Thursday, December 25, 2014

Michael Carter-Wiliams and Nerlens Noel could develop into a dynamic duo for the Sixers

Last Tuesday night, the night of the Sixers' 126-125 double overtime victory over Orlando, I was invited to play some pick-up basketball. After some deliberation based on the fact that I don’t usually like missing live Sixers action, I decided to deviate from watching others play basketball and actually play some ball myself.

Michael Carter-Wiliams and Nerlens Noel could develop into a dynamic duo for the Sixers

Sixers´ Michael Carter-Williams dribbles the basketball against the<br />Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.  ( Yong Kim / Staff<br />Photographer )/ Philadelphia 76ers´ Nerlens Noel (4) is seen before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Sixers' Michael Carter-Williams dribbles the basketball against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, November 20, 2013. ( Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )/ Philadelphia 76ers' Nerlens Noel (4) is seen before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Last Tuesday night, the night of the Sixers' 126-125 double overtime victory over Orlando, I was invited to play some pick-up basketball. After some deliberation based on the fact that I don’t usually like missing live Sixers action, I decided to deviate from watching others play basketball and actually play some ball myself.   

My pick-up game was scheduled to start at the same time as the Sixers showdown against Orlando, but thanks to modern technology (how great is the DVR?), I had the Sixers game set to record before I left for the court, and planned to watch it in a state of post-playing soreness when I got back a couple hours later.

I was careful not to check social media after pick-up play had concluded, since about three quarters of my Twitter timeline is basketball related; I didn't want to know what happened in the tank-off between the Magic and the Sixers before I saw it myself (I’m convinced that the recording of a game and staying in a state of self-induced ignorance of the outcome until I see it myself isn’t as weird or uncommon as my girlfriend insisted it was).

My successful state of suspense didn't last long however, as on my way back toward the City of Brotherly Love from Devon I received a text from my mom that read something along the lines of:

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‘Sixers double ot, crazy game.’

So much for the surprise. 

At first I was salty about the spoiler, but after a couple seconds I didn't mind much, as my excitement about watching the game was only elevated now knowing it was going to be close and competitive.

Although I didn't like knowing the result beforehand (after that text from my mom I caved and took to Twitter), I did like being able to fast-forward through the litany of Comcast commercials that bog down the broadcast. You can seriously watch a basketball broadcast in about a third of the time by cutting out the commercials.

So there I was, sitting on my couch, enjoying the game with an ottoman and a bottle of blue Gatorade, when suddenly I got excited. There was about 3:20 left in the third quarter, and Lavoy Allen had just missed an open opportunity in the lane that was the result of a nicely executed pick with promising point Michael Carter-Williams.

(Another missed jumper from Lavoy seems a strange time to get excited, but the excitement stemmed from future possibilities off of that play, rather than Allen’s apathy).

I found myself admiring Carter-Williams' ability to operate effectively off of a pick. He had just gotten a one-dimensional player in Allen (really what is he doing if he's not shooting fifteen-footers?) an open opportunity with his ability to pass from a pick, just as he has for Thaddeus Young, and to an even greater extent, Spencer Hawes all season.

As Rich Hoffman Jr. points out here, Carter-Williams still has some strides to make when it comes to scoring himself out of a pick-and-roll, but he has already demonstrated that he can be a deadly distributor out of one. The development of his own drive will come, but so far he has been stellar passing off a pick and out of incoming double-teams. His length allows him to pass over and around defenders and double-teams and beat incoming blitzes in a manner that smaller guards simply wouldn’t be able to.  

Young and Hawes have been the beneficiaries of Carter-Williams’ offensive awareness all season long, as Hawes’ career high averages in points per and three-point shooting are directly related to his pick-and-pop perimeter play with Carter-Williams. Hawes is currently in the NBA’s top 25 for three-point shooting; a place he never found himself in before receiving ample open opportunities, courtesy of MC-W.

‘And this is Spencer Hawes,’ I found myself thinking; a guy that I had all but given up on under Coach Collins.

While Hawes’ improvement this season has been encouraging, and fun to watch, he is still Spencer Hawes; not quite the definition of dynamic. While continuing to ride this train of thought, I began to think about how dangerous Carter-Williams could become if he was paired with a dynamic pick-and-roll player; the type of guy that can rush the rim to throw down an oop off of a roll, or pop out and hit a fifteen-footer depending on the defense.

Carter-Williams has been impressive statistically with let’s say an average (generous) supporting cast. So how good could he be surrounded with some true talent?

As I was considering this concept, a quote from Nerlens Noel’s DraftExpress page, which I frequented in the summer while making mock drafts for Philly.com, stuck out in my mind:

"[Noel] shows great potential as a pick and roll finisher, being capable of finishing emphatically from extremely difficult angles and vantage points thanks to his long arms and how high he gets up in the air."

Well that sounds pretty promising, especially considering that there’s no one currently on the Sixers’ roster that has the ability to ‘finish emphatically,’ or that deserves a positive comment about how high they can get in the air.

I started to get giddy imagining a scenario next season where Noel sets a high screen for Carter-Williams, rolls off of said screen directly to the rim, and is the recipient of a perfectly placed lob pass which he catches in air and hammers home.

I knew I was getting a little bit ahead of myself, especially considering that Noel has yet to play a single second for the Sixers, but in the midst of this struggle of a season could you blame me? Pairing Carter-Williams, who is developing into a dynamic p-and-r player, with a dude who has demonstrated the athletic ability to finish around the rim, could be quite deadly.

At Kentucky, Noel rarely had plays called for him, but rather scored his points in transition (another great fit for Mc-W), off of put-backs and rolls to the rim. Pairing a player like this with a dominant pick-and-roll player in Carter-Williams and potentially another off-ball scorer seems to be an ideal idea. Carter-Williams and Noel are obviously both very young, and will have time to develop together, building upon the chemistry that they began in Boston, playing AAU together. With the right coaching, it seems that the two could develop into a deadly duo.

I then thought back to training camp in St. Joe’s gym a couple months earlier, and about how Noel had spent considerable amounts of time shooting on side baskets, working on his form, shooting with one hand, and focusing on foul shots, while his teammates worked themselves into the shape that they have now become known for.

Brett Brown said the team is looking to completely rebuild Noel’s shot, and if they are even somewhat successful, he becomes that much more dangerous setting a screen for Michael Carter-Williams. If he possess the ability to athletically attack the rim AND pop out and hit a fifteen-footer, he will become extremely difficult to defend. Pair that skill set with a developing, dominant guard, and look out league, the Sixers just may have a vey formidable 1-2 punch for the future.

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