Tiering Michael Carter-Williams on the NBA's Breakout Point Guard Ladder

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Tiering Michael Carter-Williams on the NBA's Breakout Point Guard Ladder
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Michael Carter-Williams has the NBA on alert. 

He's quickly become the focal point of opposing defenses—the guy teams have to game-plan for when they face the Philadelphia 76ers

And now Carter-Williams has us thinking: Just how good can this kid be? 

Nobody really expected this type of start from MCW, whose transition to the pro game has been seamless so far.

And whether he sustains this rate of production or not, his upside has already been flashed. 

So how high does his ceiling go? We've broken down the point guards who've exceeded expectations in the pros and categorized them into tiers based on where their upside lies. 

 

First Class

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

Drafted: 2008, No. 1 Overall

Rose wasn't exactly under the radar as a prospect at Memphis. A consensus top-five recruit out of Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, Rose's outlook screamed NBA potential.

He averaged roughly 15 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 boards on 47 shooting as a freshman, leading the Tigers to the NCAA championship game. Though there was a debate over who the No. 1 pick would be, there wasn't a debate as to whom it was between.

Rose and Kansas State's Michael Beasley both seemed like viable options—until Rose's hometown Bulls pulled off a stunner at the lottery. 


During his Rookie of the Year campaign, Rose helped a rebuilding franchise get to the .500 mark. And just two years later, he was named the NBA's MVP after guiding Chicago to 62 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.  

After single-handedly changing the competitive landscape of the NBA, Rose's eruption earned him a ticket into first class on the breakout-point guard ladder.

 

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Drafted: 2008, No. 4 Overall

Russell Westbrook was not the blue-chip recruit you'd imagine he'd be. He barely got off the pine as a freshman at UCLA, playing only nine minutes a night behind Darren Collison at the time. 

But even with Collison returning to school the following year, the Bruins went ahead and unleashed Westbrook anyway. He played mostly off the ball in college while sharing a backcourt with a more experienced ball-handler. 

Credit Oklahoma City's scouting department, who eventually reached on a raw athlete at No. 4 overall despite uncertainty surrounding his position. Westbrook averaged just 12.7 points and 4.3 assists as a sophomore, though it wasn't the stats that drew NBA attention. 

Westbrook ultimately took full advantage of the pre-draft process, flying up boards in the first few weeks of June. Whether he was a 1 or a 2, scouts just seemed infatuated with his athleticism and playmaking ability.


And it didn't take long for him to start producing at the pro level. By his second year, Westbook was averaging 16 points and eight assists, helping to put a young Thunder team in the national spotlight. 

By his third year, Westbrook was putting up nearly 22 and eight, playing the role of Robin to Kevin Durant, as the Thunder marched all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

Westbrook's NBA breakout helped transform the Thunder into a perennial powerhouse and title contender. He's a top-10 player in the league when healthy. 

 

 

Second-Class Superstars

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Drafted: 2009, No. 7 Overall

If you're a big fan of college basketball, chances are Stephen Curry might have something to do with it. 

Curry's NCAA tournament run in 2009 was legendary. He took Davidson to the Elite 8, after dropping 40 on Gonzaga, 30 on Georgetown and 33 on Wisconsin in back-to-back-to-back games. 

He returned the following year to average 28.6 points, though it wasn't enough for scouts to consider him a lock. 

The Timberwolves took two point guards over Curry in Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, just to give you an idea of how hesitant some teams felt about him. 

Despite already having Monta Ellis in the backcourt, the Warriors wisely snatched up Curry anyway. And the rest has been history. 

Except for an injury-plagued 2012, Curry has averaged at least 17 points, five assists and 1.5 steals in three out of four seasons. Last year, Curry propelled himself to superstar status after taking over against Denver in the Western Conference playoffs. 

Though we saw his takeover capability at Davidson, few thought it could translate to a stronger, meaner NBA game. And those few were right. Curry now has the chance to be one of the great players of his generation and a routine All-Star for years to come. 

 

The All-Stars

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

Drafted: 2006, No. 21 Overall

Already well known after balling at the prestigious Oak Hill Academy, Rajon Rondo went on to play for Tubby Smith at Kentucky.

However, his crafty playmaking and point-guard skills remained slightly hidden in his two years. He averaged fewer than five assists in each season there, while his broken jumper had some skeptical over his NBA outlook.

Twenty teams passed on Rondo in one of the weakest drafts in recent memory (Yep, the Andrea Bargnani-Adam Morrison-Tyrus Thomas-Sheldon Williams one). 

As a rookie, Rondo was ultimately part of what was a weird year for the Celtics, who finished with just 24 wins. But the following year might have been even weirder, when Danny Ainge brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and promoted Rondo to lead floor general. 

And just like that, everything clicked. Rondo was given the perfect platform to develop and put in position to succeed right away. The Celtics won the championship that year, and though it might have been the Big Three that powered the team, Rondo played the set-up man like a champ. 

He went for 21 points, eight assists, seven boards and six steals in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals, in what sparked a successful short-term and promising long-term career. 



Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

Drafted: 2013, No. 11 Overall

Whether it's been four games or four seasons, Michael Carter-Williams' ceiling has already been established. And it's high. Real high. 

One NBA scout recently told me, "He can definitely be an All-Star."

Considered a combo guard in high school, nobody knew just how pure of a facilitator he really was. Carter-Williams finished third in the country in assists as a sophomore at Syracuse while guiding the Orange to a Final Four appearance.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

To get there, he put up 24 points on Victor Oladipo and the Hoosiers in an eye-opening Sweet 16 performance. 

Some of those eyeballs apparently belonged to members of the Philadelphia 76ers' management, who felt comfortable dealing their All-Star point guard and replacing him with a rookie.

And it looks like a pretty good move so far. Carter-Williams went bonkers on opening night, finishing with a 22-point, 12-assist, nine-steal and seven-rebound stat line in a win over LeBron James and the defending champs. 

Two games later, he went off for 26 and 10 on Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. A team who Las Vegas projected to win 16 games all year has already won three of its first four, with rookie Carter-Williams running the show like a seasoned NBA veteran. 

The mismatch he presents at the point-guard position is unlike anything we've seen in a while. At 6'6'' with smooth athleticism and disruptive length, Carter-Williams is simply overwhelming at both ends of the floor. 

"His height gives him a distinct advantage. His vision and ball instincts are very, very good," says one NBA scout.

Even if he can't sustain this level of play, we've already seen what a good day looks like—and it's scary. Consistency will ultimately be what determines the tier Carter-Williams falls in. But by the time he's peaked, he'll have the chance to share one with a star like Rajon Rondo. 

With a long leash and complete freedom in Philadelphia, there's no reason why Carter-Williams' success can't continue moving forward.  Expect his three-point percentage to fall and his turnovers to rise, but that won't dent his ceiling or keep him from producing in 2013-14. 

He's now a favorite for Rookie of the Year and a routine double-double threat.

 

Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans

Drafted: 2009, No. 17 Overall

Another UCLA guard, another NBA steal. 

Highly decorated out of California, Jrue Holiday's one-and-done season as a Bruin wasn't the standout one he probably hoped for. 

With upperclassmen Darren Collison and Josh Shipp in the backcourt, Holiday was held in check to just 8.5 points and 3.7 assists on 30 percent shooting from three. 

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

And given UCLA's methodical offense, his All-Star-caliber skill set often stayed hidden throughout the year. 

Sixteen teams passed on Holiday, who has emerged as one of the better point guards in the NBA. He was averaging 14 points and 6.5 assists by his second year and has maintained an impressive three-point stroke (37 percent) throughout his career. 

After blowing up for nearly 18 points and eight assists in 2012-13, he's recently been hired to run the show in New Orleans and take the team straight into the 2014 playoffs. 

 

Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns

Drafted: 2010, No. 18 Overall

Eric Bledsoe saw three college teammates get drafted before him in 2010. Actually, No. 18 overall seemed reasonable at the time, given the 6'1" guard's reputation as a scorer.

He averaged 11 points and nearly three assists on 38 percent shooting as a freshman. Bledsoe was efficient, but with John Wall dominating the ball, his potential wasn't always easy to detect.

It was certainly easy to detect in a limited role in Los Angeles, where the fast-paced tempo brought out Bledsoe's explosiveness and electric athleticism. Knowing that teams would be all over him in free agency and that the Clippers having bigger mouths to feed, Bledsoe was eventually dealt to the Suns, where he's been lethal early on in the 2013-14 season.

He's averaging 21 points, 7.2 assists and five boards through his first five games in Phoenix. The "Mini LeBron" nickname is spot on. Bledsoe is an above-the-rim machine out there with blurry speed, trampoline bounce, tremendous strength and unstoppable playmaking ability.

With a few years of training as a starter, Bledsoe should have a good shot at reaching NBA All-Star status.

Eric Bledsoe's Game-Winner for the Suns

 

Middle-Class Stars

Brandon Jennings, Detroit Pistons

Drafted: 2009, No. 10 Overall

A consensus top-five recruit out of Oak Hill Academy, Brandon Jennings chose to play his one-and-done season in Italy rather than college.

Whoops.

Jennings didn't get much burn abroad, nor did he do much damage. He ended up slipping to No. 10 in the 2009 draft, with Tyreke Evans and Jonny Flynn going earlier. The New York Knicks, who were in need of a point guard, chose to pass on Jennings as well at No. 7.

But Jennings looked like a standout NBA guard from day one in the league. He went for 55 points in just his seventh game as a pro, showing off that flashy combination of scoring and playmaking.

Losses and inefficiency have kept him from moving up the ladder, but there's no denying his offensive capability.

 

Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets

Drafted: 2009, No. 18 Overall

By the end of Ty Lawson's college career, there was just nothing left he could do to make scouts fall in love.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Lawson was the man who drove North Carolina to a Final Four in 2008 and a national title in 2009. He went for 21 points, eight steals and six assists in that championship game against Michigan State, after averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 assists on a ridiculous 53 percent shooting during the year. 

Still, his size and lack of explosive leaping ability caused many to back away on draft day. But it wasn't long before Lawson proved quickness and speed can be just as dangerous.

Over the past few years, Lawson has emerged as the lead guard for a competitive team in the West—and for the most part, he's done so without any star talent to complement him. 

Lawson's inconsistency keeps him outside the top tiers, but more than half the teams in the NBA would take him as their starter in a heartbeat.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted

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