Bulls' Carter reflects on shortened season, possible No. 1 draft pick

A day after undergoing surgery on his left thumb, Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. seemed a little down in the dumps when he met with reporters Tuesday at the Advocate Center.

That is, until someone brought up the Bulls' future and Duke phenom Zion Williamson.

"He's for sure the No. 1 draft pick. No doubt about it," Carter said. "I don't understand how anybody can pass up his athleticism, his potential. That's a freak of nature, a once-in-a-generation-type player. I believe he'll be No. 1."

Carter and Williamson played at Duke in back-to-back seasons, but Carter admitted they've barely crossed paths.

"I've seen him play a couple times, but I never played with him or against him," Carter said. "He came one time to a game (last season). Other than that, I really didn't get to hang out with him."

Between Williamson and R.J. Barrett, Duke freshmen are likely to go 1-2 in the 2019 NBA Draft, and Cam Reddish has a chance to make three Dukies in a row at the top. The Bulls will be in the mix for the No. 1 pick.

The Bulls' rebuild has taken a step backward so far this season, thanks to a multitude of significant injuries. Carter was asked if he believes in the team's future.

"Absolutely. I feel like everybody here is bought in," he said. "We just have to get a better feel for one another when we're on the court. Especially with the draft coming up, depending on who we draft, we'll be able to mold this team into something very special."

Carter's injury occurred during the first half of a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 15. Carter finished the game and didn't think the injury was a big deal. An MRI exam the next day revealed a sprain, but after visiting a hand specialist in Chicago, surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament was advised.

Carter said he never seriously considered skipping the surgery.

"(People) don't get it taken care of and bones are coming out of their socket very easily," he said. "I just wanted to eliminate all that. If I was to get in a cast and come back and the tendon didn't come back, then I'd have to wait another eight weeks and get the surgery. So I just went ahead and knocked it out to get it out of the way."

The recovery time is expected to be 8-12 weeks. There's a chance Carter could come back this season, but it's more likely that his rookie campaign is over. Carter averaged 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He started all 44 games until the thumb injury.

Carter certainly provided enough positive signs for the Bulls to feel good about his future. He was a strong defender and versatile scorer. There were bouts of foul trouble, but Carter turns 20 in April, so there is plenty of time to grow.

"I've always said he embraces collision and contact and he developed as a defender," coach Jim Boylen said. "Whatever scheme you put him in he was able to adapt and adjust because he has an IQ level, especially for the defensive end. So just I think he had a great learning curve in those 44 games and he'll keep learning as he's watching. It's not ideal but it is what it is."

Playing on a struggling team isn't always ideal, either, but Carter gave a positive review of his rookie season.

"It was fun. I had a lot of ups and downs throughout the season, which I was going to go through at some point in my career," he said. "It was fun being able to bond with my teammates, which I plan on doing for the rest of the season.

"That was something I always worked for ever since I was a kid, to be able to get to the NBA. Not just get here but also be a star in this league. Those games show the potential I have in this league."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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Scouting report

Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks, 7 p.m. Wednesday at the United Center

TV: WGN • Radio: WSCR 670-AM

Outlook: The Bulls haven't seen the Hawks since beating them 97-85 Oct. 27 in Atlanta. ... Even with a 14-32 record, the Hawks are pulling off some quality wins. Their last three victories were against Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Miami. ... The Hawks' top scorer is second-year PF John Collins, who is averaging 18.8 points and 10.4 rebounds. Rookie PG Trae Young is next at 16.1 ppg, while shooting 28.9 percent from 3-point range. ... SG Kent Bazemore is out with an ankle injury. ... The Bulls have won five straight in the series.

Next: Los Angeles Clippers, 7 p.m. Friday at the United Center

- Mike McGraw

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