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Basketball philosophy

Analyzing the talent level of Michael Carter-Williams

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Michael Carter-Williams is strongest out the gate for the 2013 draft class, putting up a 22 point, 12 assist, 9 steal game in his first game and 26 points, 10 assists, 3 steals in his 3rd. Against two great defenses in Miami and Chicago, no less.

But as recent rookies Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Lin have proved among others, a start this hot does not guarantee long term stardom.

Here was how I rated Michael Carter-Williams talent level in June in my three categories Physical Impact Talent, Skill Impact (shoot, post, pass) talent and Feel for the Game talent, using these grades:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Very good, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Weak, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

What the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

Grades:

Physical impact grade: 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 17 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

For players with a grade of 17, due to variables like shooting development, I estimated these probabilities of having talent higher or lower than this:

< 1% Perennial all-star talent (grade of 25+)
< 1% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent (23+)
15% Blue Chip starter talent (19+)
65% Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent (17+)
98.5% Rotation player talent (14+)
99.5%+ Deep bench to Rotation player talent (12+)

Carter-Williams’ appeal was based on a combination of physical talents and feel for the game. As a good, but not elite athlete with ballhandling skills, he has talent attacking the basket off the dribble. His length is an asset defensively, but a thin frame may hurt him finishing plays at the rim.

His biggest strength is his feel for the game. He is a crafty and smooth player, allowing him to find space in the defense and to see the court passing the ball. His steals so far is also arguably a product of anticipation and vision.

This clip shows how MCW’s speed and feel, has helped him attack the basket and find teammates:

Why Carter-Williams didn’t rate higher is his shooting. He shot 30.7% from 3 and 67.9% from the FT line over two years at Syracuse, including 29.4% from 3 and 69.4% from the FT line his sophomore season. The 3 point shooting numbers are poor for the NCAA line, but the FTs were even more worrying as typically good shooting prospects, are at least in the 70s.

That shooting is the biggest difference in his NBA career so far, hitting 47.1% from 3 in his first 3 games, going 8 for 17 from outside. Considering most prospects need time to translate to the longer NBA line, this has been impressive. Carter-Williams has only gone 66.7% from the FT line by hitting 10 for 15. Both of course, are at a risk of small sample size trickery. MCW hitting 5 for 17 from 3 instead of 8 for 17, would have made his 3P% 29.4%, identical to his final year at Syracuse. On the other hand, hitting 12 for 17 from the FT line would have made his number 80% from there, more representative of a great FT shooter. To give you an example of how Carter-Williams could fall apart from 3, after Jeremy Lin started 1-10 from 3 his first 3 “Linsanity” games, he went on to go 12 for 26 from 3 in his next 8 games (46.2%),  a larger sample size than MCW has had, before reverting. A more positive comparison for MCW is Chandler Parsons who had a 4 years college career where he averaged 33.7% from 3 and a weak 61.1% from the FT line, but has gone on to average over 36.6% from 3 on 4.1 attempts a game in the NBA, making him one of the better shooting options at the SF position. Shooting like MCW in college is not a death sentence, it just makes it less likely.

If Carter-Williams settled into an above average shooter at the position, deserving of a grade of 6 or higher in my skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent category – I would rate him as a “blue chip” talent, roughly enough to be an above average starter. It’s surprising that a player with his college shooting career would shoot at an above average NBA rate, but the unpredictably of shooting is largely the reason for giving out that estimate of 15% chance at a blue chip talent. The only way I can see Carter-Williams surpassing even that to  become a perennial all-star and franchise player, is if he becomes one of the best shooters in the NBA. Nothing is impossible, but after his Syracuse results I’d need a larger sample size than 17 shots to put that in play. The worst case scenario is that Carter-Williams’ shooting falls apart and more, where the inability to hit open shots leads defenders to play way off him, Rajon Rondo-style.

To me, early Jeremy Lin is the all-around best comparison. Like Lin, Carter-Williams has the athleticism to attack the basket, size for his position and a strong feel for the game. And like Lin, the rest of his career will depend on shooting. Lin’s regression as a shooter made him a poor fit with James Harden and cost him his starting spot to begin this year, though by hitting 4 from 10 to start this year from 3 he may be on the rebound. My guess is that MCW at best is an above average, but non all-star PG, but at worst is a 3rd guard and average contributor. To Michael Carter-Williams’ credit, he has started his career with confidence and has seized the opportunity given to him by lack of offensive options above him in Philadelphia. His start sets the table for the rest of his career. He’s booked his place at the table for the long term, but how close to the head of the table will he be?

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Written by jr.

November 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm

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