Duke is going against the grain this season. Basketball has turned into a guard-based game over the past 10 years or so, but that’s not how Duke’s roster is configured for the upcoming 2017-18 season. While Duke does have guys like Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., and Trevon Duval, they have a largely talented and deep group of bigs which includes Marvin Bagley III, Marquese Bolden, Antonio Vrankovic, Javin DeLaurier (he will see time at the PF this season), and the focus of this Freshmen Fundamentals piece, Wendell Carter Jr.
Wendell Carter Jr., the 6-9, 255 lbs freshman out of Atlanta, Georgia was ranked as the fifth overall player in the class of 2017 by ESPN. The top ranked PF in the country committed to Duke over Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Harvard.
The first and most obvious note on Carter is that he is a tremendously talented and athletic big. For someone as big as he is, he runs the floor extremely well and has quick feet in the post.
As has become commonplace amongst big men, Wendell has a smooth jump shot, as seen below. Carter has shown the ability to knock down his jumper from both the mid-range and beyond.
In this instance, watch as he pump fakes on a pass to keep his defender honest and keep any weak-side defensive help from coming. He notices the defender playing back and realizes that there is no need to dribble as he turns and squares his shoulders to the basket. He keeps his elbow tucked in and releases the ball high above his head, making it almost impossible to block his shot.There is not a lot of elevation when he takes his jumpers, but that is very common among big men, but he does display a, “shooter’s touch” with the ball coming softly off the rim.
The part of his game that is very underrated and something that Duke can look to take advantage of this year is his ability to handle the basketball. It isn’t simply that he can just dribble the ball well, but he can push the ball in transition without having to make an outlet pass to a guard.
Carter has a guard-like ability to handle the ball, as seen in the video below. The behind-the-back move is impressive in and of itself, but the part that separates him from other bigs who do this is the fact that after he makes his move, he maintains control of the ball as well as his body. After that he shows great athleticism and body control by splitting the defense with a little Euro-step and then he finishes at the rim with a finger-roll.
This is also displayed in the video below, but it also shows Carter’s ability to run the floor and make correct decisions with the ball. All at once, he grabs a rebound and pushes the ball in transition to give his team a numbers advantage.
Notice his eyes as he’s running down the floor. He surveys the court to see where his teammates are and once a second defender rotates over to try to stop his drive to the basket, Carter finds the open man with a simple pass. This leads to a nice reverse layup in transition.
He is a very intelligent player as well. Notice in this video below that Carter is matched up with a defender, DeAndre Ayton, who has a relatively big size advantage on him.
Wendell counters this by facing him, rather than posting up. He gives a couple of shoulder shakes to see if Ayton is leaning in either direction. After that, he knows that he has a speed advantage, so he puts the ball on the floor and relatively easily drives past him into the lane. He notices that he has his defender beat, so he quickly gathers himself and knocks down what appears to be a contested right-handed hook shot.
But, watch how before he goes up for the shot, Carter notices that he not only has his defender beat, but he has him on his left hip. By gathering himself quickly, he keeps Ayton on his left hip, effectively taking away any ability for his shot to get blocked without there being a foul. He uses his left arm and left side to shield him and then gets a clean look at the basket.
On the defensive end, Carter is a solid rim protector, using sound positioning and athleticism to prevent opponents from converting on easy baskets around the rim.
This block is both appealing to eyes and in its fundamentals. Carter is protecting the paint when he notices a baseline drive, so he rotates to stop the ball. He sets his feet and times his leap perfectly to reject the dunk attempt at its apex.
The block is as fundamentally sound as it can get. While jumping to contest the dunk, Wendell’s body is almost completely vertical, meaning that any body contact made would not be a foul. His arms are straight up as well and he gets nothing but the ball.
In the same way that he squares his body to the basket when he takes his jump shot, he does that with whoever he’s guarding as well. This is seen below with his matchup again with DeAndre Ayton.
Ayton makes a very nice post move and Carter rotates over once he notices that the primary defender couldn't stay with him after the baseline move. Before, Carter had Ayton on his outside hip, but this is not the case here, as Carter squares his body and establishes a good defensive position once Ayton tries to go across the lane. Wendell shifts his feet side-to-side to stay in front of Ayton and then times his leap perfectly to reject the scoring attempt.
There is a reason why Wendell Carter Jr. was one of the highest rated recruits in the country in the class of 2017. He has a combination of athleticism and sound fundamentals on both ends of the floor that make him incredibly talented.
It will be interesting to see what adjustments he will make offensively and defensively when playing in the ACC, as there is a significant difference between big men in high school and AAU ball and big men playing in the ACC.
While it is likely that Carter starts the season as the starting PF, it will be interesting to see what his role is on this team as the season progresses. Nonetheless, Wendell will be expected to play a large role for the Blue Devils this season and he has shown that he is more than capable to do so.
Check out some more of Wendell's highlights below!