Duke basketball star is darkhorse candidate for NBA award

Duke basketball forward Wendell Carter Jr. (Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball forward Wendell Carter Jr. (Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports) /

A Duke basketball product is looking to capitalize on an ideal opportunity.

There was never doubt that former Duke basketball one-and-done Wendell Carter Jr. had enormous potential coming out of the 2018 NBA Draft. At No. 7 overall to the Chicago Bulls, he seemed to be a part of their young core that would hopefully contend in the Eastern Conference for many years to come.

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Two and a half seasons later, the Bulls parted ways with Carter via a March trade, which might’ve been the best thing to happen for the young big.

During his brief stint in Durham, he was a formidable force averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks while shooting 56.1 percent shooting from the field. Carter’s muscular frame, along with his athleticism on both ends of the court, caught the eyes of many pro scouts. Add on his improving jump shot.

Carter fits the mold of the ideal NBA big man.

However, his time in Chicago didn’t start the way Carter or the Bulls wanted. Accredit much of that to former Bulls coach Jim Boylen, arguably one of the worst recent NBA coaches.

Still, the 22-year-old has averaged 11.2 points per game and 8.2 rebounds across his first three years in the league. Going into his fourth year, Carter has a chance to see the biggest jump of his career, and a significant part of that growth could be due to a few recent additions to the Orlando Magic roster.

A chance for the Duke basketball alum to win NBA Most Improved Player Award

After striking gold and landing Jalen Suggs in the 2021 NBA Draft, the Magic have a lot of optimism going into this upcoming season. Few expect them to be in playoff contention, but they have a great young core to build upon for the coming years.

One certainty is that Wendell Carter Jr. is an excellent complimentary piece to pair with Suggs.

Carter brings energy and defensive intensity. He will consistently crash the glass and impose his will in the interior. Suggs ought to enjoy having the NBA Blue Devil as a roller when it comes to pick-and-roll action due to Carter’s broad frame and ability to free up space by setting solid screens.

The great thing about the 6-foot-10 forward is that there aren’t expectations for him to drastically improve his play, meaning he can play freely and let the game come to him in the most natural way possible. His motor alongside Jonathan Isaac (barring any health issues) should result in Orlando’s style of play being very entertaining and the Magic being among the top young teams.

Now, there’s no guarantee Carter will leap into this proposed realm of being among the NBA’s most improved. That said, if anyone has the skills, potential, and opportunity, it’s him.

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We’ve seen some former Duke basketball players be late bloomers in the NBA. Wendell Carter Jr. can add his name to that list.