From the moment that I tuned into Team USA's initial match up against Chinese Taipei, my eyes really focused in on Wendell Carter. While I knew about Carter, due to him being arguably the best prospect of the class of 2017, he just looked to be on another level compared to the opposition. Although a lot of that could be due to the less than stellar competition of Chinese Taipei, Turkey or Egypt, there just seemed to be something special about him.
Perhaps that could be due to him resembling an NBA veteran more than your average 17 year old basketball player. That acclaim is due to two separate factors: His frame and diverse skill-set Despite just turning 17 in April, Carter already has an NBA-ready body, as he stands 6'10 and 250 pounds with a 7'3 wingspan. Carter really knows how to utilize that bulky frame to bully opponents on the offensive glass. That's been evident during the U17 tournament, as he's averaged 4.0 offensive boards per game in 16.5 minutes played. That number would probably a lot higher if USA's average margin of victory wasn't 49 points during their first four games.
Alongside that tremendous rebounding ability, Carter has a pretty diverse skill-set on both sides of the ball. Defensively, he's not afraid of going out to the perimeter and hedging on pick-and-rolls. Carter has quick footwork which he utilizes alongside his solid frame to keep up with cutting guards. However, he's still most comfortable with sticking inside the paint and letting the guards come to him. That's prevalent in the clip below, as Carter just denies the Chinese Taipei cutter from getting into the paint.
While he's definitely solid on the defensive end, a lot of the appeal surrounding Carter comes from his work on offense. That's mainly due to Carter being able to contribute in a variety of ways: offensive put backs, post-ups, off-ball cuts and a solid perimeter jumper. His perimeter jumper stands as the most appealing part of his offensive repertoire, as his range spreads out to beyond the FIBA 3-point line. Carter's jumper is incredibly smooth for a 6'10 forward, as he has a very pretty shooting stroke where he finishes with a nice release point.
Carter's solid touch is also evident through his work in post-ups, as he's shown an ability to both work in the left and right block. As he posts up, Carter shows similar poise to 76ers center Jahlil Okafor, as he does a great job of quickly reading the court before he decides whether to facilitate or try to score.
When he tries to score, Carter shows nice foot-work as he uses little side steps to create easy looks at the rim. His skill as a post-up and perimeter threat is a big improvement over how he was 12 months ago. In a piece before last year's FIBA U16 tournament DraftExpress said the following about Carter.
Carter is very mature physically, which can be misleading at this age, so he'll need to continue to work on his skill-level, particularly his jump-shot, which is not very pretty at the moment.
Wendell Carter has the makings to be a basketball unicorn. Similar to a unicorn, Carter has the outer layers of being a beast and a bruiser. But in actuality, he has a certain fluidity and all-around skill set that you don't typically see from players that are his size or age. Carter's evolution into a 6'10 unicorn should continue to be more evident through upcoming FIBA or high school games as he'll get more experience and continue to progress as an all-around player. While it'll be exciting to watch that progression occur, basketball fans should continue to watch the FIBA U17 tournament to see one of the most entertaining young players in the entire country.