Thursday night was the easy part. The hard part comes next.
Finding a taker for Jrue Holiday didn’t require much more than Sixers’ president and general manager Sam Hinkie picking up the phone and calling around the league. There aren’t many 23-year-old all-star point guards who are suddenly available for the right return (in this case: two first-round picks, one in the form of Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, the other a selection from New Orleans in the 2014 draft that’s believed to be top-five protected). You hang up a for-sale sign like that and moments later you’ll have all sorts of buyers at your door ready to immediately close the transaction for the full asking price.
Holiday, after all, had his best season as a professional baller last year. Among point guards, he was third in minutes per game, fourth in assists and sixth in points. Even with his turnover issues (he led the league), Holiday’s age and on-floor growth over the last few seasons made him awfully attractive to teams in need of a floor leader. So did his contract. Holiday recently signed a deal that will pay him $11 million in each of the next four years –- more than reasonable for a young player with his abilities.
Again, unloading a guy like that, even when you’re asking for a serious draft pick bounty in exchange, isn’t the problem. The problem is finding someone to replace him.
The Sixers think they did that on Thursday night. Hinkie -– who said the organization is "future focused" -– grabbed Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams with the 11th pick. Carter-Williams will be added into a young mix of talent that includes his longtime friend Noel, but he’ll also be asked to take over for one of the league’s best point guards –- a guy who’s already had significant success in the NBA despite being just two years older than MCW.
“There’s a little bit of pressure there,” Carter-Williams acknowledged on Friday afternoon when he was introduced at PCOM. “But I’m used to having pressure in basketball. Sometimes, with basketball, pressure comes with it.”
Carter-Williams had quite a bit of pressure on him at Syracuse right from the beginning. His freshman year did not go well, or at least it didn’t go the way he hoped. MCW spent large chunks of the season on the bench (he didn’t play in 11 games that season and logged insignificant minutes in several others) after being one of the most highly-touted recruits in the nation coming out of high school. Things were so bad for a while that the former All-American entertained the idea of transferring.
Instead, he stayed at Syracuse. This past season, things improved significantly for Carter-Williams at Syracuse. He averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. He also led the team in assists per game (7.3) and steals (2.8).
At 6-foot-6, the Sixers believe Carter-Williams has the size to create matchup problems for smaller guards. They also like his ball-handling and passing ability. But those are Carter-Williams’ strengths. His main weakness also happens to be a problem that has lingered for the Sixers recently.
The Sixers have lacked consistent outside shooting for quite a while. That isn’t an area that MCW seems likely to boost in the near future. During his freshman year, Carter-Williams shot 43.1 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from three-point range. Not great, but not terrible. Last season, however, he regressed on both fronts, shooting 39.3 percent from the field and just 29.2 percent from distance. That last number is obviously worrisome, so what makes the Sixers confident that Carter-Williams can improve his long-range shooting for a team that is desperately in need of help in that area?
“That he’s competitive, and that he wants to win, and that he’ll work at his craft, and that he shot it well in high school. We checked,” Hinkie said. “And that he has the other elements that you can’t get in time. He can, with his first step, get anywhere he wants. He can see the floor and he can make a lot of passes that a lot of players that aren’t as athletic as him or aren’t as big as he is can’t make. The things he needs to improve on are the things he can improve on by spending a lot of time in a room like this [at PCOM’s practice gym] alone in the summer, or alone in the winter, or alone on an off day. We’re excited to sort of get that process going.”
So is Carter-Williams. He said he did “a lot of work” on his jumper before the draft, and he believes he “fixed a few things with my mechanics.” That’s a start. But on the path to becoming a reliable point guard in the NBA, MCW has a long way to go. And he knows it.
“I’m just looking to learn right now,” Carter-Williams said.
Lucky for him, the Sixers are on the same schedule. For now.