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Why Michael Carter-Williams Could Be the NBA's Next Jeremy Lin

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Why Michael Carter-Williams Could Be the NBA's Next Jeremy Lin
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Mike may become like Jeremy.

Remove your finger from the trigger and put down the hatchet. Please. 

Michael Carter-Williams isn't Jeremy Lin, and he's not going to be Jeremy Lin. His ceiling is higher, he's younger and he didn't go undrafted. Just as Lin wasn't selected out of Harvard for a reason, the Philadelphia 76ers made Carter-Williams a lottery pick for a reason, too.

But you're fooling no one if you believe what followed was expected. No one foresaw this—Carter-Williams leading the tanking Sixers to an opening-night victory over the reigning champion Miami Heat and a winning record to start the season.

Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Led by the rookie guard, Philly won its first three games when it wasn't even supposed to average three wins a month. The Sixers, all of them, were supposed to be historically bad. One-half NBA(ish) team, the other half glorified AAU opponent.

Instead, they've fought. And Carter-Williams has exploded. It's been shocking. It's been magical.

It's been, dare I say, Linsane.

 

The Benefits of Being New

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Being the new guy isn't all bad.

Oftentimes, rookies and general newbies are depicted as being behind the eight ball. They're young, inexperienced and unable to grasp the pace of NBA play. Faster, more athletic and established opponents are liable to gobble them up. There is no grace period. The NBA is The Show, and it doubles as a wake-up call for those not wise to its incurable difficulties.

That is to say, if the NBA knows you're coming. 

Certain players are able to seep through the cracks of a road paved in splendor. Recognition is king in professional sports and, for college players just entering the fray, their reputation is their recognition.

Carter-Williams' prestige didn't precede him, kind of like Lin. There was the fact that he was a lottery pick, tall for his position and a serious athlete, sure, but not much else.

Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman wrote the following of Carter-Williams heading into the 2013 NBA draft:

Carter-Williams has unique physical tools for his position, giving him an advantage on both sides of the ball. At around 6'6'', he usually has three or four inches on his man. With this type of size, he's able to see over the defense and make plays around it.

But Carter-Williams is also a smooth athlete with serious hops...He does lack bulk and muscle, which will make it tougher for him to finish at the rim at the next level, but his touch and length help neutralize his limited strength.

What he wasn't considered was a strong shooter. At Syracuse, he shot 39.7 percent from the floor and 30.2 percent from deep. Through his first three games in the NBA, he was at 46.8 and 47.1 percent, respectively. 

Pouring in an inordinate number of points wasn't his forte either. Yet in his first three games, he averaged 20.7 a night. Remind you of anyone?

Lin came to party on Feb. 4, 2012, when then-Knick coach Mike D'Antoni, out of desperation, turned to him against the then-New Jersey Nets. Before that night, Lin had appeared in just nine of New York's first 23 games, seeing only six minutes of action a pop.

In that one game, Lin nearly matched his minutes total for the season en route to tallying 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds in a Knicks victory. From then on, he was a star.

Chris Chambers/Getty Images
Jeremy who?

Between his game against the Nets and Magic Mike's resignation in March 2012, a 19-contest span, Lin averaged 20.4 points, 8.5 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals on 45.3 percent shooting, becoming an overnight sensation.

Opposing players didn't know who he was. Prior to his 38-point performance against Los Angeles, Laker guard Derek Fisher admitted that he and his teammates didn't really know much about the Linsanity movement.

"We don't really know much about it," he told ESPN. "We respect him because we respect all NBA players."

Kobe Bryant was even more ignorant of who Lin was at the time, per Ben Rohrbach of WEEI's Green Street:

I know who he is, but I don’t really know what’s going on too much with him. I don’t even know what he’s done. Like, I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I’ll take a look at it tonight though.

[Asked again about Lin] I don’t even know what the [fudge] is going on. What the [fudge] is going on? Who is this kid? I’ve heard about him and stuff like that, but what’s he been doing? Is he getting like triple doubles or some [stuff]? He’s averaging 28 and eight? No [stuff]. If he’s playing well, I’ll just have to deal with him.

[Would he consider guarding Lin?] Jesus Christ. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Oh, to be new.

 

The degree of Lin's anonymity was far greater than that of Carter-Williams', but both players came out of nowhere. Teams didn't have thorough scouting reports on Lin, and I'll be damned if they've already done their due diligence on Carter-Williams.

Helping Carter-Williams even further is the team he plays for. Very few people took the Sixers seriously heading into this season. They were supposed to resemble the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats, only worse. And so, we expected the worst.

What we got was Carter-Williams torpedoing inattentive defenses that simply weren't prepared for the Sixers, Carter-Williams included, to compete.

 

Fated to Fall?

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It's the fourth game of the season and Carter-Williams put his Sixers' perfect record on the line against the Golden State Warriors. Philly shouldn't have had a chance. It should have already assumed its rightful place at the bottom of the barrel. Riding the momentum of an improbable three-game winning streak, trailblazed by Carter-Williams.

Inevitably, the Sixers lost. Big time. Stephen Curry went for his second-career triple-double and Andre Iguodala drilled a career-high seven treys as the Warriors belted the streaking Sixers into submission, 110-90.

Rather quickly, this became the most enduring night of Carter-Wiliams' young career. Golden State held him to 4-of-17 shooting and forced him into six turnovers. He still mustered 18 points, four assists and six rebounds, but there were no heroics or inconceivable outcomes for him to spur. 

Harry How/Getty Images
Lin's play wasn't sustainable.

Again sounding familiar?

Lin came crashing down to Earth following his foray into global greatness. After D'Antoni's departure, he appeared in just seven games before a torn meniscus ended his season. During those seven games, he averaged 13.3 points, 5.4 assists and one steal on 42.9 percent shooting, hardly exhibiting the unstoppable efforts the Big Apple had come to admire and even expect.

Additional reality checks followed in his first season with the Houston Rockets. Over 82 games, Lin averaged 13.4 points, 6.2 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 44.9 percent from the floor, numbers that paled in comparison to what he did during Linsanity.

Take a look at the percent differentials between Lin's production last season and his totals from Linsanity:

The point is, unparalleled performances don't last forever. Lin isn't an abominable player not fit for the NBA; he's a legitimate point guard. Is he a star? Far from it. His time at the top was short lived, and now he's developed into the player he was destined to be.

Similar consequences will follow for Carter-Williams. This isn't to say he won't be a star or a serviceable starting point guard. But he's not always going to be untouchable.

Defenses adjusted for Lin and eventually, they'll do the same for Carter-Williams. In some ways, they already have.

Simple things like the amount of space he's given when attempting a jump shot have already changed. Look at this possession from Philly's victory over the Washington Wizards:

And this one from the Sixers win against the Chicago Bulls: 

Players weren't contesting him as heavily. Why should they? He's some rookie, who wasn't celebrated coming out of college. There are more pressing assignments to fulfill.

Fast-forward to the Golden State game, and Carter-Williams isn't being afforded as much time to get off his shot.

Exhibit A:

Two guys are crowding him here. Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose aren't standing idly by as he raises up; Andrew Bogut and Klay Thomspon are crowding him, forcing him into a contested jumper.

Exhibit B:

Thompson's focus after fighting over the screen is Carter-Williams. Not dropping back to protect the rim and the roll or relying on a defensive rotation. He comes right up and puts a hand in Carter-Williams' face.

Teams are going to catch on. They already have. Carter-Williams is no longer a well-kept secret. By his own hand, he's become nationally recognized. And with visibility comes attention. And in the absence of relative obscurity, so goes certain freedoms.

Open looks won't come as frequently or points as easily from now on. Carter-Williams has earned the attention, now opposing defenses will make him earn his keep. 

 

A New Beginning

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Reset-button time. Well, almost.

Sometime soon, if not already, it's a whole new transition Carter-Williams will face, at which point he will have gone from college to the pros to the focus of NBA defenses. How he adjusts to the increased exposure will help shape the rest of his rookie season and, ultimately, his career.

As scouting reports circle throughout the league and a definitive blueprint to contain him is created, Carter-Williams' numbers are going to fluctuate. If he's exactly like Lin, they'll decrease. Dramatically. 

What is Michael Carter-Williams' NBA ceiling?

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Lin's awakening didn't come while he was grinding his way toward an opportunity with the Knicks. It didn't come the moment he realized he belonged in the Association, either. It was when the abstruse became lucid; when he became not just a household name, but a force worth stopping. 

Adaptation is a part of NBA game-planning. Defensive schemes are constantly evolving and new observations being made. Players must keep up with an ever-changing industry and find new ways to generate the same results. And it's not easy. Being great never is.

To this point, Carter-Williams has been great. The clear-cut favorite for Rookie of the Year. 

Sustaining that greatness will take more of an effort than establishing it, and his efforts thereon, now that he is a weapon in need of monitoring, will reveal more about his future than an early string of upset victories and improbable performances ever could. 

 


*All stats in this article were obtained from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed, and are accurate as of Nov. 5, 2013.

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