As the rebuilding Bulls make their way through training camp and into the preseason, most eyes will be focused on Jabari Parker, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. The hometown kid on a prove-it deal, the freshly paid scorer coming off a short and underwhelming season, and the Finnish kid who made the All-Rookie First Team. Others will focus on Kris Dunn, the point guard who’s tasked with making all of them coexist in Fred Hoiberg’s offense. But what of this year’s lottery pick? Will Wendell Carter Jr turn into an afterthought as a rookie with all these other mouths to feed, or can he prove himself worthy of big minutes and fight his way into the starting lineup? Does the Bulls’ second consecutive #7 pick have an outside chance of winning Rookie of the Year?
This is a question that was posed to us in our most recent mailbag episode, and it’s an interesting one. So let’s look at it a little more closely.
In order for Wendell to have the necessary opportunities to make a case for Rookie of the Year, several things need to fall into place. First, the Duke product needs to shine in his early season minutes off the bench to earn more playing time. Not only that, Hoiberg needs to find times to play him alongside Markkanen to see what that would look like as a potential starting duo at power forward and center. If Wendell does in fact look as good as advertised, the front office needs to aggressively shop Robin Lopez. The veteran center won’t have much value, as the market for traditional centers is at an all-time low in the NBA. Nevertheless, they must try.
If the Bulls front office decides to keep Lopez because he’s such a valued leader for this young team (or they simply get zero offers for him) it will eat into Carter’s chances to shine. It’s possible that the rook proves himself enough to take the starting job away from Lopez, who then gets relegated to a veteran bench player role. Lopez proved that he was a team-first guy during the tank last season, and it’s in his character to make the same sacrifice this season. Even if that happens, Robin is still going to begin the season in the starting lineup and Carter will come off the bench.
If and when Carter does make it into the starting lineup, he will have much more competition for shots and overall usage with the other four guys on the floor than he did when playing a bench role. Newcomer Jabari had a 26.5 usage percentage in his best season (2016-17). That fell only a couple points to 24.4% last season even as the Greek Freak took his game to new heights and Parker was knocking off rust from his second ACL tear. LaVine came in at 29.5% in the handful of games he played for Chicago last season. Markkanen had 21.9% usage after unexpectedly being thrust into the starting lineup on opening night and holding his starting job all season. Combine their field goal attempts per game (using Jabari’s ’17 season) and you’re looking at 43.5 shots.
Add Dunn’s 12.8 attempts per game last season and it jumps to 56.3 shots. And that’s just from the other four starters around Wendell, not even the bench shooters. The Bulls only averaged 88.8 total field goal attempts as a team last season.
Sure, you can point to Justin Holiday’s likely decreased role and the departure of Nikola Mirotic as shots that will be up for grabs for Wendell, but the point remains the same: if the rookie wins the starting job at some point this season, he’ll likely be the fifth option offensively. And that won’t help his case for Rookie of the Year honors from a statistical standpoint.
If there’s good news for those hoping to see a RoY campaign from Wendell, it’s that he proved to make the most of his limited opportunities at Duke last season. He averaged a near double-double (13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds) in just 26.8 minutes per game. His 8.6 shot attempts ranked fifth behind Marvin Bagley, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval. Of those five players, however, Carter trailed only Bagley (26.3 vs 22.8) in usage percentage.
Wendell’s 5.9 win shares were tied for second on the team, and his .240 win shares per 40 minutes were essentially on par with Bagley’s team-leading .249. Carter’s offensive rating (125.3) also ranked second behind Bagley (127.7) among Duke’s starters and his defensive rating (92.8) led the team.
That all sounds promising, but it won’t necessarily translate to Wendell getting loads of Rookie of the Year votes. Unless he supplants Lopez almost immediately as the starting center, it’s tough to project the rook averaging double figures in points per game. It’s also hard to see him finishing the season with a usage percentage at or above 20%.
Looking at the previous five RoY winners, only one had a usage percentage below 20 and a points per game average around or below 10. That was Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon, who won the award as the 36th overall pick of the 2016 draft. That should tell you just how weak the collective rookie years were from that class (sorry, Denzel). Brodgon averaged 10.2 points (18.5% usage) in 26.4 minutes per game. Of his 75 rookie games, Brogdon started just 28.
Compare those numbers to the other four recent RoY winners, and Wendell’s chances don’t look great. Michael Carter-Williams (yeah, that happened in 2014…),
Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ben Simmons on average scored 16.9 points per game with an average usage percentage of 23.9%. It’s hard to see Wendell hitting either of those numbers. Those four averaged 34.1 minutes per game as rookies. Carter-Williams’ 70 starts were the fewest of the group. Simmons started 81 games. Wiggins and Towns started all 82. Is the Bulls rookie going to see that many minutes and/or that many starts? Seems doubtful coming into camp.
Then there’s the other likely RoY contenders. There doesn’t appear to be as much of a road block for minutes and shots for the likes of Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Bagley. Jackson’s Grizzlies and Doncic’s Mavericks might try to compete this season, but there isn’t too much talent on either roster to prevent them from becoming focal points. Ayton’s Suns and Bagley’s Kings will be bad again, but Ayton can quickly become Devin Booker’s #2 guy and Bagley might even become the #1 option in Sacramento. Wendell won’t be that lucky.
I’m not saying it’s impossible for Wendell to win Rookie of the Year, just that it’s unlikely. I really like the kid’s potential, and I want to see him win the starting center job at some point this season. The sooner the better. If that happens, there’s a chance we see him earn a spot on either the First or Second All-Rookie squads. In fact, I’d be willing to bet he edges out at least one of the bigs (Ayton, Bagley, Jackson, Mo Bamba) drafted ahead of him to nab a spot for All-Rookie honors. He can be that good his rookie year.
He just needs the chance to prove it.
Have thoughts on WCJ? Comment below or continue the conversation with me on Twitter @Bulls_Peck.
Bulls Lauri Markkanen considered a top candidate for a breakout season
Locked On Bulls kicks off the show discussing Sports Illustrated’s latest NBA article discussing the five potential breakout stars in 2018-19. Among the list of five players is Bulls Lauri Markkanen. The guys discuss the other four players listed (Jayson Tatum, Fred VanVleet, Jamal Murray, and Montrezl Harrell) and why Markkanen could potentially be the best of the bunch.
The second half of the episode, Locked On Bulls takes a question from one of the listeners: Is Derrick Rose’s MVP season the worst of all-time? The guys discuss whether or not it’s fair to compare MVP’s in different eras, what exactly the voting breakdown was in 2010-11 season, why the LeBron effect has something to do with it, and why MVP voting isn’t end all be all in an argument. All of this and so much more on Locked On Bulls.
Will Antonio Blakeney prove he is worth an NBA contract?
As the NBA offseason comes to a close, all eyes are on the Chicago Bulls’ acquisitions of Jabari Parker, Wendell Carter Jr., and the re-signing of Zach LaVine. However, with an injury-prone starting lineup, the Bulls’ season could become dependent on how much the bench players can produce and whether or not they are capable of moving into the starting lineup if needed. Antonio Blakeney may be one of these bench players asked to play a bigger role as the 2018-19 NBA season progresses.
The Bulls signed Blakeney to his first NBA contract back in July. He went undrafted after playing two years at LSU, but made the Bulls’ 2017 summer league roster. Antonio’s team-leading 16.8 points per game that summer earned him a two-way contract. He was named Rookie of the Year in the NBA G League averaging a whopping 32 points in 32 games played.
Blakeney rejoined the Bulls’ summer league roster this year and led the team in scoring again, this time with 21 points. Although he struggled with his shooting percentage and turnover rate, the Bulls saw enough upside and potential in him to offer him his first NBA deal. His ability to create his own shots anywhere on the floor could make him hard to stop off the bench this upcoming season.
Blakeney played just 19 games with the Bulls last season averaging 7.9 points per game in 16.5 minutes played. He struggled with his shooting but averaged a promising 0.6 turnovers. It’s a small sample size, but Blakeney could surprise the league this season with more playing time and perhaps a more important role in the Bulls’ offense.
I’m not saying Blakeney will become an All-Star, but his aggressive mindset as soon as he crosses half court could make him an offensive threat. He’s shown in both summer league and the G League the confidence he has when the ball is in his hands. While he has shown his ability to shoot the three ball and get to the rim, I believe his pull-up shot inside the arc is what makes him a great scorer. His explosive and unpredictable style of scoring makes him hard to guard and leaves me reminiscing about Nate Robinson’s days in Chicago.
Antonio Blakeney definitely has areas where he can improve his game, but at just 21 years old you can see the potential he has to grow into a larger role for the Chicago Bulls in the future. The Bulls’ young and offensively gifted starting lineup will certainly be fun to watch this year, but make sure to keep an eye on Blakeney as he looks to prove he is more than just a summer league star.
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You have stumbled across the best Chicago Bulls show on the air. The voice of true Chicago Bulls fans lies here in this show. Hosts Jordan Maly and Matt Peck provide you with a daily dose of Chicago Bulls news and stories. We are Locked On Bulls. Join the conversation by leaving texts and voicemails at (331)-979-1369.
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