Syracuse Basketball: Breaking Down Michael Carter-Williams' NBA Potential
Syracuse sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams announced on April 10 that he will enter the 2013 NBA draft, forgoing his remaining two years of eligibility.
Carter-Williams enjoyed a very good sophomore campaign and likely played himself onto the radars of many of the general managers in the NBA with his stellar performance in the NCAA tournament.
This year’s draft has no shortage of guards, but point guards are another story.
Especially elite point guards.
The question that must be asked is whether or not Carter-Williams is an elite point guard. Some of his contemporaries thought to enter the draft were Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Smart and Naismith Award winner Trey Burke, but the quality of point guard takes a big drop after those three.
Now it seems that Smart will return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore, thinning the herd even more.
Consequently, unless there are plans to convert Kansas’ Ben McLemore or Indiana’s Victor Oladipo into point guards, Carter-Williams should be one of the first three point guards taken in the draft. What remains to be seen is which teams will need point guard help and which position those teams will draft from.
How Carter-Williams performs in the pre-draft camp could place him somewhere outside of the top five or six picks if he does well or knock him down to the mid-teens if he fails to impress.
The lottery for the NBA draft will take place on May 21, with the actual draft commencing on June 27 in Madison Square Garden.
The only certainty is that he will be drafted in the first round.
How well he will mesh into the NBA, however, is anybody’s guess.
A successful NBA point guard must be an excellent ball-handler, have great court vision, be an able defender and, most importantly, be a great passer.
Other qualities, such as the ability to create a shot, to draw defenders and get teammates open, shooting proficiency and quickness, are also integral pieces of a guard’s success.
Let’s take a look at the game of Michael Carter-Williams, the positive and negative aspects of his play and his prospects for a successful NBA career.
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The current average height of an NBA point guard is between 6’1” and 6’2”.
Michael Carter-Williams is listed at 6’6”, giving him quite a bit of...ahem...head room to survey the court.
Carter-Williams averaged 7.3 assists per game this season, but he also averaged 3.4 turnovers per game.
This means he has plenty of vision, but sometimes lacks foresight.
When eyeing up the court, a point guard must know where his teammates are, where they are going to be and how the defense will react to said players’ movement. Carter-Williams has the first two parts down pat. He needs to better anticipate the whereabouts of his opposition.
Carter-Williams has the necessary vision to make it in the NBA. What he does with that vision will be one of the biggest factors of his success or failure.
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When it comes to dribbling prowess, Michael Carter-Williams will never be mistaken for Curly Neal.
He’s also no Yao Ming.
He’s somewhere in-between.
Being 6’6” has its advantages when surveying the court, but not so much when it comes to ball-handling. NBA defenders are exponentially quicker with their hands than college players, which means that dribbling in the NBA as a taller player must be done with extreme caution.
Carter-Williams’ ball-handling is middle-of-the-road, as his 3.4 turnovers per game insinuate. The two biggest factors he will need to work on are dribbling too high, meaning the ball meets his hand at or above his waist, and dribbling too slowly, which gives defenders an opportunity to time and steal the ball.
An NBA defender does not have to look at the ball to steal it. Proper ball-stealing technique includes listening to the dribble and acting at the sound. This is because the human brain cannot process the signal from the eyes quickly enough to anticipate the movement of the basketball, but the sound of the ball dribbling becomes a cadence for defenders.
John Chaney taught this at Temple. He would have his players sweep their hands from the inside of the dribbler’s body to the outside based only on listening to the dribble. This did two things: It prevented reach in-fouls and also taught his players always not to trust their eyes.
Carter-Williams can fix his ball-handling issues if he learns to get closer to the ground when he dribbles and increases the speed of his dribbling.
Michael Carter-Williams is a terrific passer. He’s probably even better than his 7.3 assists per game would infer, which made him No. 5 in Division I in that category.
The reason he might be better than advertised when it comes to passing is that he was very adept at finding holes in the defense but was a little too quick with his passing, often catching his teammates off-guard.
His NBA teammates should not have this problem, as they will have quicker hands, a shorter shot clock and almost always want the ball.
If there is a problem with Carter-Williams' passing, it is that he sometimes will leave his feet before he knows where he’s going to pass the ball, which is a Basketball 101 no-no.
He is great on the break and is fantastic at misdirection, and the point where he is most effective is in driving the lane and kicking out to shooters. The problem was that Syracuse didn’t have that many shooters and couldn’t take advantage of this strength as often as it was available.
Carter-Williams' passing game is NBA-ready today.
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Michael Carter-Williams can shoot; he just can’t shoot that well.
Carter-Williams shot 39 percent from the field, which would be acceptable if he was purely a jump shooter, but he was as much of a slasher as he was a shooter.
From the three-point line, his deficiencies were much more evident, as he barely shot 29 percent from beyond the arc.
Even the free-throw line was arduous for him, as he only made 69 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
Carter-Williams had moments when he would rise to the occasion and hit a timely three-pointer or two. Often, he would do this in a big spot, but his ineptitude from the field was more of a hindrance than a gift for Syracuse.
His quickness and length will allow him to get shots off, but NBA threes are farther away, and he will have to prove that he has some kind of range if he wants defenders to respect him and play him closer, which would free up passing lanes.
Carter-Williams doesn’t ever have to be a scorer, but he does have to prove that he can shoot. His talents are symbiotic, and if he can’t get defenders to respect his shot, the rest of his game will suffer.
If he’s smart, he hasn’t stopped practicing his jump shot since the Final Four. This is the biggest flaw in his game and must improve if he is to be successful.
Think Michael Jordan. He was an unstoppable slasher, but once he developed his jump shot, he became an unstoppable player.
Carter-Williams is no Michael Jordan, but he would be wise to look to his example: Even when a player is the best at one thing, there’s always something else that can be improved.
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Michael Carter-Williams has plenty of negatives, which range from his high turnover rate to his poor shooting and average ball-handling, but he has far more positives, which are why he should be considered one of the elite point guards coming out of college.
Let’s start with his height.
His height helps him see the court, but it also helps him in another aspect.
Carter-Williams averaged 4.9 rebounds per game, which placed him third on a team that boasted six players who were 6’8” or taller. NBA point guards who can rebound come at a premium.
Something to also remember is that Carter-Williams' height also gives him an equally long wingspan that wreaks havoc on opposing ball-handlers. His length allows him to tip passes and expose poor ball-handlers.
Another aspect of Carter-Williams game that is a great strength is his speed. His long legs, combined with his quick first step, give him the ability to drive the lane in a flash. Without clogged lanes in the NBA to slow him down, Carter-Williams could be a driving force in the paint, as his size and speed will create mismatches on defense.
Not to be forgotten are his 3.0 steals per game, which ranked fourth nationally. This is important because many Syracuse players get a bum rap for not being able to play man-to-man defense as a result of the 2-3 zone. Carter-Williams was an excellent defender and should be able to hold his own on an NBA court.
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Michael Carter-Williams has a chance at being a lottery pick and has the talent to be a successful NBA player.
The jury is still out on whether he will be a successful player.
Carter-Williams has problems shooting and handling the ball, and seems to be a candidate who would benefit from one more year in school.
That being said, this year’s draft seems to be weak, and an improved Carter-Williams might be picked around the same spot next year.
The risk of injury is not worth staying in school, so he is probably making the right decision. What he needs to do is look at this moment as an opportunity. NBA drafts aren’t normally as guard-weak as this year’s, and if he wants to last longer than his three-year contract permits, he has to improve the deficiencies in his game.
Michael Carter-Williams is not ready for the NBA. The work that needs to be done can’t be done over night, and he needs to impress NBA GMs soon.
But just because he’s not ready today, doesn’t mean he can’t become ready. It’s all up to him and how bad he wants to be a success. The aspects of his game that need to be fixed are fixable in a gym.
He’s got the tools and he’s got the talent. All he needs now is the will.