Is Wendell Carter Jr. the answer for Bulls at center? Injuries have stalled his progress

Third in a series

Wendell Carter Jr.'s time with the Bulls could be described using the popular sports writer cliché, "A tale of two halves."

More specifically, it's two tales of two halves.

Carter started out well in both seasons. In fact, there was a point in this disappointing season when the second-year center might have been the Bulls' lone bright spot.

He might be the only player on the Bulls roster who played well on both ends of the court. He's an intelligent defender who can help minimize mistakes by his teammates. Offensively, he was an efficient scorer and started to build versatility with more long-range shooting.

You could say Carter is an undersized center at 6-feet-10 and lacks the impressive athleticism of players like Miami's Bam Adebayo or Portland's Hassan Whiteside. At the same time, Carter has held his own against both taller and more athletic centers, which could make him an ideal piece in the modern NBA. The pre-draft comparisons to Philadelphia's Al Horford appear to be accurate.

Carter averaged 11.3 points and 9.4 rebounds this season. By adding a 3-point shot, staying out of foul trouble and staying healthy, it's easy to imagine Carter averaging a double-double, maybe 16 and 12, someday. He turns 21 April 16, so there should still be plenty of upside to his game.

But there's been a huge downside during his first two seasons. As a rookie, he was knocked out on Jan. 15 with a thumb injury after playing in 44 games. This year, he suffered a high ankle sprain against Dallas Jan. 6 and missed 22 games. He also had surgery to repair an abdominal injury last summer.

The ankle injury seemed to spoil whatever momentum Carter built during the first three months. When the injury happened, Carter ranked second on the Bulls in net rating, behind Tomas Satoransky, who's efficiency took a jump when Kris Dunn joined the starting lineup Nov. 30. (Net rating is ­- with the player on the court - team points scored minus points allowed.)

In the six games he played after the injury, Carter's net rating for the full season dropped from plus-1.4 to minus-0.5. Rookie Daniel Gafford stepped forward to give the Bulls another potential option at center.

Carter improved in most categories from his first to second seasons. So he still appears to be a permanent solution at center, but the Bulls would like to see more than 44 and 43 games played per season before making a commitment down the road.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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