26/8/7 seems like a pretty good stat line for a professional debut, doesn't it? That's what Michael Carter-Williams posted today in his first game in uniform for the Philadelphia 76ers, as they faced off with the Houston Rockets in the opening contest of the Orlando Summer League. The Sixers lost the game 88-80 to a decently talented Houston squad, but really, it was all about seeing our #11 pick in action for the first time, evaluating his strengths and weaknesses and getting a taste of what it'll be like to watch him in his rookie season. And 26 points, seven rebounds and eight assists...seems like we're in pretty good shape with our point guard of the future, right?
Well, forgive the obviously leading rhetorical questions, but the answer (of course) is both yes and no. Carter-Williams did produce today against the Rockets, for sure, but all of it comes with plenty of stipulations. He scored 26 points, but it came on 8-23 shooting, including 0-6 from deep. He handed out eight assists, but he also turned the ball over nine times, including six times in the first quarter-and-a-half. He grabbed seven boards, but was in poor position for many others that he possibly could've grabbed. You could argue that in the end, the good outweighed the bad with MCW--I'd say it probably did--but there's gonna be a lot of growing pains with this guy, next year especially, and today was a good preview of that.
Let's focus on the bad stuff first, primarily the turnovers. Nine turnovers is a lot for one game, and a good number of them today came from the result of incessant ball pressure, which MCW was said to have difficulty with in college and which definitely took him out of his game today and resulted in him coughing the ball up a couple times 30-plus feet from the basket. He also occasionally struggled while attempting to turn the corner against his defender--smaller, quicker guards like Patrick Beverley and Casper Ware--and let his frustration at being unable to get to his spots result in him shoving off, or trying to force penetration that wasn't there.
Shot selection was also an issue, which should be unsurprising from that 8-23 shooting line. After some earlier success near the basket--more on that in a minute--MCW got a little too comfortable with attempting to create shots by careening towards the basket and then kinda hurling the ball at the basket from his jumping-off point, with unflattering results. Carter-Williams' other most frequently cited fault as a pro was definitely on display today, as his jumper was pretty damn miserable all afternoon, without a single outside shot of his falling--not looking particularly close either.
Finally, defense was a mixed bag for Carter-Williams as well. When the Rockets' offense broke down, or they got second-chance opportunities, too often he failed to recover to his man and just kinda drifted around hoping to secure rebounding position or get back out in transition. He also occasionally struggled to stay in front of his man on defense--he got crossed over pretty brutally by Beverley on one position--forcing big man help or just allowing the opposing guard to sneak around him for a tough layup.
That's the bad, and there's a lot of it. But I only get that out of the way early so we can talk about the good, of which there was also an exciting amount. Carter-Williams turned the ball over a lot, especially at first, but he also showed incredible vision in spots, showing impressive aptitude in pushing the ball in transition and making lead passes--the types of passes that take a superlative level of point guard intelligence to think to atetempt, let alone to actually make. He also showed early how valuable he can be in the pick-and-roll, using his height to make on-the-mark passes to the roll man over the top of the defensive trap, creating opportunities for easy post scoring. And in the fourth, he also showed his ability to make simple drive-and-kick passes to shooters off penetration, creating open three-point looks for teammates. (Though MCW started with six turnovers and just one assist, he ended with nine and eight, showing an ability to make mid-game play-making adjustments.)
And though the jumper obviously wasn't dropping for Carter-Williams--wasn't even coming close, really--he still got to 27 points by driving relentlessly to the basket. His size advantage allowed him to finish over smaller defenders, and his quickness coming down the lane resulted in him getting to the basket before help could arrive. It resulted in a lot of layups, and a lot of fouls--MCW got to the line 11 times, hitting ten, with pretty solid free-throw-shooting form for a 68% shooter for his college career. It seems pretty likely that Carter-Williams might not be a high-percentage shooter for a long time, if ever, but if he can get to the basket and the line like he did tonight, he can still make a positive impact for the Sixers.
Finally, even if he was occasionally victimized on defense, Carter-Williams did show how he can be a force on that end too, blanketing Patrick Beverly for most of the first half, and forcing turnovers--most notably with a full-on GIMME DAT steal in the third quarter that resulted in an easy open-court layup in transition--like he did at Syracuse, where he averaged nearly three steals a game. The talent and skill was clearly there with MCW on defense, but his discipline sagged occasionally, which is something the coaching staff will of course have to get on him for. (Assuming we get a coaching staff at some point.)
Also perhaps pointing out that MCW didn't exactly get a ton of assistance from his teammates in this one. Temple products Michael Eric and Khalif Wyatt both had their moments on offense, but only Rodney Williams joined Carter-Williams in double-digit scoring for the Sixers, with the team's only second-year pro Arnett Moultrie being essentially a non-factor (four points and six boards in 25 points) and MCW college teammate James Southerland posting a 2-8 shooting night. Michael was basically the team's entire offense for much of the game, and considering that, a lot of his offensive errors become excusable in the name of aggressiveness.
All in all, I think you walk away from this Michael Carter-Williams game feeling generally encouraged. The talent is there, and unlike Evan Turner's less-than-impressive Summer League debut for the Sixers, you can really see how the skill translates to the next level, even if it's gonna be a little slow going at first. For what it's worth--probably not a ton--NBA TV color analyst Dennis Scott seemed incredibly enthused by MCW's performance, even some of his more careless moments, seeming to believe it was all coming from a good place. Here's hoping.
Sixers play again tomorrow at 1:00, this time facing the Pacers' summer squad. We'll get some quality Justin Holiday action tomorrow, as hopefully he'll be back by then from brother Jrue's wedding to U.S. Women's Soccer forward Lauren Cheney. You remember his brother, right?