After a hot start to the season, Michael Carter-Williams’ play has plateaued.
He is still likely a lock for Rookie of the Year honors, and he continues to display skill, promise, and potential on nearly a nightly basis. But, not everything he’s shown for the Sixers so far this season has been all good, and his production, which was prolific to start the season, has leveled off.
After the way Carter-Williams burst onto the scene on opening night with a near-triple-double against the defending champions some slip was expected; he wasn’t going to average 22, 12, 9, and 7. The talent around him must be taken into account as well; the Sixers are one of the youngest, most inexperienced, and let’s be honest, talent-starved teams across the league’s landscape, and that was before they traded away Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner for pennies on the dollar. Their lack of true threats on the offensive end makes it that much easier for opposing defenses, especially to cue in on Carter-Williams.
Carter-Williams hasn’t had the benefit of coming in as a rookie and just trying to fit with the franchise, but rather he was tossed into the fire from the start, as the starting point guard for a depleted, and for lack of a better word, tanking, team. Carter-Williams has had to learn the league, and the pro game on the go, without the benefit of being able to play behind an established point for a single season, or even playing on a team with talent that could help to take some of the burden off of his skinny shoulders.
Rather, along with Thaddeus Young, Carter-Williams has been the most important, and productive Sixer this season, and therefore a focus of opposing defenses. But, while some of his struggles as a rookie can be explained, they can’t be completely ignored.
While his point production has stayed steady, his rebounding, assist, and steal numbers, three areas that really stuck out as special for Carter-Williams early on, have dipped, as has his true shooting percentage, which hasn’t been over 50% since December.
For the month of February, Carter-Williams is averaging only 4.1 rebounds (6.7%) per game; his lowest output of any month this season. His assist average has followed the same trend, and dipped to a season low 4.8 average for the month. Equally as concerning as the decline in the assist area is the rise in turnovers. Carter-Williams is averaging the exact same amount of turnovers per game this month (4.8), as he is assists. This leaves him with an assist to turnover ratio of 1.00 for the month, or in other words, not very good. Carter-Williams had taken relatively decent care of the ball early on in the season, especially considering how often he had it in his hands. He is 25th overall in the entire NBA in total touches, and he never averaged over 3.8 turnovers a game in any month prior to February.
Carter-Williams’ steal stats have slipped as well. At one point this season, MC-W was the league-leader in steals per game, but he has fallen to fourth as he recorded only 1.5 steals for the month of January, and an anemic 0.8 steals per game for February.
He hasn’t been an extremely efficient shooter all season, so there is no drastic drop there, as his numbers have remained subpar. But, it was all those other areas, like assists and steals, that allowed Carter-Williams to continue to be an impact player even when he wasn’t sinking his shots, which is what makes their plateauing problematic.
It is somewhat unfair to judge Carter-Williams after this season solely, considering that state of the SIxers, and the type of talent he was teamed with; a 32-year old Steve Nash would have had a hard time making some of these guys look good. We will get a better idea of his true potential as a point in the coming couple seasons when he has grown into the game and is teamed with some true (NBA level) talent. However, with that being said, teams figure out skill sets, and it will be extremely important for Carter-Williams to continue to develop his game, Rookie of the Year honors aside. It is imperative that he add a steady shot to his arsenal in order to reach his true potential as a point. His inability to shoot consistently this season has impacted other areas of his game negatively, as defenses can lag off of him, clogging up the rest of the court.
After his hot start, it didn’t take teams too long to figure out what the lanky guard is all about, and their ability to limit other areas of his game, stemming from his inability to steadily shoot, has had a negative impact on the rest of his numbers, leading to statistical slips.
The dip in MC-W’s statistics isn’t worth panicking over, especially considering the surrounding team/talent. But, if the trend were to continue over into his sophomore season, then it would become a concern. Thus, it is important that issues are addressed in the offseason. The addition of a consistent shot is critical for Carter-Williams’, as it will open up the court, not only for him, but also for the rest of the players that will be tasked with building the franchise back into a contender.
Michael Carter-Williams will likely head into next season as the reigning Rookie of the Year, and yes, he will benefit from the infusion of some true talent into the team. But like the Sixers, Carter-Williams has a lot of work to do this summer in order to improve for the future of the franchise.