Michael Carter-Williams has already exceeded expectations this season.
The fresh-faced point guard has demonstrated the ability to run an NBA offense, which is a difficult transition for many young guards fresh out of college to make, and he has consistently been able to get the ball to his teammates in positions where they can score; a prerequisite to being a successful starting point in the league. Carter-Williams looks like he knows what he’s doing with the ball in his hands, and by all accounts the Sixers’ offense has been more effective with him running it.
He has been better than decent defensively as well, where his nose for the ball and ability to suddenly pop into passing lanes have him leading the league in steals, and his length and sheer size have allowed him to switch seamlessly onto other position players around the perimeter.Throw in the fact that Carter-Williams has been a reliable rebounder from the guard spot as well, leading all rookies with 5.7 boards a game, and you get the picture of a pretty complete point who may very well shape the future of the franchise in Philadelphia.
Carter-Williams’ surprisingly strong play so far this season has worked to mollify the move that shipped fan-favorite Jrue Holiday south last summer, and has the Philadelphia faithful eager to see just how good the 22-year-old could be surrounded with some true talent.
Despite the promising play, Carter-Williams is far from a perfect player. There are some areas that he must make major improvements in in order for himself and his team to truly capitalize on his sky-high potential. One of the most pressing problems that must be addressed is his outside shooting.
While overall he has been impressive offensively, mainly in getting to the rim and creating opportunities for others, his outside shooting has been an issue. His improvement in that area will open up an entirely new dimension of offensive options.
As it stands, opposing defenses respect Carter-Williams’ potential to drive the ball to the basket much more than they respect his potential to pull up and hit a deep two or three-point-range shot, and with good reason.
So far this season, Carter-Williams is shooting a meager 27 percent on pull-up opportunities (defined by nba.com/stats as any jump shot outside of 10 feet where a player took one or more dribbles before shooting) and scoring only 2.6 points per game on such opportunities. Compare this to the 8.7 points his team nets per game off of his drives, which when he finishes himself, he converts at a 39 percent clip, and it becomes exceedingly clear why defenses play him for the drive.
His struggles shooting the ball make the defenses’ job a lot easier, and severely limits what he is able to do on the offensive end. With a respectable jump shot in his arsenal, defenses will have to stick closer to Carter-Williams for fear of him pulling up, successfully, at any time.
With his game as currently constructed however, defenses don’t fear his pull-up potential, and often opt to go under, rather than over, screens, daring the rookie point guard to shoot. The defender playing off of Carter-Williams in these situations eliminates several potential passes to the paint, or at least makes them more difficult, and in turn prevents the offense from running at full functionality.
In the video clip below (at the bottom of the page), watch how far defenders play off of Carter-Williams towards the top of the key. They’re giving him the space to shoot, and cutting off some potential assist angels by dropping back off of him.
If he could work to increase his pull-up percentage to close to a 40 percent clip, then his effectiveness on the offensive end could expand exponentially. Not only would the addition of a consistent shot increase his own scoring, but it would force defenders to stick closer to him and would thus open up new opportunities for others.
He has already done well putting others in position to score, as he is 17th in the NBA with 12.8 assist opportunities per game, and with his defender sticking closer to him he could become even better.
Carter-Williams’ development of a solid shot would work to increase his own scoring and assist numbers, as well as likely add to the scoring totals of his teammates.
“The Hyphen” as he has been dubbed, has been shooting equally poorly on catch-and-shoot opportunities (29 percent), but considering how often he has the ball in his hands (ninth in the NBA with 87.5 touches per game), the improvement of his pull-up seems more important.
It won’t happen overnight, but in order to complement his talents and fully maximize what appears to be sky-high potential, Michael Carter-Williams needs to add a consistent shot to his already-impressive arsenal. When he is able to do that, both he and his team will see big benefits.