Along with JK Rowling’s Casual Vacancy, Roger Ebert’s Your Movie Sucks, and a random book about LeBron leaving Cleveland, one of the books I’m reading this summer is When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball by Seth Davis. On page 230, after Davis brilliantly depicts Magic Johnson and Michigan State’s 1979 NCAA Finals victory over Indiana State and Larry Bird, there’s a passage that really struck me.
“He is not superstar material for the NBA,’ Joe Falls wrote in the Detroit News. “Maybe he can grow into it. But he isn’t there yet, and some NBA scouts wonder if he will ever get there.”
Falls wrote that about Magic Johnson before the ’79 NBA Draft. And, as a devout 76ers follower and a writer who spent all of last week sitting courtside in press row at the Orlando Pro Summer League, I couldn’t help but think that quote could easily describe Michael Carter-Williams as a rookie as well.
Now, I’m not saying MCW is the second coming of Magic Johnson. But, I am saying that it’s far too early to label him anything but a project with a very high ceiling.
The Lakers, a team then in championship contention took Magic No. 1 overall and he was still generating skepticism and a little bit of doubt. Carter-Williams was the No. 11 overall pick by a team that has traded away their only previous building block and is clearly tanking for the 2014 Draft.
He has no pressure to win and can focus his entire rookie season on improving and tweaking his individual game. So be patient, people.
After watching MCW play 5 games in 6 days, I studied every element of his troublesome shot. He gets solid elevation and is pretty vertical on his release, but MCW kind of pushes the ball with his off hand. He only shot 27.1 percent from the field overall and a truly dreadful 15.8 percent from three, but his 76 percent shooting from the line is a promising sign.
Outside of the issue his off hand, he has a pretty solid form. With the distance to the rim and setting of a free throw, that problem can be masked. It’s just that in the heat of battle, when you’re forced to shoot off-balanced shots, that guide hand can add some unnecessary spin to the ball as it approaches the rim. That’s a pretty easy fix for a guy when he’s literally the focal point of this franchise for the next 6 months while Nerlens Noel rehabs.
He also averaged 4.8 turnovers per game, but you can easily assess a fourth of them to Arnett Moultrie and Michael Eric dropping his bullet entry passes and another fourth to the awfully stagnant offense Michael Curry forced him to run (I’d love to see his usage rate from the week, too.).
You can credit him for the other half to his poor decision-making and some of his mental lapses in a faster game. Whittle that number down to 2.4 per game, and that’s not too terrible, especially for a rookie. It’s also realistic, knowing that he will probably have more NBA-quality teammates during the regular season.
Overall, I can tell you and be completely unbiased when I say the former Syracuse point guard clearly has an understanding of the game of basketball and knows how to get his teammates involved. He comes off the pick and roll with a full head of steam, he’s able to survey the floor at his size and he can get to and finish at the rim pretty efficiently as well.
It’s far too early to write him off or label him as a bust after just 5 games in Summer League. Sure, you can argue he struggled against the bottom half of NBA talent, but he also barely had any NBA talent around him. The team’s second option on offense was Khalif Wyatt and he doesn’t even have a guaranteed NBA contract yet!
Relax with your sweeping Carter-Williams judgments. Give him time.
People once hated on Magic Johnson’s potential, too. Look where he ended up.
Jake Fischer is a scribe for Philadunkia. You can follow him on Twitter @JakeLFischer
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