Wendell Carter: Duke players ‘weren’t able to show all their strengths’

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Wendell Carter had some interesting comments after a recent workout in Chicago, telling reporters that his situation at Duke limited the array of skills that he was able to showcase to NBA teams.

“I think even my teammates, all my teammates, weren’t able to show all their strengths,” Carter said, according to ESPN. “That’s just the college life. You buy into whatever college you go to. You do whatever you got to do to help the team win. I think, not even speaking for myself, but all my teammates, we’re going to be able to show a lot more that we can do at the next level with the spacing on the floor, the fact that it’s the NBA. It’s not no-zone like how we were playing [at times], but it’s a lot more space on the court.”

He’s right.

Duke’s offense was built around the ability of Marvin Bagley III. When you have a player that can average 21 points and 11 boards, you do that and then find a way to get the rest of the pieces on the roster to fit together as well as possible. And while Duke had their growing pains, they more or less did that. After struggling to find a way to be an effective man-to-man team, the Blue Devils went zone full-time, became one of the best defensive teams in the country, finished the year ranked 3rd on KenPom and came this close to getting to the Final Four:

I have a lot of thoughts on what Carter said, so let’s work through them all:

  1. First and foremost, I don’t think anything he said is really all that controversial. Duke’s offense was built around Bagley and everyone else was asked to play a role. When you join a roster with the amount of talent that Duke had, someone is going to have to accept that there is a best player and then there is everyone else. Kevin Durant is a top three player on the planet and he takes a back seat to Steph Curry when he needs to.
  2. That said, I do think there may be some lingering resentment there for Carter. He committed to Duke with the understanding that he would be asked to play the four, to play the role Bagley played, only to see Bagley join the roster in August and have his role get changed. I can understand why that would be frustrating.
  3. Unless you are a bonafide superstar, NBA teams are looking to draft players that can fill a role on their roster. The fact that Carter was able to perform at a high level despite the fact that he was often the third or fourth option offensively for that team is something that should be a positive in the eyes of NBA GMs. He’s not the type to complain if he didn’t get 20 shots a night.
  4. Carter did thrive, especially offensively. The feel that I have is that most NBA teams understand just how versatile Carter is on the offensive end of the floor, that he’s a player that can score with his back-to-the-basket, that he has range to space the floor and that he’s a better passer than he gets credit for. There’s a reason he gets compared to Al Horford on the offensive end.
  5. The reason Carter is projected to go in that 6-10 range in the draft has everything to do with concerns about him defensively and whether or not he has the footspeed to avoid being a target for ball-screens. That’s not an issue that manifested itself because Duke had too many weapons offensively.

The situation is going to be different for every player. Wendell Carter is still going to end up being a top ten pick despite the fact that he was the second-best big man on his college team, and I don’t think he gets drafted that much higher had he ended up at a school like Harvard or Georgia Tech, where the offense would have been geared entirely around him.

On the other hand. Trae Young is going to be a top ten pick because he went to a school where he could do whatever he wanted offensively, and I don’t think that would have been the case if he had opted for Kentucky or Kansas, rosters where he would have been asked to blend in.

You could make a pretty strong case that Gary Trent Jr. would have been better off somewhere he would have been more than just a spot-up shooter or that Grayson Allen’s draft stock has headed the wrong direction in the two seasons since he and Brandon Ingram were all the Blue Devils had offensively, but both of them are still going to end up being picked somewhere between the late-first and early-second round. Given physical and defensive limitations, that sounds about right for both of them.

That’s a long winded way of saying that Carter is right. There is going to be more of a chance for these guys to shine in a different system, but the that doesn’t mean that any of them were hurt that much sharing a roster with all those talented pieces this year.