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Sixers Finish Summer League; Michael Carter-Williams Frustrates But Intrigues

Jul 13, 2013, 1:04 PM EDT

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Press Conference

Orlando is over, and the Sixers will be packing up shop for a couple months now. The Sixers finished their Summer League set with a 1-4 record, their one win coming when they barely beat the Nets on the last day in a battle of the league’s two worst teams, in a game that was (perhaps mercifully) untelevised. Needless to say this team was not overflowing with talent; I would be surprised if more than one or two of the players not already signed by the Sixers actually ended up on an NBA team next year. (And even a couple of those might not survive the summer.)

But of course, the team’s record itself is of little import compared to how our impact prospects played, namely anointed Point Guard of the Future Michael Carter-Williams, who kicked the league off with a 26/7/8 performance that was actually more up-and-down than that final line would actually indicate. That performance was likely Carter-Williams’ best of the week, as his 8-23 shooting night in that game would somehow end up being the highest percentage he shot in any of the five games, which also consisted of 4-20, 5-16 and 3-16 outings, dragging his final FG% for Orlando to a sparkling 27%.

Simply put, MCW has real, real trouble putting ball in basket. This comes as no surprise to Sixers fans, who have long been warned that Carter-Williams’ shooting touch was highly lacking in his college career, but the degree of his struggling this week was pretty damn harsh. It’s not just that he can’t shoot straight–his stroke actually looks OK, though for whatever reason, it doesn’t end up going in that much–it’s that he doesn’t have a particularly stocked arsenal of moves when it comes to getting his shot off. Often times he would drive to the basket, get stopped eight to ten feet out, and just kinda chuck the ball at the basket, with predictably limited success. He doesn’t seem to have much in the way of floaters or up-and-under moves, which a guy with his lousy outside shooting results needs badly to be any kind of effective on offense.

Turnovers were also an issue for MCW. Again, nothing unexpected, but Michael was almost pushing double-digits with the giveaways in a couple of these, and it’s pretty hard to be effective as a distributor when you’re coughing the ball up that much. Many of the TOs were forgivable, but some were just the result of carelessness–being loose with his dribble, leaving his feet before deciding what he was going to do with the ball, wedging passes into spaces that were barely there, if at all. Between the turnovers and the misses, there was a whole lot of sighing and head-shaking to be done watching Carter-Williams this week.

So, a complete disaster, then? Well, I’m not willing to go quite that far. Carter-Williams struggled in predictable areas, and mightily so, but he also impressed in expected areas as well. His near double-digit turnover games were also near double-digit assist games–an unsustainable ratio, but one that shows that he’s being aggressive with his play-making, which is generally a good thing. He had a couple lead passes in the half-court (especially to Arsalan Kazemi, who he developed a nice chemistry with) that were impressive in their both vision and their execution, and there were stretches–particularly in the second half of a narrow loss to Orlando–where he was getting into the paint and kicking out to open teammates on virtually every play, creating easy scoring opportunities like a point guard is supposed to, first and foremost.

And though he appears to be currently helpless scoring the ball from most areas of the court, he did show an impressive ability to finish around the basket, as well as the tenacity to drive at it continuously. His size allows him to finish over smaller defenders, and his wiriness allows him to contort his body to get around help defenders in mid-air. Of course, unless you’re LeBron James, you can’t just attack all the time, as eventually defenders can play you solely to drive and you’ll end up getting your shot blocked a whole lot (as MCW certainly did as the week went on), but it’s a good instinct, and one which when (hopefully, eventually) paired with an improved outside shot and a decent floater could make him quite a terror on offense.

But really, if you want to find value in MCW’s Summer League performance, it’d mostly come on the other end of the ball. As raw as he is offensively, Carter-Williams seems likely to be an immmediate contributor on defense, where his length gives smaller point guards real trouble and his athleticism allows him to recover from the pick-and-roll in a way few defenders of his size could. OKC Summer League point guard Dwight Buycks impressed enough in his Orlando audition to get a two-year contract from the Raptors, but he was totally helpless against Carter-Williams, who blanketed him all game and held him to just two points and three assists (with three turnovers) in his limited minutes. In a league being gradually overrun by young, lightning-quick point guards, to have a potential stopper like MCW is really a tremendous asset to the Sixers moving forward.

What’s more, Carter-Williams impressed with his ability to anticipate passing lanes and reach in for steals. Now, steals is often an overrated statistic when evaluating defense, since a high steal tally often means a predilection towards gambling, lunging for swipes that don’t come to fruition and leave you (and subsequently, your whole team) out of defensive position, but MCW didn’t guess wrong a whole lot, and when he did get hands on the ball, he excelled at transitioning into the fast break, with the speed and handling to finish himself and the smarts to kick ahead or cross-court to open teammates. On a team that’s going to struggle in the half court like the Sixers invariably will next year (and maybe a couple years after), being able to get those easy points off turnovers will be tremendously key for them to stay in games.

On the whole? I’d be lying if I said I came away from the Sixers’ week in Orlando convinced that Michael Carter-Williams was absolutely the guy to quarterback the next good 76ers team. If he can’t score–like, at all–that’s a pretty tough problem to get around, regardless of how much he contributes elsewhere on the floor, and there’s a lot of feel-for-the-game stuff that he still needs to learn about leading a team and directing an offense and all that stuff. But Rich Hoffman of Liberty Ballers has done a good job of putting MCW’s shooting and scoring in perspective as his “swing skill“–the area in which the degree of his improvement will determine the degree of his ability to be effective as an NBA player. You’d rather know for a fact that he can do it, but the fact that being able to do it is pretty much all that’s keeping him from being a good pro is cause for optimism, since it’s a partially learnable skill, and you’d rather have a super-talented guy with one gaping hole in his game than someone who’s just across-the-board mediocre.

For some additional perspective, I’d advise you to look at the Summer League case of Utah’s Trey Burke, taken two spots ahead of Michael Carter-Williams in the 2013 draft, the highest-picked point guard of the whole class. Burke’s struggles in Orlando arguably eclipsed even Carter-Williams’, with the rookie point also finishing with a final FG% in the 20s, as well as a disturbingly arid 1-19 mark from three over the week. (Even MCW managed to hit four total from deep over five games.) Burke did not impress terribly with his playmaking or defense, and seemed to struggle to get any kind of easy baskets–the few shots he made seemed to all come off tough fadeaways and long catch-and-shoots, which, cool, but when playing against the weak competition of Summer League, making it look easy is always a better sign for a player’s pro prospects than making it look hard.

Now if I was a Jazz fan, I’d be pretty f’ing scared right now about that pick. Unlike Carter-Williams, Burke wasn’t an offensively raw product in college–he averaged nearly 19 a game at Michigan, shooting 46% from the field and 38% from deep, sweeping the Player of the Year honors and was supposed to step in right away as the Jazz’s starting point guard and best perimeter scorer and playmaker. And what’s more, if Burke isn’t scoring and distributing with ease, he’s not contributing a whole lot on the court, as he’s undersized as a defender and rebounder and not terribly effective in those areas. The situation with Burke reminds me (to my eternal chagrin) of our own Evan Turner, another consensus Player of the Year whose Summer League difficulties before his rookie season were indicative of the very real issues he was going to have adapting his college-dominating game to the pro level. It’s not a death sentence for Burke, exactly–anybody can have a bad stretch of games, and I’m sure there’s no shortage of excuses the Jazz camp have for their #9 pick’s poor play, likely with varying degrees of credibility–but again, if I was a Utah fan, I’d be tempering my expectations considerably for what could be a pretty rough rookie season for Burke.

I’m not trying to pick on poor Trey Burke here–I’m sure there are Jazz blogs out there doing that well enough already–but I’m just trying to illustrate why you’d ultimately rather have a Summer League performance like that of Michael Carter-Williams, whose difficulties were very real and very problematic, but were also expected to a degree, and were tempered with similarly expected contributions in other areas. The issues with MCW are fixable, the issues with Burke, I wouldn’t be so sure. Now, that’s not to say that Carter-Williams will definitely (or even probably) fix said issues–it’s entirely possible his scoring and shooting difficulties will remain such a problem that he will ultimately prove unplayable. But that’s the gamble that Sam Hinkie took all along with our #11 pick, and if he’s willing to bet long-term on Carter-Williams, then the young point guard deserves our faith and patience as well.

Ultimately, Michael Carter-Williams and the Philadelphia 76ers just might be the perfect fit for one another next season. Carter-Williams will undoubtedly struggle from the field tremendously all season–if he shot even 35% from the field, that might be considerable as a win for the Sixers–and the offense will suffer for it. But he’ll learn, and in the meantime, the Sixers will lose, and hopefully by the time MCW gets enough of a feel for the pro game to be effective on both ends of the court, we’ll have a couple high draft picks with which to give him the help on offense that he needs–considering his current go-to guy on offense is Thaddeus Young, who’s only once averaged over 15 points a game and may not even be on the team at this point next year. Hell, Ricky Rubio has yet to score 11 a game or shoot over 36% from the field, but he’s still looked at as a cornerstone of the Timberwolves’ rebuilding process for his ability to contribute in all other facets of the game–passing, defending, even rebounding–and his remaining upside at age 22. No reason to think MCW couldn’t turn out similarly, and on the Sixers, he’ll get the chance to do so.

As he often does, my dad summed it up perfectly while we were watching MCW’s up-and-down performance in his Summer League debut: “Well, he’s going to stink this year, but that’s OK.” Sounds about right on all accounts.

  1. Chapps - Jul 13, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    As a life long Syracuse fan I can tell you that watching MCW play over the last two years, I’m not surprised. The only thing that scares me, is that the reports coming out of Syracuse after his freshman year was that he spent a lot of time working on his shot, but came back the nest year and it wasn’t any better. So either he didn’t care enough to actually work on his game (which is what killed T-Mac) or his shot can’t be fixed. Still doesn’t change the fact that I’m excited to have another SU product to cheer for and the last big named SU guy this City drafted did pretty good so you never know.

    Reply
    • Del - Jul 13, 2013 at 2:45 PM

      The last SU guy this city drafted? Who are you talking about? I looked through the following list and none of the SU products drafted by the Sixers have done anything of note in the NBA.
      http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/PHI/draft.html

      Reply
      • Dale - Jul 13, 2013 at 3:48 PM

        Considering he said City and not Sixers I assume he’s talking about McNabb.

      • Dic Death 20 - Jul 14, 2013 at 1:45 PM

        Leo Ratuins who was a Canadian

    • Funk - Jul 15, 2013 at 8:19 AM

      He’s working with professional coaches now and his only job is basketball. He doesnt have to go to classes and worry about grades or anything its all basketball from here on out. It will be alot easier to work on his shot now.

      Reply
  2. Del - Jul 13, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    Oh, good call. I was too fixated on basketball and trying to figure out if the OP thought that Damone Brown was a good player.

    Reply
    • Chapps - Jul 13, 2013 at 5:49 PM

      I was in fact talking about McNabb. And yes I did think that Damone Brown was a good player his last two years in college but never in the NBA.

      Reply
  3. twpguy1964 - Jul 14, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    Frustrates? If you got frustrated watching him already, you’re a fkn moron!

    Reply
  4. Doc Death20 - Jul 14, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Leave the kid alone he will be fine great size and basketball IQ love what the Sicers did with one exception and that was last year when they made the ridiculous trade for the stiff Bynone (Bynum) Nick V is going to be a solid player for years to come still scratching my head over that horrific move. If there’s one positive it gave us tons of cap space for next year with James and Durant as possible FA

    Reply
    • MARK - Jul 15, 2013 at 10:32 AM

      WOW?? what a lesson in stupidity? He will be fine(hasn’t played one game yet; shoots under 30% from the field and turns the ball over too much against supbar competition) We did spend the 11th pick on him correct? You would hope he wouldn’t have a gaping hole/holes in his game(especially shooting and turnovers) A qb that has no accuracy and turns the ball over too much: that’s a prospect. Thanks for clearing up that you were talking about (Bynum), dummy we thought you meant the other 16 million dollar headcase, with no knees.. Sure everyone is now upset about giving up on Vuvecic, but if you would have asked all the fans for one day to be GM and who to throw in the deal Lavoy Allen or Vuvecic, you would have been the one to throw in Allen. But the most ridiculous comment is the thought that Lebron James or Kevin Durant are coming here especially in the near future, they just compltely broke this team down and will be in the mix for the first overall pick next year and the year after that, and that’s just where Lebron or Durant would want to be? I guess next you will be saying Phil Jackson is thinking of coming to Philly next??

      Reply
  5. Tim - Jul 15, 2013 at 5:03 PM

    To be honest, MCW was probably the third option for the Sixers. As soon as the trade for Noel was announced, Burke and McCollum are taken off the board. They are easily better players than MCW. He is going to have to get better at scoring but maybe this is a godsend considering we’ve been waiting for ET to emerge and maybe the points will go to

    Reply
  6. ranielle ricard - Jul 16, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    forget about MCW JUMPSHOT remember practice makes permanent the 75ers should concentrate on trying to give Khalif Wyatt a contract he looked more like the first round pick that MCW was supposed to be I should have a job on the team because i showed all the kids in NORRISTOWN HOW TO SHOOT THE BASKETBALL ….WE SHOULD have kept MR. Holiday an sent Andrew Bynum to the Norristown State Hospital for evaluation
    Ask Mr. Henkie why he did not have a team in the Orlando Summer League was he trying to hide something
    bring back Andre Miller to school the rooks and help the coaching staff if Khalif doesn’t make your team you denied him the opportunity to showcase his talent in the osl randy rip-roper ricard

    Reply
  7. rhettbogan - Jul 21, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    Man, I wouldn’t want Lebron James on our team. He’s the type of player who need to be on a ready made team in order to win. He couldn’t even do it in Cleveland and they had a good team so why would we want that creep here? We’ll make our own team with our own image. Go Sixers!!!!!!! Philly fan for life.

    Reply

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