Wendell Carter looks to realize high expectations as Magic big man

·5 min read

When the Orlando Magic announced they had signed free-agent center Robin Lopez this summer, a smile came across the face of fellow center Wendell Carter Jr.

Lopez said he’s seen a lot of maturing in Carter since his rookie season.

“He’s a lot more confident when he touches the ball,” Lopez said. “He knows what he wants to do. He knows what his spots are.”

Carter already had been through a tumultuous year in 2021, so seeing some familiarity in the paint for the Magic lifted some of the uneasiness he had felt for the past six months.

“It’s good. I like Robin. He was my vet when I was in Chicago. He taught me the ropes,” Carter said. “He’s a good teammate ... a good dude. He understands the business of it. ... He wants to win no matter what it is he has to do.”

In March, Carter was just settling in, headed toward the end of his third season with the Chicago Bulls. Then he got notice that he had been traded to the Magic for All-Star center Nikola Vucevic.

Carter was stunned.

“It was my first time being traded, so that was a big jump for me,” Carter said. “As soon as I got traded I played in the next game and I had to pick up on some things really quickly. Just like here in training camp. We’ve got a game on Monday [at Boston] we’ve got to get ready for.”

As he enters his fourth preseason, Carter knows there are high expectations both from the Magic coaching staff and front office, as well as from the Orlando fans. He gave everyone a glimpse of what he can provide with some big games toward the end of last season. In only his third and fourth games for Orlando, Carter had back-to-back double-doubles, 21 points and 12 rebounds against the New Orleans Pelicans and 19 and 12 against the Utah Jazz.

“I feel pretty good. I’m going into my fourth year and I know what to expect,” Carter Jr. said. “I know I got to take care of my body a little bit better, make sure my mindset is right. ... I’m in a situation where I’m able prove what kind of player I really am.

“It’s a great opportunity for me and this team to do a lot of things. Our backs are against the wall. They got us as underdogs this year, so we can really do no wrong. All we can do is go up from here.”

Being in Orlando for 22 games helped Carter become acclimated to his surroundings, and he jumped out to an impressive start for the Magic. He started 19 of those games and wound up shooting 49% from the field (101 of 205). He nearly averaged a double-double in his brief time, hitting a clip of 12 points and 9 rebounds a game. He also had 1 block per game.

What he didn’t have, and likely won’t provide for the Magic this season, is an ability to spread the floor as a trendy 3-point-shooting big. He has only made 27of 112 3-pointers (24%) in his three NBA seasons, and while he said his shot has gotten better he’ll still be better suited at staying in the 10-15-foot range.

Carter showed up in Las Vegas during NBA Summer League in August, working out with the team for a few days. He was looking to work on his shooting and defense and he said he received some valuable tutelage while there.

“[The coaches] just want me to be more aggressive at both ends of the court,” he said. “They feel like I’m a really good defender, and on the offensive end just taking my shots when they’re there ... get easy points for myself.”

He’s confident in his shooting, and would certainly like to improve upon that 3-point percentage.

“There’s three main spots on the court I fell like I can be very, very deadly ... from both corners and the trail spot, top of the key,” Carter said. “The top of the key, trailing in, usually bigs are back a lot, and it will give me a lot of time to set my feet, take my time. Those are the three spots I want to master, and just kind of work my way around from there.”

Lopez sees a lot of potential in Carter and the other two Magic centers Mo Bamba and Mo Wagner. All three of those players are entering their fourth season, while veteran Lopez heads into his 14th NBA go-round.

“They’re skilled, they’re hard workers. I know the main thing that I struggled with at that age was consistency,” Lopez said. “I’m not sure how much I’m going to be helping them. They’re growing their basketball intelligence every day, so I’m just here and I’m trying to help everybody on the team.”

New head coach Jamahl Mosley has seen a lot of things he likes in his big men, especially Carter.

“We’ve seen it for a while with Wendell. He’s such a dynamic roller, a very good rim protector, a very good decision-maker,” Mosley said. “Defensively he can guard multiple positions, so he’s been great. The energy has been great from him.”

Mosley reiterated that he doesn’t want to put players in a box, and he’s happy with putting players in different positions on the floor. So at any time, Carter and Bamba could share time, as well as with Lopez and Wagner.

“I like to give them as many opportunities as possible to show what their strengths are and just build on those strengths,” Mosley said.

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