Expectations weren’t exceptionally high for Michael Carter-Williams after the Sixers selected him 11th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. Yes he had some size, and showed promise and potential, but still, no one was quite sure what to expect from the Syracuse sophomore in his first professional season.
After leading the entire rookie field in most major statistical categories on his way to claiming the crown of Rookie of the Year, that is no longer the case for Carter-Williams.
Expectations come with accolades. Just look at the list of recent Rookie of the Year winners: Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, LeBron James.
Those are superstars, and while Carter-Williams isn’t expected to turn into the next Chris Paul over a single summer, he will be expected to take that next step towards superstardom this season.
Carter-Williams’ base numbers last year - 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game - were pretty impressive as he showed off a well-rounded attack. Those numbers, however, will need to be improved upon.
Each of the four point guards that won Rookie of the Year prior to Carter-Williams over the past 10 years (Lillard, Irving, Rose, Paul) have increased their scoring average in their second season. Irving and Paul both added to their assists, and Rose increased his efficiency from the field. They all improved.
Critical for Carter-Williams, in the midst of another season of struggle for the Sixers, is that he continues to improve and expand his game, and that he avoids statistical stagnation, or a "sophomore slump." It is no secret that the Sixers can’t contend in 2014-15, but MCW’s growth and development as part of the foundation of the franchise will continue to be one of the season’s central storylines.
The Sixers’ struggles may actually afford opportunity for Carter-Williams however, as he should again have every opening to learn and grow on the go while quarterbacking the Sixers squad from the point guard position.
The reigning Rookie of the Year played 2,414 total minutes last season, which averages out to 34.5 minutes per game. In that ample on-court time, he was asked to do a lot in the absence of other high-caliber professional players. While mistakes were made, and there are clear areas of improvement, it can be argued that that opportunity made him more mature and provided him with excellent experience from which to build upon. By April, Carter-Williams clearly looked more comfortable on the court than he did at the start of the season, and similar growth should be shown this year.
Although the Sixers have added some new pieces to the puzzle that will eventually ease into on-court action, they are also without the three veterans that started the season last year and could have been considered locker room leaders (Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner). Now, Carter-Williams has the most on-court experience by default, and, in a way, it is his team. As a second-year stud, and reigning Rookie of the Year, he will be looked to as a leader by his new and under-experienced teammates. More expectations.
For Carter-Williams, central areas of improvement include offensive efficiency and a dedication to defense. While MCW was adept at securing steals, it was at times too easy for the opposing offensive player to beat him up top for paint penetration, causing the help defense to break down. Improvement of his on-ball play could turn him into a dynamo defensively and create a lot of extra open-court opportunities.
On the other side of the ball, he needs to add consistency to his mid-range game to make defenders respect his shot, just as they do his ability to drive the ball to the basket. If defenders are forced to press up on him as a result of his ability to consistently knock down open mid-range shots, the rest of the court will open up offensively, creating opportunity. This should improve his offensive efficiency, as will getting better at finishing around the rim. Last season Carter-Williams took a large majority of his shots (53 percent) from within eight feet of the basket, of which he converted an underwhelming 47 percent. This conversion rate should be improved to at least 50 percent to increase overall efficiency.
The addition of a low-post presence, and MCW’s former AAU teammate Nerlens Noel, should help alleviate some on-court issues, and at least make Carter-Williams feel like he’s not out there alone. There is also the promising play of rookies K.J. McDaniels and Jordan McRae, and the potential for increased chemistry among returning roster players like Tony Wroten, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims. In the end though, eventual improvements aside, the Sixers are going to struggle, and Carter-Williams heads into his sophomore season facing an unfamiliar foe in the league: expectations.
However, Carter-Williams appears prepared.
By sitting out Summer League, and turning down an invitation from USA Basketball, he has allowed himself ample opportunity to recover from shoulder surgery. Although still super-skinny, he appears to have bulked up a bit, and you can bet that his jump shot has been a main area of improvement for the 22-year old this offseason. While expectations can weigh heavy, Carter-Williams should have every opportunity to show he can carry the load. He appears positioned for a big second season in the NBA.