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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Stock Attack: Michael Carter-Williams

When I'm evaluating point guard prospects, I take a especially close look at their ability to control the tempo of the game, I also like to see how they handle adversity, run the pick and roll, change speeds, and balance scoring and passing. A point guard cannot disappear during the game. A point guard has to be the rock of the team. That is what I am looking for, guys with those traits.

Trey Burke has all of that. When it comes to Michael Carter-Williams, I'm hesitant to say he possesses any of those qualities. He disappeared from plenty of games. His passing consisted of a lot of drive and kicks and transition feeds. Yes, MCW did post great assists numbers. But how the assists were obtained are more important. When I look at MCW, I ask if he can consistently make plays out of the pick and roll and find teammates. Or if he can control the pace, set the offense, and make the simple plays. Where is his mid-range game? Carter-Williams makes a lot of spectacular plays and is a helluva talent, but he hasn't shown he can be a model of consistency. That is troubling from a point guard prospect.

There were a lot of games where Carter-Williams was quiet for an entire half and dominated the other. For some guys, thats just a matter of them knowing when to take over. For Carter-Williams, it was more of him being taken out of the game by the defense.

We are talking about a guy whose skills aren't up to par. He shoots a very flat shot with inconsistent mechanics. Some say he was a better shooter in HS, but that doesn't mean anything to me after he's had more than a full season at the college level. I saw that he did shoot well in Nike's EYBL events in AAU, but I don't take much stock into that. Those rims are very kind to make the players look better and benefit guys who don't shoot with much arc.

If you can't make shots consistently, the rest of your game better be refined. Carter-Williams is not. His ball handling skills are weak and magnified by his lack of strength. When he drives and the defense doesn't collapse on him to give him a passing option, he struggles to finish. He does have a nice floater, but can't get it off consistently. He lacks an explosive first step. Instead, Carter-Williams has to rely on his above average quickness for his size and a solid crossover. It works, but its much more of a shooting guard move than a point guard.

A point guard shouldn't need to overdribble to get his shot off. A point guard should understand how to change speeds and work the pick and roll game effectively. Burke was never taken out of games because he could always makes plays if he got a ball screen. Carter-Williams has a tougher task to operate in the pick and roll due to his height and he doesn't do himself any favors either. He doesn't change speeds well or mix up his strides. He's very shaky with the ball when two defenders are around him and his passing instincts look much more raw when it comes to more advanced plays.

Again, the drive and kick play is the most simple way for a point guard to get assists. Its the most basic play that any point guard should be able to execute. Carter-Williams can do it with the best of them in college, but  that doesn't make him a point guard. That is just the initial layer to being a point guard and when you look for more layers to his game, they aren't present.

Carter-Williams also struggled mightily against ball pressure as you saw if you watched the Big East Championship game against Louisville. For the first half, MCW and Cuse played well enough to have the lead. In the second half, Louisville turned up their defensive pressure and completely blew out Syracuse. The difference in halves was remarkable and the biggest blame goes to the point guard.

Then there was the Final 4 game against Michigan. Carter-Williams fouled out and went to the bench crying as if the game was over. Except it wasn't and Syracuse almost won the game. But there he was sitting on the bench with his head buried in a towel instead of cheering on his team. A leader doesn't act as if the game is over because he fouled out. Throughout the year, Syracuse was one of the most up and down teams in the country and there wasn't much leadership coming from their point guard. For a guy who should be the rock of the team, Carter-Williams was one of the most inconsistent players - both with his play on the court and in his emotions. You shouldn't ever get too high or too low as a basketball player - especially as a point guard. Its yet another thing Michael Carter-Williams has to overcome.

He gets some comparisons to Shaun Livingston but Livingston was a great athlete coming out of high school while Carter-Williams is just "good" athletically. Also, Carter-Williams wasn't even considered a point guard coming out of HS and there was a reason for that. Shaun Livingston had such pure point guard skills he was compared to Magic Johnson.

Defensively, Michael Carter-Williams has all the tools and good instincts to go with it. He had plenty of steals operating at the top of the zone and while his length and the system certainly helped, his ability to play the passing lanes should somewhat translate to the NBA. The biggest worry about his defense though is that he doesn't have experience at a high level playing man to man defense. And in recent times, Syracuse players have really struggled to make the adjustment. Even guys like Wes Johnson who people believed had all the athletic tools to make up for player in a zone. Right now, its just a very risky proposition to take a Syracuse player for his defensive ability. Carter-Williams could turn out to be very good defensively, but I wouldn't view it as a sure thing.

Potential is a word that is often associated with Michael Carter-Williams when you point out all these flaws. Sure, he has the height that most other point guards don't have. You can't teach size. But its also very hard to learn and improve all his other weaknesses when there are so many. There is potential and then there is the chances a player reaches his potential. I understand that you can't count out a guy improving his skills, but you can say a guy won't grow, but I'll take players with the necessary skills and ability over a guy with height anyday. Those attributes are very hard to improve as well. And at the age of 21, Michael Carter-Williams is far from the youngest player in the draft.

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