Ex-Bulls Lottery Pick Thriving Outside of Chicago

Wendell Carter Jr.

Getty Wendell Carter Jr. guards Marc Gasol in a March 28 game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

When the Chicago Bulls traded for Nikola Vucevic, it required the sacrifice of multiple first-round picks. But the deal was centered around 21-year old big Wendell Carter Jr., who looks at home with the Orlando Magic.

His two and a half seasons in the Windy City were riddled with injuries. Carter finished his Bulls tenure having played 119 out of a 190 total possible games, missing an average of 24 games.

A divorce was thought as best for both parties. For now, that’s been the case.

Is there an outcome where Chicago regrets trading Carter?

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Carter’s Strong Start

It took only three games for Wendell Carter Jr. to surpass Khem Birch in the starting lineup, and it looks like things will stay that way.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Thursday that the team was waiving Birch, a pending unrestricted free agent.

It’s a decision largely made due to his upcoming free agency, assuredly.

But there’s got to be some confidence in Carter for the Magic to make this move. Head coach Steve Clifford had high praise for his newest big when speaking with reporters (via NBA.com) following Orlando’s overtime win over New Orleans:

He’s smart. He’s got good instincts. He can really move his feet. His lateral quickness I would say is exceptional. His instincts (are good) of when to attack the ball, when to drop, get back to his man and obviously he’s got a basket protection component. It’s three games but I couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s doing already.

Carter had 21 points and 12 rebounds in the on-the-road victory.

Since being moved to the starting lineup, the 21-year old is averaging 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, two assists, 1.3 steals, and a block per game.

Orlando’s lost all three games, and two of them were absolute blowouts, but that’s what Magic basketball looks like at this point in the franchise’s timeline.

Not only did they trade Vucevic to the Bulls, but also starters Evan Fournier to Boston and Aaron Gordon to Denver. As they continue down this path of a rebuild, it seems they’re ready and willing to feature Carter prominently in a starting role.

Meanwhile, in Chicago

As much as fans hate to see a former draft pick thriving elsewhere, not to mention immediately, the return for Wendell Carter Jr. should keep doubters at bay.

That return, obviously being a two-time All-Star in Nikola Vucevic, and an even higher chance at the team’s first playoff berth since 2017.

As of Thursday, the Chicago Bulls are 21-28 after winning back-to-back games over Eastern Conference rivals.

Vucevic has been as advertised in the Windy City. He’s averaging 22.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and a block through his initial six games.

And whether it’s all on Vucevic, or a combination of his presence and a renewed effort, the Bulls defense has been better. Particularly in the paint.

On the season, Chicago’s opponents are averaging 50 points in the paint nightly. But over the last six games, that number has dropped to 46.3.

And for Zach LaVine, who used the word “relief” when talking Vucevic’s arrival with reporters (via NBC Sports), the big man has proved a suitable counterpart.

As the guard continues his return from an ankle injury, things will only get easier for the NBA’s newest All-Star duo.

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