The Michael Carter-Williams Puzzle

When Michael Carter-Williams was traded for the second time in his young career, on the face of it, there was a huge red flag warning for the Chicago Bulls who became team number three. Why would a 6-6 point guard lottery pick be unable to stick with a team and system unless he is a damaged beyond repair NBA player?

Before his rookie contract expires, Carter-Williams will have played for a holistically awful NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers. He will have played for a team coached by a Hall of Famer who gave up on him in Jason Kidd. And now the Chicago Bulls who don’t have a point guard and have benched Carter-Williams in the playoffs have come to the same conclusion as their peers. Michael Cater-Williams cannot help a playoff team.

The Bulls have let everyone know via their benching of Carter-Williams that they are not in the salvage business.  They cannot fix Carter-Williams and so now he has to sit and watch and they will play point guard by patchwork tapestry.

As we know him, Michael Carter-Williams is a notoriously awful shooter and mistake laden passer. He doesn’t really have a fit outside of the bench. He doesn’t have much in the way of leadership skills. He is a role player who cannot and will not defend. In Philly, the whispers were of his immaturity and sense of entitlement and lack of toughness.

A 2013 lottery pick out of Syracuse with the dead weight around his neck that he was the worst shooter of the guard draft class, all Michael Carter-Williams did was go out and win Rookie of the Year. Then his career plummeted.

Last season, he was aggressively shopped and no takers were willing to pick up the 24 year old before the trade deadline. The thinking was if Jason Kidd, point guard extraordinaire, couldn’t fix him, then he was truly hopeless.

There are a lot of people who look at the surface melody and compare Michael Carter-Williams with Tyreke Evans. Both were Rookies of the Year who had subsequent struggles in the years that followed. But there is a difference here. Tyreke Evans couldn’t stay healthy. He was always banged up. And he couldn’t find a way to resurrect a perimeter game. Tyreke feasted on blow-bys and drives to the rim. He was traded by Sacramento, the team who drafted him, to New Orleans. He is back with Sacramento again.

Michael Carter-Williams is a cautionary tale. He is on his third team. He was drafted by the 76ers and to everyone’s surprise had a breakout Rookie of the Year 2013-14. But even then, his numbers were deceptive. He was an inefficient and hopeless shooter in a league that now depends on guards making shots. He made very bad decisions with the ball. He was long but wasn’t the defender he should have been. He could be very lazy and his fundamentals were awful. His fellow first round draft pick in 2013, Dennis Schroder, signed a $70 million extension in October. Schroder was a back up to Jeff Teague who the Hawks got rid of to showcase Schroder and give him the keys. Now he is a starter and arguably the Hawks best player, ballin’ in the playoffs, guiding his team to playoff wins. Michael Carter-Williams career is in reverse, a starter who is on the bench, who can’t get in playoff games.

2017 Playoffs Minutes Points FG% 3-Point % Off Rating
Dennis Schroder (Atlanta) 34.2 24.4 45.7% 43.8% 124
Michael Carter-Williams (Bulls) 9.8 1.5 33.3% 0% 60

The worst thing that could happen to MCW was what happened to him, so much success so early.

When he was traded to Milwaukee and Jason Kidd there was this hope that a Hall of Fame point guard could fix him but the same problems remained and then the Bucks wanted him gone too. It was a low risk for the Bulls. Carter-Williams is a free agent in July. He might be in Europe next season.

What do we really know about his career besides the glaring headlines of can’t shoot a pea in the ocean if he was standing on the beach?

He isn’t a starting point. He doesn’t have the skill set as far decision making. He doesn’t make players better. He has no court vision. He doesn’t see a play before it happens and he’s not particularly skilled at pick and roll. Philly was a bad example to judge him. The players were so hopeless anyone in Carter-Williams place would succeed with that rag tag crew and they did.  Last seasons, Ish Smith did for Philly what Michael Carter-Williams did a couple of years earlier. So he isn’t really special. But so what? Less than 1% of NBA talent is special. You need committed know their role bench players.

It’s a miss or make league and Carter-Williams usually misses when he heaves his shots. His career numbers for three point makes is 25%. His rookie year, his three point numbers were 26% so in 4 seasons he hasn’t improved. He has gotten worse.  A point guard who can’t shoot is a point guard not going to be employed for long.

Can his shooting problems be fixed? Several say no. It starts with fundamentals. He has terrible footwork and until that is changed with a summer of rework he will always be a marginal NBA talent. Shooting is also about confidence. How confident can you be when you are constantly being tossed around the Eastern Conference.

But the dream that he could resurrect something in Chicago fell to the earth. The odds were always stacked against him. Rajon Rondo is a poor shooting point guard as well but he is a magician with the ball and knows how to get players the shots they need when they need them. In the playoffs he reminded everyone how talented he really is.  The hidden secrets to the point guard game was something for Carter-Williams to learn; that was the hope. He’s not the toughest to play the position either.

In real time, the former Rookie of the Year is a huge liability. When he does play he just isn’t guarded which means someone is rotating onto someone else and leaving him alone. Carter-Williams knows he can’t shoot so he is a reluctant offensive player. The only problem with passing first and nothing else second is that when Carter-Williams passes he has two seasons ago John Wall syndrome and turns the ball over. So where can he fit in the NBA landscape?

He is 6-6 with some explosiveness but just not much know how. He’ll be on someone’s bench. It’s hard to figure out how the Bulls, who already are challenged in the scoring point guard position, can wait around for him to develop. There is a reason there are rookie deals. It lets a player develop. If they haven’t, it’s a red flag.  The Bulls aren’t a team that has patience to see how this goes, particularly in the playoffs. And that is the story of Michael Carter-Williams so far.

Instead of see how it goes, he is being forced to achieve right now. Except. He needs teaching. He is being forced to make a difference for a playoff team. Then he fails. He is benched. His identity is repeated. Can’t shoot. Can’t pass. Failure. It affects his psyche. And here we go again. It’s a revolving door that unfortunately, for him, may continue as he gives the Bulls nearly nothing except the depressing idea of his lost potential.

photo via llananba