Sixers Fall to Thunder: What to Make of Michael Carter-Williams' Performance

USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers' rookie guard struggled a ton for the second straight game. Does it mean anything?

Now that Summer League basketball "counts" all of a sudden, I'm contractually obligated to mention that the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder by a score of 74-62 in the Orlando Summer League earlier today. Fret not though Sixers fans, as the Sixers' 20-19 edge at the end of the first quarter gained the team a point*, ensuring they didn't go home empty-handed.

*No, that's actually dead serious. You are rewarded for winning quarters at this thing. No word on if they'll implement the 25-point shot from Rock N' Jock.

The big takeaway from today's game was Michael Carter-Williams' second straight disappointing showing, particularly his shooting. The Syracuse product shot an extremely poor 3-16 from the field, which is barely, but still better than John Starks' effort in Game 7 of of the 1994 NBA Finals. Sub-20 percent shooting is obviously not optimal. In fact, it's pretty abysmal as far as single games go.

The natural reaction to such poor marksmanship is to panic and say "If he can't throw the ball in the ocean during friggin' summer league, can you imagine what the regular season will be like?" It's a fair sentiment. After all, summer league is comprised of worse competition than he'll find in regular season NBA games. Anyone of major consequence past their second year in the league is replaced by journeymen, D-Leaguers, and undrafted rookies.

Then again, Carter-Williams' early struggles have basically confirmed previous scouting reports. When we said after his selection that the rookie's jumper "is currently terrible," we meant it. Statements of that ilk were not one of the Sixers' Andrew Bynum updates, as they had substance. On one side of the analytics divide, there was a 49 percent true shooting percentage in The Big East. On the other, a bunch of BRICK and CLANG. A whole lot.

For the short term, there's a good chance Carter-Williams' rookie season will be something that people who use the search tool on Basketball Reference will cite for years, for all of the wrong reasons. At Carter-Williams' introductory press conference, Sam Hinkie emphasized that he wanted players who will "work at their craft." In Carter-Williams' case, that means hours and hours in the gym shooting jumper after jumper. Will practice be able to make up the deficit he currently faces? That's the $64,000 question.

I called it a swing skill for a reason, though. Namely, Carter-Williams has shown plenty of ability in other areas of the game. He only recorded five assists in today's game (to four turnovers), but that number doesn't tell the whole story. On numerous occasions, particularly in the first half, Carter-Williams got into the lane and kicked the ball out to a teammate for an open jumper. Most of the time they missed. On a few other plays, he rather easily split two defenders on the pick and roll. There's also the court vision; Carter-Williams has shown a proclivity to make the hit-ahead pass on the fast break. Some playmaking potential is there.

Probably the biggest surprise is how comfortable Carter-Williams looks defensively, outside the friendly confines of Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone. He's still dangerous while playing the passing lanes, as his four steals would attest to, but MCW has also shown the ability to move his feet and stay in front of the ball-handler. On one play, Thunder high-scorer Jeremy Lamb took one dribble, ran into Carter-Williams and pushed off with his left arm. Carter-Williams still was able strip him cleanly and throw the ball ahead on the fast break. It was one play, against an average ball-handler, but there was no surprise that Lamb operated exclusively out of the pick and roll when Carter-Williams was covering him for the rest of the game.

Carter-Williams clearly has a lot of ability outside of shooting. Until that shot is refined though, you're going to see a low efficiency, high turnover offensive player. You're going to see a bad point guard; one with the ability to at least an average starter in the NBA, but a bad one nonetheless. Swing skill.

Here's a few other things I saw in today's game:

  • Besides a nifty play where he picked the ball off the floor and calmly sank a desperation 15-footer to beat the shot-clock, Arnett Moultrie was pretty much invisible. I don't know why, but for whatever reason Moultrie isn't getting a whole lot of touches. For a player with NBA experience and some decent offensive skill, I'd imagine the Sixers' brass was hoping for more from Moultrie in the summer league setting.
  • Oh, one thing I will complement Moultrie on: He's absolutely destroying opposing defenders on screens. I screamed the Emeril Lagasse "BAM!" at least twice during today's broadcast.
  • Arsalan Kazemi was pretty great today: 6 points (on 3-3 shooting), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, one block and steal apiece. Rick Kamla was practically gushing in admiration of Kazemi's ability to win 50-50 balls! Three games in, I feel confident in saying that Kazemi's manifest destiny is to be the do-it-all eighth or ninth man on a title contender.
  • Khalif Wyatt was undoubtedly one of my favorite college players ever, but his defense has been pretty disturbing so far. First off, I'd like to mention that it's amazing how he's still able to completely freeze an NBA-caliber defender with one of his change of pace moves in the normally choppy summer league. But man, his off-the-ball defense is noticeably bad. He just seems to really struggle chasing guys off screens, which is not good. Today, he had a bad miscommunication with Justin Holiday which lead to an open three by Kyle Kuric.
  • Speaking of Justin, he knocked down a couple of threes. And I think the recap ends here. That got out of hand, huh?
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