Player Forecast for Michael Carter-Williams
Position: Point Guard
Weight: 190 lbs.
Michael Carter-Williams, the rookie of the year from 2013-14, has had nothing but a perplexing journey in the NBA since. Three years and three teams later, MCW now finds himself in the middle of a one-year self-reclamation project with Charlotte.
The one-year, $2.7M deal that MCW and the Hornets agreed upon is very similar to the Jeremy Lin contract just a few summer’s ago. The main difference being that MCW’s deal is for one season flat. It’s not realistic to believe that the experiment with MCW will result in the success that Lin’s short tenure with the Hornets did, but make no mistake, Charlotte needs a contribution from MCW right away. The Hornets are once again alarmingly thin at point-guard and if Kemba is forced to miss time this season due to injury, it will be on MCW’s shoulders to play big minutes and keep the ship moving in the right direction.
Let’s take a look at some of MCW’s biggest strengths and weaknesses and dissect how Steve Clifford can insert him into his system.
Reasons for Optimism:
In order for Michael Carter-Williams to be an effective contributor for the Hornets this season they will have to hope that he returns close to his ’15-’16 form with Milwaukee, where he posted a career shooting year (45.2% FG). MCW found more ways to get shots in the painted area and at the rim during that season – he shot 56.4% at the rim two seasons ago with the Bucks and 41.5% of those baskets were assisted on, so learning to become a solid cutter off the ball unlocked more efficient offense for MCW.
Learning to play off the ball was a renaissance for MCW. Prior to the ’15-’16 season, MCW’s baskets at the rim were assisted on less than a third of the time. Learning to play off the ball is a valuable skill-set in translation to his fit with the Hornets. Steve Clifford missed the dynamic second ball-handler on the court with Kemba Walker at the end of games last season, but Charlotte now has a logical experiment in that role with MCW. His 25% career three-point shooting won’t help space the court, but MCW has now proven to be an active off ball cutter and willing jack of all trades offensively. On paper, he’s a pretty good fit next to Kemba.
MCW’s game brings a heightened level of athleticism and ability to play above the rim that’s rare from point-guard’s. He has a more explosive first step than he gets credit for and with a head of steam towards the rim MCW can be a real problem.
MCW has never been the most efficient offensive player, but he should be able to fit into Charlotte’s pick-and-roll (PnR) / high-post dribble-hand-off (DHO) system. Expect defenses to play him conservatively in PnR’s and DHO’s due to his lack of ability to shoot, so Steve Clifford will have to get creative in the ways that he gets MCW going downhill towards the rim – MCW has been worse than 40% from mid-range his entire career, which is mind-boggling and more proof that defenses will sag low and invite him to take that shot.
Putting MCW into PnR and DHO plays as the screener or hand-off man, seeking the switch to attack, also makes sense. Will be interesting to see if Clifford tinkers with this idea throughout the season.
Again, embracing the role of playing off the ball and never being stationary on offense, seeking cutting lanes, will be vital for MCW’s success. Picturing him on the floor with Batum and Monk often makes sense. MCW will need to share the floor with at least three shooters, plus multiple ball-handlers with the second unit. MCW, Monk, Batum, Frank and Zeller will have to find a way to tread water defensively, but could be an effective unit offensively. MCW’s fit with Kemba at the end of games is easier, but morphing him in with the second unit is going to be much more difficult for Clifford.
The defensively versatility he can offer is the most intriguing aspect of MCW’s fit with the Hornets and why he should be considered a serious option to see late game minutes next to Kemba and Batum. He can realistically switch across three positions and could conceivably guard small-ball power-forwards in certain gimmicky lineups.
MCW has the ability to be a solid defender both on and off the ball. With the Bucks in ’15-’16, MCW had a steal rate of 28.0, which was good for top-25 in the NBA among players that averaged at least 25 minutes per game. Not too shabby at all.
MCW’s length allows him to gamble on steals. He averaged a jaw-dropping 1.9 steals per game during his rookie season, and although that has been reeled back quite a bit, he can still be a very impactful on ball defender.
MCW also has the ability to be a solid team defender away from the ball and adds some grab-and-go defensive rebounding value for a team that has constantly sought out ways to play faster.
Now, imagine Monk in the place of Doug McDermott in the next clip. Grab-and-go with shooters sprinting the wings.
Due to the fact that MCW will rarely be able to play with MKG due to offensive redundancy (incompetence), it’s going to be important for him to embrace the wing defensive stopper role with the second unit. That assignment certainly shouldn’t be handed to Batum, Monk or Lamb, so it will be interesting to see just how much of a shot in the arm MCW can add on the defensive end.
Reasons for Pessimism:
If you’re wondering why the ’15-’16 Milwaukee season has been referenced so much so far in this piece, ignoring MCW’s last season with Chicago, it’s because it really was that bad. So, naturally it was shelved for the pessimism portion of this player forecast.
If you don’t like hearing (reading) the cold, hard truth then go ahead and find something else to read on the internet now. It’s about to get ugly.
Last season, MCW shot 50-99 (50.5%) at the rim – 10.6% below league average. Not only that, but he also doesn’t get to the charity stripe often when he gets to the rim. 19.5% of his points came from the free-throw line last season, which was good for 67th in the NBA among guards who played played at least 15 minutes per game. Ouch.
We’re not going to spend much time talking about MCW’s inability to shoot the triple, because he rarely tries and simply can’t shoot it from deep. That said, MCW had the 5th worst effective field-goal percentage (38.7%) last season in the league among guards who played at least 30 games during the season. Truly awful.
Last season was a rock bottom experience for MCW and it’s fair to believe that it can’t get worse from here, but those brown colored stat nuggets that were just presented to you in the previous two paragraphs are why it’s so difficult to wrap your mind around how he’s going to fit in Charlotte, or anywhere in the league, for that matter. MCW has never tallied an above-average offensive season from an efficiency standpoint – not even his rookie-of-the-year season with the Sixers. At this stage, it’s fair to assume it will never happen.
Number to Know:
MCW shot a career worst 40.1% on two-point field-goal attempts last season. He’s got a 43.9% average over his career – also bad. Quite simply, it’s time for MCW to find a different way to impact the game on the offensive end. It’s starts with playing off the ball more often and making the defense pay with constant movement and seeking creases / cutting lanes in the defense.
Also of note: MCW has only played 99 games total in the past two seasons, and with the constant fear and uncertainty surrounding Kemba’s knee, Charlotte will hope for a healthier year from the backup.
MCW is in a much better situation with Charlotte than he was last season in Chicago. He will rebound from the worst season of his career in ’16-’17.
It’s conceivable for MCW to average somewhere in the ballpark of 20 minutes, 8.5 points, 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. If he can contribute that while shooting above 45% from the floor then we should all be able to consider the experiment a success for Charlotte.