When the Chicago Bulls drafted Wendell Carter Jr. on June 21st, 2018, they drafted their future center.
Carter Jr.’s six-foot-nine frame can surely be viewed as a tad small for a traditional center, but in today’s NBA, it works just fine. From the moment he hit the draft board back in 2018, he was viewed as a more modern big man anyway, popularly drawing comparisons to Al Horford.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s always had a knack for outplaying his size: His 7’4.5 wingspan combined with his naturally fluid athleticism has turned him into one of the more promising young big men in the league. Sure, health has been a bit of an obstacle, but the second-year player proved through his first 37 games this season that if he can stay healthy, he’ll be a vital piece of this Bulls organization moving forward.
The only problem is, Carter Jr. might not see himself the same way the Bulls (and a lot of people the league) do. In fact, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Carter Jr. is prepared for a position swap, and he plans to have a conversation about a move to power forward in the future.
“I’ve been playing the four all of my life,” Carter Jr. told Joe Cowley. “Even when I was at Duke, me and Marvin [Bagley] were kind of interchangeable at the four, so I don’t know. It’s definitely a conversation I’m going to bring up, but as of right now, I’m just trying to make it work with where I’m at.’’
I’d say Carter Jr. is more than “making it work” at his current position. He cracked the Rising Star roster at All-Star Weekend this season and is averaging a double-double for the year. He can struggle at times with more “elite” sized centers, but he’s also been able to play toe-to-toe with players like Andre Drummond or Nikola Jokic in the past.
Could Carter Jr. post a more-than passable performance at power forward as well? Sure. After all, he shot the three-ball well at Duke (41.3 percent) and still proved to be a worthy lottery pick playing that position. However, the Bulls drafted Lauri Markkanen one year prior, and they’re just as invested in his development moving forward as anyone else. And if we’ve learned anything about Markkanen’s time in the NBA, it’s that he’s not well-equipped to handle minutes under the basket. Any real idea of an interchangeable frontcourt with the two just seems a bit counterintuitive – at least, for now.
Perhaps the team could stagger the two at some points down the road, allowing Daniel Gafford to play alongside one of them. But the fact of the matter is that as far as the Bulls are concerned, Markkanen is a power forward and Carter Jr. is a center. Simple as that.
I have no gripe believing Carter Jr. is a versatile big man who can stretch the floor, but I think his best path to success in today’s NBA is probably staying on course. As the league grows smaller (oxymoron alert) Carter Jr. sits in a prime position to ascend into stardom.
If the Bulls want to try things out while Markkanen works his way back from injury, by all means, go for it. However, as this team’s health improves and the Bulls (hopefully) shake-up management this offseason, it might be best to pump the breaks on any position swamp if you’re Carter Jr. The Bulls have enough of their plate, stay the course and keep ballin’ out (you’re one of the only watchable things about this team!).