Sometimes in life, we complicate things. Sometimes out of necessity.
Sometimes, we complicate things ‘cuz we’re so comfortable we’re bored; only those with the luxury of a carefree life have the freedom of time and energy to choose shit to worry about. If you’re a Knick fan who hasn’t been in a coma since 2000, you are not comfortable. And with the Scott Perry/Steve Mills regime about to make its first major player move Thursday at the NBA draft, you may be antsier than usual. It could go any number of ways.
Trae Young seems a Mike Stanton pick: a home run or a strikeout, with nothing in-between. Collin Sexton could be a shot of vintage 1990s Knicks: aggressive, relentless, cavalier (possibly a cavalier Cavalier), and also not a good shooter. Michael Porter Jr. is a born bucketeer, a plus-sized Svengali of scoring who may be one-dimensional and may be injury-prone, and we all know the Knicks’ recent history of one-dimensional/injury-prone scoring machines. New York’s a big city: you can take a few Bridges into town. And just imagine 10-15 years of alliterative Kevin Knox headlines?
But I ask you to think back all the way to 2015, when for much of the season the Knicks were contenders...for the top pick in the draft. For most of that season, Jahlil Okafor was the putative favorite for #1 overall pick. But a pair of teammates, gifted bigs both, who were draft-eligible gained supporters during the season. Hard to believe now, but respectable humans really did debate whether Willie Cauley-Stein or Karl-Anthony Towns would make for the better pro.
One scout hit the nail on the nose in her review of KAT back then, writing “[Towns] said he believes he showed enough of his offense at [Kentucky]. But still, a lot of it was hidden from public view. He said he showed he could play alongside other great players and do what his team needed to succeed. But he clearly believes there is more to his game.” Sike! That’s actually what one Orlando Magic sportswriter wrote about Wendell Carter Jr. earlier this week.
WCJ was the third option at best last year behind two other Blue Devils who’ll hear Adam Silver call their names draft night, Marvin Bagley III and cartoonish supervillain Grayson Allen; Carter actually ranked fifth on the team in shot attempts. The child of ballers — his dad played college ball and in the Dominican Republic; Mama Carter played at Mississippi — WCJ’s been listed anywhere between just under 6’9” & 6’10”, 260 pounds, with a 7’5” wingspan and a 9’-freaking-1” standing reach. He won’t turn 20 until the playoffs. Exciting, no?
Carter was slated to be the primary force in Duke’s frontline, but when Bagley surprisingly completed coursework to finish high school in three years and became eligible to play for the Blue Devils, their frontcourt could have gotten crowded and complicated. Instead, both big men are likely lottery picks. Their ability to mesh is in part a testament to Carter’s utility-belt skill set, which has spawned countless Al Horford allusions. Let’s look at WCJ’s numbers in a variety of categories — offensive- and defensive-rebounding %, assist %, block %, usage %, and three-point attempts and accuracy — and compare them to other prominent big men taken top-10 in the last five drafts. I’m also including Myles Turner, who went 11th in 2015. All these statistics are taken from each player’s final year in college.
That’s a lot of lines. What are our takeaways from these numbers? Carter compares favorably in some ways to both Joel Embiid and Towns, although Carter appears more a jack-of-all-trades than a master of any one. Among the ten bigs ranked here, only Alex Len, Okafor and Towns had a higher OREB%, and only Frank Kaminsky had a higher AST%. The only Knick rotation big with a higher AST% was Kyle O’Quinn; WCJ’s was double the rate of Kristaps Porzingis. He can keep possessions alive and find the open man.
In the clip below Carter finds Bagley twice: first for an alley-oop, then open for three. Imagine Porzingis in place of Bagley and imagine a decade of this.
On the other end of the floor, Carter was fifth in defensive rebounding % and fifth in block %. If this man stands in front of Porzingis and raises his arms, they extend 22 inches above KP’s head. That’s why even though Carter’s athleticism is considered average, he projects as a rim protector at the next level.
He’s an impact player working out of the post.
But let’s not fall into the trap of stereotyping big men on the block.
The only bigs on our list with both more three-point attempts than Carter and a higher percentage their last years in college were Kaminsky and Lauri Markkanen. For those two players, three-point shooting is the crux of their game. With Carter, it’s a promising secondary skill. Being a threat both inside and out puts pressure on the defense throughout a single possession. Being a threat from outside opens up playmaking opportunities when attacking closeouts.
To be clear, Carter is not going to create looks for himself from downtown. 95% of his three-pointers were assisted, and it was striking watching videos of his games how often his shots from downtown were utterly uncontested.
How will Carter fare against faster, more aggressive, more athletic defenders and defenses?
When you have an answer for everything a defense throws at you, their last resort is often to foul. WCJ sported a healthy free-throw rating (percentage of free throws per field goal attempt) of .527, taking about four times as many free throws as three-pointers. That shows a player who knows how to mix and maximize his strengths, a player with intelligence.
There are many forms of intelligence. Carter appears to enjoy several. He chose to attend Duke after giving serious consideration to Harvard. “It was a great possibility,” he said. “I want to be a Renaissance man and do something different. I wanted to be a trail blazer, that is what I was thinking about the whole time.” WCJ not only comes by his athletic roots honestly. His parents are thoughtful and wise, as well. His mother, Kylia Carter, spoke out earlier this year about parallels between the NCAA’s exploitation of player-athletes and slavery. Listen to the man of the hour himself.
A big man who can stretch the floor, score down low, and protect the rim? Sounds awful nice. Also sounds like someone the Knicks already have. But there are obvious differences between Carter and Porzingis — Porzingis, at least pre-ACL, appeared more athletic; WCJ is a better passer and rebounder. These differences don’t preclude the two from pairing well together.
In fact, given Carter’s size, strength and reach, coupled with both Porzingis’s lack of desire to play center and the Knicks’ seeming hesitance as well, drafting this player could tick off a lot of boxes going forward for New York, as well as be the rare opportunity for the Knicks to dictate that other teams adapt to deal with their twin towers. Never forget:
Asked Woody why Pablo doesnt start when he usually helps NYK get back 2 last yr's principles. "The East is big, man." Cites need to match up— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) December 10, 2013
Of course, going big means having to deal with someone else going quick, and among all Carter’s sweet deets ain’t no fleet feets.
This morning I had a chicken salad sandwich with brie, peanuts, and a sesame ginger sauce. Wasn’t bad. Wasn’t good, either. The brie and the sesame ginger didn’t enhance one another. It was like there were several parties in my mouth, everyone was invited, but all the parties quickly broke off into separate cliques. The Knicks have historically shown zero acumen when it comes to pairing players who’ll enhance one another. For every Dave DeBusschere trade, there are five Patrick Ewing/Bill Cartwright partnerships. Or Allan Houston and Glen Rice and Latrell Sprewell. Or Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis. Or Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
But there’s a new coach in town, and (pinch yourself if you’ve heard this before) a new way of doing things. Fizdale turned Marc Gasol loose from downtown his one full year in Memphis. Stands to reason he’d have no problem letting a teenager who hit 41% from distance bomb away. There’s also the all-encompassing uncertainty of the Knick roster going forward.
Literally zero spots on this team are filled. No one knows when Porzingis will come back, nor what he’ll be like when he does. There were questions about his durability before the ACL injury; it’s reasonable to question the wisdom of putting all your eggs in the basket of a human being with a body type we’ve never seen succeed as an NBA player.
No one knows what Frank Ntilikina will be. Trey Burke could be the poor man’s Iverson or another Shane Spencer in a city that’s had too many Shane Spencers to remember them all. Is Tim Hardaway Jr. a small forward? A two-guard? A sixth man? Is Lance Thomas a starter? Is Emmanuel Mudiay an NBA player? Of the players likely to be around when the Knicks pick, how many are possible cornerstone pieces? Porter? Young? What about WCJ?
Most mock drafts have Carter being selected before the Knicks at #9. Maybe Dallas pairs him with Dennis Smith Jr. Maybe Chicago sees him as an upgrade over Bobby Portis complementing Markkanen. Maybe Orlando stops trying so hard to try so hard and just drafts the safest guy out there. Sometimes, especially with NBA prospects, we confuse “safe” with “unsatisfying.” We complicate something that should be fairly simple.
Wendell Carter Jr. is a multi-dimensional, high-IQ, reportedly high-character two-way talent, who could average 20 points, 10 rebounds, a couple of blocks, a couple of threes and a couple of assists every night. The Knicks best not feel comfortable passing that up, should the option present itself. We’ll find out soon enough.