One of my favorite pastimes, especially during the summer months, is to vehemently disagree with the majority opinion on varying sports topics. True, I sometimes do this to play devil’s advocate- but when it comes to Michael Carter-Williams’ situation in Philadelphia, and the notion that he’s doomed to ruin his game, I’m excited to tell you why everyone else is wrong, because I truly believe he’s in a good situation.
Now mind you I am not saying he’s in the best place imaginable for everyone. Being on a perennial stinker of a team, which is not only the youngest in the league, but also has the lowest payroll, is not usually an ideal spot for a player. The “experts” who say a star player can be tainted by the rebuilding process and pick up bad habits on a tanking team aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are when lumping MCW into that category.
The biggest distinction between MCW and someone like Corey Maggette or Darius Miles- skilled players in their own right who never reached their potential thanks to being on terrible teams early in their careers – or more recently Tyreke Evans, is that MCW is a true point guard and born leader. The basketball IQ is already in place and he can withstand the losses without losing sight of the big picture.
Evans, to the contrary, was given the reigns to a young, raw Sacramento Kings team in 2009, much like MCW, and he too won the Rookie of the Year Award putting up gaudy stats on a crappy team. As Sacramento attempted to add pieces and improve, Evans’ play rapidly declined because he was accustomed to having the ball in his hands with a 26.2% usage rate. As Sacramento attempted to take away his primary ball handling responsibilities, he couldn’t adjust and his play suffered.
MCW on the other hand is a true point guard. As the rest of his team grows and develops, and more pieces are added, he won’t concede his usage, but rather utilize it differently. And that’s the kicker for MCW; being on a bad team is actually good for him because he gets to work on the weak areas of his game at game speed, without taking a back seat to the veterans.
We’ve seen that MCW plays hard and plays well against NBA competition. He is gaining confidence in his own abilities, even as his team struggles. Would he be better off on a superior team, only getting these reps in practice? I can’t imagine that being the case.
The idea of a losing culture only applies if the players buy into that, and from what I’ve seen, MCW won’t allow that in the Philadelphia locker room. The 76ers were one of the early surprises of the season last year because they are young and hungry. Yes they will continue to lose, but that will only harden them, make them want it more, and work harder to achieve their goals. Losing is never fun, but in MCW’s case, the experience and playing time are more important than riding the bench on a winning team.
Perhaps most importantly, he believes in the 76ers plan and understands he’ll need to be patient. That doesn’t mean he will roll over, but he understands the process, embraces it, and hopes to overachieve while waiting for his time to truly succeed.
In basketball, a team’s performance often begins and ends with the point guard. He sets the tempo for the team, and often teams will take on his identity. Chris Paul showcases this on the positive side, and Tyreke Evans, masquerading as a point guard in Sacramento, exhibited the negative.
Speaking of the great Chris Paul, another point guard who won Rookie of the Year, he only shot 43% from the field and 28% from three during his rookie campaign. His career averages are now 47% and 36% from deep. In fact, if you compare their stats, Paul and MCW had remarkably similar rookie campaigns:
PAUL: 16.1 PPG 7.8 APG 5.1 RPG 2.2 SPG
MCW: 16.7 PPG 6.3 APG 6.2 RPG 1.9 SPG
I’m not suggesting MCW is Chris Paul, but his 40% overall and 26% from 3-point range isn’t that far from where Paul was. Paul had better teams than MCW is currently saddled with, but that actually makes his stats more impressive.
Unlike Evans who used his free-reign to score as much as he could, MCW still set up his teammates. 6.3 assists per outing last season with that squad showcased he has the skills to get even the worst NBA players decent looks and opportunities to score.
In the long run MCW will be better suited not shooting as much, but while he is forced to put up shots to keep his team in the game and defenses honest, he is actively improving. In April, when younger players normally wear down, MCW shot 53% from the field and 43% from long range.
So what will happen when he gets good players to work with? What happens if Nerlens Noel this year, and then Joel Embiid and whatever lottery-pick they got next year live up to their billing?
With MCW at the helm and the pieces around him falling into place, Philadelphia will continue to improve. Yes the team is still a few years away from being truly competitive, but MCW will be ready when they are, and that’s the best situation he can be in.