NCAA: Syracuse’s Carter-Williams Rising
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Last year as the Syracuse Orange made a run to the Elite Eight freshman guard Michael Carter-Williams, a McDonald’s All-American in high school, was watching from the bench the entire time. He didn’t play a single minute in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, a byproduct of failing to establish himself as a part of an upperclassmen-heavy backcourt rotation during the regular season.
The lack of playing time took a toll on Carter-Williams mentally. He came to Syracuse as a star recruit who wanted to help them right away. But, he had to wait for his opportunity.
However, that opportunity wasn’t just going to be given to him. He had to earn it and prove he was worthy of it. You can get out-recruited at Syracuse in a hurry, but Carter-Williams put in the work this offseason and now there are only a couple of sophomores in the country who can say they have taken as big of a step forward in their development as he has.
Carter-Williams is only finding himself on the bench for seven minutes a game now that he is the Orange’s starting point guard. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 3.1 steals a contest, making a widespread impact like few other players in college basketball can.
The first thing that jumps out about Carter-Williams is that at 6’6 he looks more like a shooting guard or small forward. It’s rare for a player of his size to contain his level of ball-handling and playmaking skills, which has led to him drawing comparisons to Penny Hardaway and Shaun Livingston.
Carter-Williams’ size makes him a nightmare for the opposition to match up with. He’s not blindingly quick, but he does have good enough speed to get to the basket regularly with his long strides and great length. He doesn’t blow by guards, he finishes over the top of them because they’re just not big enough to really deter him.
When attacking, Carter-Williams has an improving floater that he can go to and a fairly reliable off hand. As his assist numbers indicate, he is definitely a willing passer and someone who looks to hit the open man. Going at the big guys inside the paint isn’t something he’s afraid to do either, because they actually aren’t that much bigger than him.
This season Carter-Williams’ shooting percentages are actually down from the field and beyond the arc. Part of that is because he’s shooting far more than he did last year, over five times as much, with opposing defenses giving him much more attention. But, no matter how you slice it, 37 percent from the field and 28 percent from deep is not impressive.
The odd thing about his woefully low shooting percentages is that his jump shot is actually pretty fundamentally sound. His stroke is smooth, there’s no Michael Kidd-Gilchrist like hitch in it or anything like that. He also gets good lift on it and regularly follows through. He’s just yet to find consistency with it, but when he gets to the next level he’ll only need repetition. It will not need to be overhauled.
No matter how strongly Carter-Williams finishes the year, there will be questions about whether or not he can play the point guard position at the next level just because he’s so far from the prototypical mold of a standard NBA point guard. That’s part of what makes him such an intriguing prospect, though. The point guard position is difficult to defend right now because of the speed and athleticism of guys like Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics. Carter-Williams will be tough for them to defend not because he’s a speed demon or a guy who can grab quarters off the top of a backboard, but because he’s big and long.
Like all prospects from Syracuse, Carter-Williams is tough to grade defensively because of the fact that they strictly play head coach Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone. That’s another question he won’t be able to answer until he’s officially a pro, but Carter-Williams does have good defensive instincts, quick hands and solid lateral movement.
The other thing that will lead to questions about his ability to play point at the next level is his high turnover rate. Right now Carter-Williams is giving it up 3.8 times on average with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4:1. It’s gone down as the seasons progressed, which talent evaluators have definitely taken note of. Carter-Williams does have a high dribble, but he has control over it. It will be key for him to be efficient with the dribble in the NBA and not do anything unnecessary that leaves him vulnerable to get stripped. That means staying away from lateral dribbling and pushing forward with it instead. That especially applies to the pick-and-roll, where Carter-Williams has a lot of room to improve in as well.
With some added strength, a low post game and a lot of practice on his jump shot, Carter-Williams could be a very scary pro. Landing in the right situation will be key for him, because trying to be groomed into a wing could really take away from his game. His natural point guard skills are something that need to be harnessed and groomed, not made an afterthought.
Carter-Williams has firmly established himself as a top-10 pick, but the top five is not yet out of the question for him, especially in a wide open draft like this.
Watch What You Wear: UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammad knew he was going to be under the spotlight as a star recruit at one of the biggest programs in the country. However, that spotlight is probably feeling more like a microscope right now.
Muhammad had to endure a lengthy investigation and a short suspension from the NCAA before getting cleared to play this season. He’s starting to play his best basketball as a Bruin and is still in the mix to be the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. But, that’s hasn’t been dominating the headlines this week. His $1,000 Gucci backpack has.
A prominent national writer questioned how Muhammad acquired such an expensive item, given that he’s a student-athlete whose only benefit can be a scholarship. Muhammad wouldn’t be the first, or last, future pro to accept something illegally from an agent trying to sign him. However, his mom went to twitter to explain that she bought it for him as a birthday gift and has a receipt to prove it.
But, that wasn’t enough. UCLA conducted their own investigation of the backpack as well and released the following statement:
“The UCLA Athletics Compliance Office has confirmed that men’s basketball players Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson (who also had a designer model backpack) received items in question as gifts from their respective families, and the matter is closed.”
Now we should get back to enjoying every moment that’s left of Muhammad’s collegiate career, because he almost certainly won’t be back with all the off-the-court headaches he’s had to endure just to keep his eligibility intact this season.