Carter a bright spot in Bulls' slow start

There was a preseason checklist for things the Bulls needed to happen to show some progress. Ten games into the season, it remains mostly unchecked.

Can Zach LaVine take a step toward learning what it takes to be a winner in the NBA? Still working on that.

Can Lauri Markkanen build off the nice stretch he had last season when he averaged 22 and 13? Hasn't happened yet.

Can Otto Porter consistently bring the same contributions he made shortly after last season's trade with Washington? No.

Is Tomas Satoransky a rising star and one of the underrated free-agent signings? Jury is out on that one, but mostly no so far.

Can Wendell Carter Jr. stay healthy and show improvement in his second season?

That one is a yes. It's not a stretch to suggest Carter has been the Bulls' best player through the first 10 games.

He leads the team in rebounds at 9.5 per game, is third in scoring with 12.8 points and is shooting 58% from the field overall. Carter leads the team in net rating and is first among the starters in defensive rating.

And that's even after he missed a large chunk of preseason with a tailbone injury. On Monday at the Advocate Center, Carter talked about his positive progress.

"I've got one year under my belt. I know exactly what to expect when I'm playing," he said. "I just find ways to affect the game, whether it's scoring, rebounding or playing good defense. I found my niche for the game, and I'm just going to try to build off that."

One thing that remains an issue is foul trouble. That's something most every young big man has to deal with in the NBA and Carter often finds himself in bad situations because opponents are getting past the Bulls' perimeter defenders with regularity.

He's averaging 4.1 fouls on the season and has fouled out twice - last Wednesday in Atlanta and Game 2 at Memphis. The Atlanta game was the only time when foul trouble cut significantly into Carter's playing time.

"With me being an overly aggressive player, it's just something I had to learn," he said. "That's something I would put in my scouting report, 'Very aggressive player.'"

He does admit to toning it down at times. You can't be aggressive while sitting on the bench with four fouls, and that also speaks to Carter's intelligence.

"One thing about me, I don't like people to score, whether it's my man or someone else's man," he said. "I had to learn that everybody is in this league because they know how to put the ball in the basket. They're going to score sometimes. I've just got to move on."

Coach Jim Boylen has been calling Carter the captain of the defense since early last season. The Bulls are starting to show signs in that area, although the search is still on for players to help Carter on the boards.

"Our defense is 15th in the league. We're ninth in defense the last five games," Boylen said. "We're getting the shots we want. We're No. 1 in the league at getting in the paint. I expect us to break through and shoot the ball better, finish better. We have an improving basketball team."

Considering the individual progress Carter has made, maybe he can help with the push for more team success. The Bulls have had their moments against some good teams lately, but still tend to get overwhelmed when a better opponent turns up the intensity late in games.

"I feel like we're definitely one of the most talented young teams in this league," Carter said. "We just have to play for 48 minutes. I feel like we have great spurts where we're playing beautiful basketball and sometimes we lose focus and we show our immaturity.

"We don't have a lot of time, but it's just the beginning of the season and feel like everybody has bought into this team. As we keep working, we'll eventually get there."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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Bulls game day

Bulls vs. New York Knicks, Tuesday 7 p.m. at the United Center

TV: NBCSCH; Radio: WSCR 670-AM

Outlook: The Knicks (2-8) are coming off a rough, 21-point home loss to Cleveland on Sunday, but they did win at Dallas two days earlier. They beat the Bulls in New York 105-98 on Oct. 28 for their other victory this season. The Bulls led that one by 18 points after one quarter, but the Knicks finished the game on a 15-0 run. ... SF Marcus Morris is the top scorer at 18.1 ppg, followed by PF Julius Randle (15.5) and rookie R.J. Barrett (15.5). Ex-Bull Bobby Portis is averaging 9.4 points, while Taj Gibson has started the past two games with C Mitchell Robinson out with a concussion.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday 7 p.m. at Fiserv Forum

- Mike McGraw

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