Some steps are bigger than others. We’d all do well to look at the calendar and remind ourselves that it’s July. Meaningful basketball doesn’t happen in July, and it certainly doesn’t happen in Orlando at the Magic practice facility. That’s a longer way of saying it will be a while before anyone really knows what the Sixers have in Michael Carter-Williams.
But we’ve gotten a look at Carter-Williams this week. (The Sixers have a final game against the Nets on Friday at 4 p.m.) And what we’ve seen so far is pretty much what we were told to expect. That’s not such a bad thing on the whole. Again, we’re a long way from knowing MCW’s game, but this week’s mini-preview has essentially matched what Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie predicted.
On the day Carter-Williams was introduced to Philadelphia at a PCOM press conference, Hinkie evaluated the point guard’s game:
“He can, with his first step, get anywhere he wants,” Hinkie said that day. “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.”
The process got going this week and it has mirrored Hinkie’s statement. If you’ve watched the summer league games, you’ve noticed a few things. You’ve seen second-round pick Arsalan Kazemi hustle up and down the floor. You’ve seen former Temple standout Khalif Wyatt take quite a few shots. And, more than anything else, you’ve seen MCW.
He’s hard to miss. The neon-green sneakers help, but Carter-Williams has stood out, primarily, because of his game. That doesn’t mean it’s been all good. It hasn’t. But, good and bad, what we thought we knew about his game is essentially what he’s displayed in Orlando. If we use Hinkie’s statement as an outline, he's been dead on about MCW.
His first step
In four games so far, Carter-Williams has spent a lot of time driving to the basket. He’s shown quickness and an ability to get around defenders and to the hole going left and right. That facet of his game is clearly one of his strengths, and he’s had success with it in Orlando. Part of that, it should be noted, is owed to the not-quite-high-level competition (Hinkie called it the "JV" during Thursday's NBA TV telecast), and part of it is fearlessness caused by the knowledge that you can’t foul out in summer league. Even so, it’s easy to see why Hinkie is so enamored with that first step he mentioned. A point guard who can get to the rim and score, or get fouled and get to the line, or pass and find the open man, is a valuable commodity.
Carter-Williams has led the Sixers in assists in each game. In his first outing, he had eight assists, several of which came as he penetrated and then kicked out to an open man or dropped the ball off on the baseline to cutting teammates for easy buckets. His height (6-foot-6) served him well and in exactly the way Hinkie said. You can see the advantage against smaller guards. MCW also had some excellent looks in the loss to Orlando on Thursday, the kind of passes that make you rewind the DVR.
Areas he needs to improve
When Hinkie mentioned what Carter-Williams needs to work on, he was primarily talking about MCW’s jumpshot. Last season at Syracuse, Carter-Williams shot just 39.3 percent from the floor and 29.2 percent from distance. His shot hasn’t looked any better in Orlando. MCW is shooting 18 for 69 (26 percent) from the floor this week.
Carter-Williams has also struggled with his decision making. In between the flashes of brilliant passing, there have been mental lapses that led to sloppy play. He’s committed an almost-impossible 21 turnovers in four games.
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To review, Carter-Williams has shown he can drive and pass and create some matchup problems. But he also needs to take better care of the ball, add muscle to his slender 185-pound frame, and work hard to fix his jumper. In the limited time we’ve seen Carter-Williams play, it has been exactly as Hinkie foretold.
“I think Michael has shown a lot of good flashes this week,” Hinkie said Wednesday. “I think the summer is a good time for everyone to figure out where you stand. I think he has had a lot of good plays and he has a lot that he knows he needs to work on.”