Going from one of the top teams in college basketball to an NBA laughingstock is going to be a tough transition for Philadelphia 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams. But if he works on his game during this down year for the franchise, the dividends will be plentiful down the road.
Expectations are low in Philadelphia, which is a blessing for the Syracuse product as he begins his NBA journey. Without the typically high expectations that come from this rabid sports town, Carter-Williams can focus on deliberate ascension rather than resorting to quick fixes for his game.
The keys to a successful rookie season for Carter-Williams are a mix of who, and what can make him a more successful NBA player in the future.
Develop a Relationship with Brett Brown
Newly appointed head coach Brett Brown has a long history of coaching up young players. The former director of player development for the San Antonio Spurs was brought in specifically to work with fresh faces like Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel.
From Grantland's Brett Koremenos:
Coaches like Brown, who spend their formative coaching years working without the benefit of high-impact players, tend to be exhaustive about details and fundamentals because they can’t win games simply by rolling out talent. Not surprisingly, the word around NBA coaching circles is that Brown is a tremendous teacher of the game, something you’d pretty much expect from a coach who entered the Spurs organization in a player development role in 2002.
Breaking down coaching film isn't an exact science, but this clip seems to echo Koremenos' praise:
The drill Brown runs is fast and efficient, but the moments where he stops it to interject are what we're really focusing on here. There are no changes in voice tone or singling out players by name. Instead, Brown works in unison with the players, guiding them when necessary.
Brown takes his guys through this drill with a firm but respectful demeanor, even making them laugh a few times along the way. This style of feedback creates an atmosphere where players aren't afraid to fail, which will ease any self-imposed pressure from Carter-Williams.
Carter-Williams and Brown should be able to bond over the fact that it's collectively their first shot on the biggest stage. Developing a rapport and trusting one another will have a big impact on their long-term success. Having an ally who helped develop Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is invaluable.
If you thought it wasn't possible for the Sixers to find a guard worse at shooting than Evan Turner—a 41-percent shooter for 2012-13—you're in for a rude awakening.
Jokes aside, it was initially confusing as to how a guard would be so bad at shooting the basketball, especially considering high-school scouting profiles that highlighted his three-point range and scoring ability as his strengths.
Syracuse folk hero and current assistant coach Gerry McNamara helped explain what could be the cause of the erratic shooting:
From a mechanical standpoint, [his jump shot is] pretty good. [Carter-Williams'] release point is a little bit low, but we worked on the height of his release point.
I think early on he struggled because we worked together, and we made pretty significant changes on the height level and the release point, we didn’t find success immediately. Similar to me swinging a golf club, if I change my grip and I don’t find success I’m going to revert back. I think that’s kind of what Michael did.
Let's go to the tape:
In this package of highlights, Carter-Williams hits shots from deep using a quick release that comes during the middle of his ascent. He's able to get away with this due to his size advantage against high school competition, but it's certainly not the ideal motion, as it leaves him more susceptible to blocks.
Fast forward to last season:
His mechanics are more along the lines of what he'll need to emulate in the league, but getting consistent results is the issue. He's not as good as the knockdown at :45 or as bad as the air-ball at 1:17. Reaching the middle ground is the key to his career and the difference between this year's team being a train wreck or semi-watchable.
Eye On the Prize
There's no doubt that an organization which has preached about the importance of process will hammer that idea through their young point guard's head.
Carter-Williams will be focusing on improving his jumper and acclimating to a demanding league, and the initial product might not be pretty. Rather than get trapped in his own failings, he would do well to remember that many of the NBA's stars were similarly raw when they entered the league.
Brett Brown has already touched on this:
Look at the history of Russell Westbrook. Look at the history of Derrick Rose. Those guys learned to take their speed and space and still be great. It’s not a matter of rising up and hitting threes. You have to use your environment wisely. With Tony, Russell and Rose, you can see the evolution of their shot. Look at Jason Kidd. There are a lot of examples where you can say, ‘Hey, Michael, here’s the whole chain of events.’
The shooting may or may not come, but that doesn't prevent Carter-Williams from being a productive NBA player. He displayed the length and athleticism to be a force on both ends during the summer league:
Having tools to succeed is half the battle, but putting them to use is up to him. Initial failure is not an end point, but an obstacle to overcome. Understanding that he can contribute while weaknesses of his game catch up is crucial.
If all else fails, Carter-Williams can take a lesson from the 2009 film Zombieland and appreciate the small victories that come during a tough season:
Losses and bricks lie ahead, but that's no reason for Carter-Williams to hang his head. It's always darkest before dawn.