Bulls rookie Carter is playing well at summer league, but no need to get carried away

 
 
Updated 7/10/2018 8:17 PM
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  • After three games at the Las Vegas summer league, there are encouraging signs by first-round pick Wendell Carter Jr. He finished with 23 points in Tuesday's loss to Atlanta.

    After three games at the Las Vegas summer league, there are encouraging signs by first-round pick Wendell Carter Jr. He finished with 23 points in Tuesday's loss to Atlanta. Associated Press

After three games at the Las Vegas summer league, everyone would agree Bulls rookie Wendell Carter Jr., has played well.

He delivered his best offensive performance on Tuesday in a 101-93 loss to Atlanta. The No. 7 overall pick from Duke finished with 23 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and hit 9 of 13 shots from the field.

Carter has shown some nice offensive versatility. In the fourth quarter alone, the 6-foot-10 center stepped into an open 3 at the top of the key and drained it, then pump-faked a defender in the air and hit a nice floater in the lane.

Carter doesn't force shots and is quick to pass out of trouble, which helps explain his 57 percent shooting at summer league and should be a helpful trait during the NBA season. Carter has also done a nice job of protecting the rim, collecting 11 blocks in three games.

But watching these games on television, I feel compelled to add words of caution. During each of the first two games, ESPN2 analyst Doris Burke said something like, "If Marvin Bagley III hadn't reclassified and enrolled at Duke, Carter could have easily averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds." Actually, the second night, I'm pretty sure she projected 25 points and 13 rebounds for Carter on a Bagley-less Duke team.

I know plenty of people love Burke, so sorry to pick on her. But I'll just point out the last college player to average 25 points and 13 rebounds in a season was former Bull Kurt Thomas for TCU in 1994-95.

Burke basically called Carter the next coming of Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bob Lanier, to pick out three names on the very, very short list of college players who averaged 25 and 13. For the record, Lanier did it three times in three seasons at St. Bonaventure.

Here's my rule about summer league: Guys who will be contributors on an NBA team need to dominate. And sometimes dominating summer league does not translate to NBA success (see Doug McDermott).

So let's just say there is plenty to like about Carter's performance in Vegas and leave it at that. The Hawks made a point of getting Carter involved defensively in pick-and-roll switches. Carter did block a Trae Young 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, but I also counted several blow-bys.

Carter has shown a pretty good basketball IQ, so it remains to be seen if NBA opponents will seek him out defensively in real games. The Bulls' defense was not very good Tuesday after they opened a double-digit lead in the second quarter, but that was a team-wide problem.

This game turned out to be a showcase for Young, the No. 5 pick in the draft. This was the Hawks' fifth summer game, because they played in Salt Lake City before hitting Las Vegas. Heading into Tuesday's contest, Young had shot 17 percent from 3-point range (6 for 35). Against the Bulls, he went 7-for-13 and scored 24 points.

Antonio Blakeney tied Carter for Bulls' high-scorer with 23 points. Kaiser Gates, a 6-8 rookie from Xavier, added 14 points.

The Bulls' other first-round pick, forward Chandler Hutchison, gets mixed reviews. He's averaged 9.3 points and shot 36 percent from the field in the three summer games.

Too many times, Hutchison has driven to the basket and seemed to have no plan when he got there. Then again, he showed a knack for making nice passes on Tuesday, piling up 8 assists against the Hawks. He's hit 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range and that was supposed to be a weakness.

The Bulls move on to the tournament phase of summer league and will play at least two more games. So far, none of their main players has sat out, so fans have gotten long looks at Carter, Hutchison, Blakeney and Ryan Arcidiacono.

Whatever happens the rest of the way, don't get carried away. It's only summer league.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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