someone his size. Aside from picking apart double teams in the low post, he can facilitate movement handling the ball in the elbows, though perhaps more impressive have been the instances where he’s passed out of the short roll and facing the defense joining the offense late.
He’s a good defender stationed near the basket, using the strength in his 259-pound frame to hold ground in the post and boxout diligently. Despite not being a high activity player, Carter, Jr. has managed to collect 22.8% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor.
He’s shown good awareness stepping up to the front of the basket as the last line of defense and decent quickness elevating off two feet to protect the rim. Thanks to his nine-foot standing reach, Carter, Jr. is a tough presence to finish around when he is well positioned, able to challenge shots with verticallity or make plays on the ball, as he’s averaged 3.1 blocks per 40 minutes.
That proactivity comes at a cost, though, as he’s also prone to biting on shot takes, making himself vulnerable to fouling — averaging 4.4 personal fouls per 40 minutes.
But Carter, Jr. is yet to develop into a help defender who can make preventive rotations that keep the opponent from getting to the basket in the first place and his high shot blocking average hasn’t quite acted as a deterrant or elevated the peformance of Duke’s defense as a whole.
Opponents have taken 31.1% of their shots at the basket, which ranks Duke 90th in the country, and finished these attempts at a 61.1% clip, which ranks them 223rd.
Carter, Jr. is more nimble than his frame suggests and has handled himself decently when stressed into guarding outside his comfort zone near the basket.
He is certainly mobile enough to keep pace with dribble drivers from the foul line down as they turn the corner out of the pick-and-roll and even managed to slide laterally well enough to stay alive on straight line drives when asked to extend above the foul line from time to time.
Carter, Jr. does not project as an asset to pick up smaller players on switches in the pros but is flexible enough to bend his knees to get down in a stance and has shown some ability to not get completely blown by in isolation at the collegiate level.
 DOB: 4/16/1999
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara