2018 Potential NBA Draft Bust: Wendell Carter Jr.

Synopsis: When committing to Duke, Wendell Carter Jr. thought he would be the best one-and-done Blue Devil available for the 2018 NBA Draft. Unfortunately, 2018 #2 overall pick Marvin Bagley graduated high school early and joined him for their one-year college basketball experience. Carter’s stat line of 13.5 ppg and 9.1 rpg fell short of Bagley’s production of 21.0 ppg and 11.1 rpg. The lesser regarded Dukie can’t be too upset going to Chicago with the 7th overall pick. Then again, former Blue Devils haven’t had the best success in the NBA so perhaps the Bulls erred with their decision.

 2018 Potential NBA Draft Bust: WendEll Carter JR.

In my 2018 Mock NBA Draft, I predicted Trae Young would go to Chicago with the 7th overall pick. The former Oklahoma All-American went to Atlanta earlier in the draft, so the Bulls took Wendell Carter Jr. instead. I offered the following comment when projecting Carter as the 8th overall pick.

Relative to all teams with a top 10 pick, the Cavs may be the most likely to entertain trade talks. Specifically, they may decide to use the pick in an attempt to convince LeBron to stay in Cleveland. Either way, Wendell Carter is too good to slip past the 8th spot in the draft.

I missed on the pick, but deserve partial credit for having the correct sentiment (i.e. Carter was too good to slip past the #8 spot). ESPN’s Jay Bilas offered the following commentary when considering the Bulls’ selection of Carter.

  • Work horse.
  • Outstanding rebounder who goes up with two hands.
  • Smooth shooter with a jump hook.
  • Good with his back to the basket.
  • Excellent feet.
  • Strong / tough to move around.
  • Concern: mobility and ability to defend the pick & roll defender.
  • Comparable player: Al Horford.

Chauncey Billups mentioned Carlos Boozer instead when identifying a comparable player to the 2018 #7 pick. Both Carter and Boozer went to Duke and entered the draft as big men who could play at the 4 or 5 position. The comparison ends there for me because I just don’t see Carter able to match Boozer’s numbers of 16.2 ppg and 9.5 rpg for 13 seasons. Like Bilas, I considered Horford as a more appropriate comparison at the time.

Image result for al horford
If asked to describe Horford in one word, I would say, “Underappreciated.”
Player Level  PPG   RPG   APG   BPG   SPG  Excess Value
Wendell Carter College (2017-18) 13.5 9.1 2.0 2.1 0.8  
Al Horford NBA Career 14.2 8.6 3.2 1.2 0.8 1.8x

Note: “Excess Value” indicates how much more productive the comparable player is relative to production from an average draft pick in the same spot. In this case, I project Al Horford to be 1.8x as productive as the average #7 overall pick. 

Despite making five All-Star teams, Horford seemingly has played most of his career under the radar screen. Horford’s teams have made the playoffs every season during his 11-year career. However, he has never played in the NBA Finals. He can thank LeBron James for that fact given The King’s reign over the Eastern Conference for the last decade. That’s not a knock against Horford, it just explains why he may have been underappreciated for so long.

During ESPN’s coverage of the 2018 NBA Draft, GameDay host Rece Davis offered positive comments about Carter. Of note, Davis highlighted the player’s intelligence (presumably for getting into Harvard) and positive attitude. Davis was impressed that Carter accepted his lessened role after a higher ranked 5-star recruit joined him at Duke. Carter may have remained positive outwardly, but his parents weren’t as polite about their son’s reduced role with the Blue Devils.

A penny for their thoughts. Then again, I might pay a nickle.

As the #4 ranked high school player by ESPN for the 2017 graduating class, Carter thought he would be the focal point of Coach K’s team during his “one-and-done” 2017-18 season. Unfortunately for him, Marvin Bagley graduated high school one year early and instantly moved to #1 on the 2017 ESPN 100. Carter still put up decent numbers (13.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg) but got overshadowed by Bagley (21.0 ppg, 11.1 rpg) during their one season in Durham.  

As a quick aside, the three players in the previous photo include three of the top eight players from the 2017 ESPN 100 of the best college recruits. In addition to the #1 ranked recruit (Bagley) and #5 ranked recruit (Carter), Coach K. also recruited Gary Trent Jr. as the #8 ranked high school senior. Missing from the photo was the 6th ranked recuit, Trevon Duval. Duke recruited four of the top eight freshman recruits, yet   

Carter Jr. impressively stayed positive in the face of disappointment. After the draft, however, his parents gave a more accurate account of what happened behind the scenes.

Image result for wendell carter parents draft night
Wendell Carter Jr. with his parents at the draft.

After seeing how Coach K’s game plan focused on Bagley, Mama Bear Carter recounted giving her cub the following advice. 

Everybody knows you can score. So let Marvin have all the damn points. They’re throwing him the ball, the offense is geared around him. Why are you beating your head against the wall?

Papa Bear seemed equally protective by saying:

I was concerned because I felt like we were lied to. ‘Oh, Wendell’s gonna be the man’ and then the rug was pulled from under us.

Coach K. can’t be happy with this public revelation in the highly competitive world of recruiting one-and-dones. I wonder how many times John Calipari has brought up these quotes while sitting in the living rooms of high school players over the last four months.


Carter has the potential to match Horford’s career averages of 15 points and 9 rebounds per game. However, I only give him a 10% chance of reaching these numbers for at least 12 seasons, which would be required to place him in the top quartile of all comparable picks. If Carter puts up less than 9 ppg and 6 rpg for fewer than six seasons, he would finish his career in the bottom quartile instead. I give him a 30% chance of falling short of these numbers and becoming a bust in the process. As the midpoint of the most likely scenario (i.e. not a bust or a star), Carter would have a 9-year NBA career with averages of 12 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The Bulls wouldn’t be elated in this case, but they wouldn’t be upset either. 

2018 Potential NBA Draft Bust: WendEll Carter JR.