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Is Michael Carter-Williams Emerging as Favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year?

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Is Michael Carter-Williams Emerging as Favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year?

Dazzling.

There's no other word to describe Michael Carter-Williams' first three games in the NBA regular season for the Philadelphia 76ers. He's been sensational, and the Sixers have remained perfect as a result.

Perfect? The Sixers? Something's wrong here. And there is. Something is wrong. What Carter-Williams is doing feels incredibly right, though.

Philly wasn't supposed to beat the Miami Heat or Washington Wizards. Those Sixers sure as hell weren't supposed to beat the Chicago Bulls after trailing by as many as 18 points in the second half.

Three games into 2013-14, they're perfect. Because Carter-Williams has been almost flawless. He's doing things he wasn't supposed to, inspiring a team that should be subservient to opponents' wishes.

Three games. That's nothing. Not nearly enough to regard the Sixers as this year's 2011-12 Denver Nuggets, star-less and lovin' it.

But it's enough see that Carter-Williams isn't in Philly to tank. He's there to compete. And where wins will, at some point, be hard to come by, this year's Rookie of the Year award is his to lose.

 

Fun With Numbers

It bears repeating that a three-game stretch is nothing. 

In all likelihood, Carter-Williams won't close out the year averaging 20.7 points, nine assists and 4.3 steals while shooting a blistering 47.1 percent from beyond the arc. If he does, we'd all be shocked.

Still, in just three games he has separated himself from all the other rookies in his draft class. His points, assists, steals and minutes per game all rank first and, for the most part, it's not even close.

Look at the percent jumps from the second-place rookie in each of those categories to Carter-Williams:

Even early on, that's impressive. He's accounted for 20 percent of Philly's three victories (0.6), and his 24.5 percent usage rate would have ranked second among all 2012-13 rookies who averaged more than 16 minutes a night, including Damian Lillard (24.2), the reigning Rookie of the Year.

Speaking of Lillard, he led all rookie guards last season in double-doubles with seven; Carter-Williams has two through three games. He also set a record for the most steals in an NBA debut, swiping nine against the Heat.

That game, he finished with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals, making him the sixth-youngest player since 1985 to tally at least 20 points, 10 assists, five boards and five steals in the same night. The other five consist of LeBron James, Chris Paul, Allen Iverson, Raymond Felton and Russell Westbrook, four of whom have at least three All-Star selections to their name.

Single games or even small samples sizes aren't cause to deem Carter-Williams a superstar. The future seems bright, but it is still uncertain.

Already, though, he's put himself in the record books, padding his stat lines with enough support to spark three Sixers victories and pit himself atop his fellow rookies. Three games are enough to see that.

 

Who Else?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

The NBA was begging for this—a clear-cut favorite.

Entering the season, there was no rookie fated to win the coveted Rookie of the Year award. Not like in year's past, when the overwhelming favorite didn't always win (Anthony Davis, for example), but existed.

There was none of that this year. Heck, there wasn't even an obvious No. 1 pick in the draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked just about everyone when they took Anthony Bennett.

Victor Oladipo received 9-2 Rookie of the Year odds from Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman. And 80 percent of the NBA's general managers picked him to win, too (exactly zero chose Carter-Williams). 

But the field has never been more wide open, waiting for a chief among minions to take center stage. Save for Carter Williams, no one else has made a play for that honor.

No other rookie has scored 20 points in a single game. Only one other rookie has multiple five-assist outings (Nate Wolters) and posted a PER above 20 (Vitor Faverani). Just three others are logging at least 30 minutes a night, only one of which was a lottery pick (Oladipo).

This race was there for the taking, up for grabs in the most turbid of fashions. Oladipo could've taken it. Ben McLemore could've staked his flag in it. Cody Zeller has seen enough to steal it, too.

None of them have. Some have been impressive, and a few have exceeded expectations.

Head and shoulders above them all is Carter-Williams. 

 

The Perfect Situation

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Who would have thought?

The Sixers, being a perfect situation for something other than losing? Get real.

Let's.

Philly is a team with no expectations. Inconceivable success hasn't altered the Sixers' ceiling much. They'll win more than 10 games and avoid becoming the worst team in NBA history, but they're not going to make the playoffs.

With the absence of expectations comes opportunity for younger players like Carter-Williams. Plenty of teams are in position to play rookies extensively without fear of mistakes costing them a postseason berth. The Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns and Bobcats, among others, aren't playing for anything more than lottery appearances.

But the Sixers, who previously (and still do) headline the league's list of apparent tankers, were truly supposed to be terrible. Sort of like the Suns and Boston Celtics, only worse. 

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Anything Carter-Williams does—like make history during his debut or secure a few victories, for instance—is more significant. That victory over the Heat, which he spearheaded, already stands to be one of the biggest upsets we see all year. Same goes for their comeback against the Bulls.

Assuming head coach Brett Brown and general manager Sam Hinkie don't bench him for playing too well, he'll continue to have opportunities to stage more improbable victories, performances and separate himself from his peers even further. And they won't bench him.

Carter-Williams is perhaps the most important piece to Philly's future puzzle. If the Sixers are genuinely worried that Andrew Wiggins will remove them from No. 1 on his speed dial, they'll deal Evan Turner or Thaddeus Young. Or both.

Which player is the current favorite to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year award?

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They're Carter-Williams' team. At present, he has an unparalleled type of control and faith placed in him, easily usurping that of anything Oladipo and anyone else is wielding.

"Coach gives me a lot of confidence out there," Carter-Williams said after Philly's win over Chicago, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). "I'm able to play freely and I just try to make things happen within the team. I try to do my job out there and get all my teammates involved. They did a great job. And when they do a great job, it makes me look good."

All Carter-Wiliams has done is look good. Everything he's done has made a seemingly awful Sixers team look good.

Everything he's done has left him the Rookie of the Year favorite the NBA didn't have before.

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