Why Michael Carter-Williams' Rookie of the Year Season Is Just the Beginning

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

Mar 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) during the first quarter against the New York Knicks at the Wells Fargo Center. The Knicks defeated the Sixers 93-92. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the trials, tribulations and embarrassments of a 63-loss season that included a historic 26-game losing streak, the Philadelphia 76ers should be pleased with how the 2013-14 campaign played out. 

The reason why? That would be the production and development of rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who emerged as a shoo-in to capture Rookie of the Year honors after averaging 16.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds. 

Not only did Carter-Williams lead all rookies in total points, assists and rebounds, but he also finished the season ranked No. 6 overall in steals per game behind Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio, teammate Thaddeus Young, Jimmy Butler and Paul George during a historically significant inaugural season:

Of course, Carter-Williams' breakout year wouldn't have been possible without a gutsy draft-day decision from general manager Sam Hinkie. 

By flipping All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for the rights to flat-topped center Nerlens Noel and what will amount to a second lottery pick in the 2014 draft, the Sixers opened up their options at No. 11 overall to select Carter-Williams, who rapidly emerged as a crucial centerpiece of the team's rebuilding blueprint. 

"I thought that was a very shrewd, long-term move," Sixers owner Josh Harris said of the trade at season's end, according to The News Journal's Jason Wolf

After surpassing expectations and displaying accelerated two-way competency at the professional level, it's time to evaluate how Carter-Williams' rookie season stacked up and ways in which he can improve moving forward. 


Breaking Down the Numbers

To start, let's make one thing clear: The Sixers' approach this season in the front office and on the floor helped inflate Carter-Williams' numbers. There's no denying that.

With Philadelphia constantly shuffling NBA D-League-caliber pieces around (remember James Nunnally and Lorenzo Brown?), the former Syracuse standout was one of the few regulars Brett Brown could count on. 

Carter-Williams was one of three Sixers players who totaled at least 2,000 minutes this season (Young and James Anderson were the other two) and one of four rookiesalong with Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Ben McLemorewho met that same benchmark. 

The more important piece of the equation, though, was the Sixers' style of play. With a heavy emphasis on pushing the ball and getting out in transition, the Sixers racked up 99.2 possessions per 48 minutes, the fastest pace of any team this season.  

But even with those caveats in mind, it's worth comparing Carter-Williams to other points guards who took home Rookie of the Year hardware. 

Tale of the Tape: MCW vs. Previous ROY Point Guards
PlayerPoints Per GameAssists Per GameRebounds Per GamePlayer Efficiency Rating (PER)
Allen Iverson (1996-97)
Chris Paul (2005-06)
Derrick Rose (2008-09)
Kyrie Irving (2011-12)
Damian Lillard (2012-13)
Michael Carter-Williams (2013-14)

The key takeaway from those basic numbers is that Carter-Williams has already established himself as the game's pre-eminent rebounding point guard, which Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal broke down in B/R's NBA 200 series: 

Those long arms and 6'6" frame help quite a bit. MCW had a better rebounding season than any other point guard in the league—gaining a slight edge over Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo because of games played—and there was even an 11-contest stretch in March that saw him average 9.5 boards per outing.

In addition, Carter-Williams was only one of three guards who logged at least 1,500 minutes and posted a defensive rebounding percentage of 15.5 or better, according to Basketball-Reference.com. The other two? Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner. 

Also a sound distributor, Carter-Williams posted an assist percentage of 30.2, the highest of any rookie who's logged at least 1,500 minutes since John Wall in 2010-11, per Basketball-Reference.com

And while the Sixers offense was brutally inefficient, generating the league's fewest points per 100 possessions, it was undeniably more effective with Carter-Williams on the floor. According to NBA.com, the Sixers' offensive rating was six points better per 100 possessions with the rookie in the lineup. 

Although he still needs to show considerable improvement on offense (more on that in a moment), Carter-Williams' rookie showing in several departments was encouraging given the tepid expectations bestowed upon him from the start.


Areas in Need of Improvement 

The red flags started cropping up for Carter-Williams when he was tasked with knocking down shots off the dribble or off the catch, which, as we can see below, wasn't exactly his forte.

Michael Carter-Williams' 2013-14 shot chart
Michael Carter-Williams' 2013-14 shot chartNBA.com/Stats

Struggles were expected in the jump-shooting realm, and they abounded. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Carter-Williams ranked 385th among all players, generating a meager 0.8 points per possession. That number sank to 0.79 and 0.64 points per possession, respectively, when working in spot-up situations and off screens, per Synergy

However, we weren't expecting gaudy or even very respectable jump-shooting numbers after he entered the Association labeled as a throwback pass-first point guard whose length would help him on the glass and in the pick-and-roll. 

And while an improved jump shot (he finished the year shooting 40.5 percent from the field) could drastically help advance Carter-Williams' development, some fine-tuning on defense would also work wonders for his confidence.

Jan. 04, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Philadelphia 76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) defends Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first quarter of the game at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Spo

According to Synergy sports, Carter-Williams spent 22.9 percent of his time on defense defending spot-ups and failed to use his length properly, surrendering 1.13 points per possession, which ranked No. 322 overall.  

The good news is that Carter-Williams adapted to playing NBA-style pick-and-roll defense after being stuck in Jim Boeheim's zone at Syracuse.

Spending a plurality of his defensive minutes (42.6 percent of them, to be exact) defending ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll, Carter-Williams limited the opposition to 0.74 points per possession, or 69th overall.  


Looking Ahead

The hard part for Carter-Williams will be matching his year one production (statistically) with a new crop of young and talented pieces beside him. Whether that means Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker is flanking him on the wing or Julius Randle is manning the low blocks, Carter-Williams will have to start deferring more and become a selective shot taker on the offensive end.

Fortunately, that's what the Sixers really need Carter-Williams to be. It would be unwise to expect the 22-year-old's scoring numbers to inflate year after year, particularly given the state of his work-in-progress jump shot. 

Mar 31, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) passes the ball against the Atlanta Hawks  during the first half at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Instead, optimists in MCW's corner should hope for a more efficient year two. Carter-Williams' 15.1 field-goal attempts per game put him in the same class as guards such as Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight and Isaiah Thomas, none of whom play styles particularly reminiscent of what the Sixers want their floor general to become. 

So look at it this way: Scaling back Carter-Williams' responsibilities as a scorer will allow him more time to focus on developing into the facilitator his team so desperately needs. And as a result, Carter-Williams can start building a rapport with the weapons who hope to guide the Sixers into a prosperous new era of Philadelphia basketball. 


All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and current as of Wednesday, April 23, unless noted otherwise. 


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