NBA rookies often hit a wall, breaking down late in a season that has almost 3x as many games as a college schedule. But usually that doesn’t happen in the second game.
Michael Carter-Williams had one of the best rookie debuts ever. With 22 points, 12 assists, 9 steals, and 7 rebounds, he has Sixer’s fans dreaming of quadruple-doubles, and even Magic Johnson over-reacting with a much too early rookie of the year prediction. But any logical fan knows that there will be many bumps in the road ahead for the raw but talented rookie.
That first bump took the form of John Wall. Wall obliterated MCW for 26 points and 6 assists, while MCW struggled to the tune of 14 points (on 6-15 shooting) 5 assists, 2 turnovers and 4 fouls. The stats actually underestimate the rematch, as Wall put on an absolute clinic in the first half. How was Wall a more difficult matchup than Lebron James and the defending champs? The Miami Heat are insanely talented, but point guard is probably their weakest position. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole aren’t stars, and they were an ideal introduction to the NBA for Carter-Williams. They are solid players, but aren’t particularly quick, and play offensive support roles. Carter-Williams was able to stay in front of them on-ball, while cheating off his man to display the devastating help defense that led to many of his 9 steals. This is a skill that developed at Syracuse within their trademark 2-3 match-up zone, and one he can exploit when his defensive match-up isn’t an offensive focal point.
As great as his defense was against the Heat, it covered up some of his weaknesses that John Wall was able to exploit. Wall is possibly the fastest player in the NBA, with a killer first step. MCW has great length, but isn’t known for his quickness. Wall continually blew by Carter-Williams, slipping into the lane where he can score or distribute. MCW wasn’t able to stay in front of him the first half, leading to foul trouble and easy baskets. Wall was also able to use his quickness on defense to disrupt Carter-Williams, forcing turnovers and rushed decisions.
John Wall won’t be the last guard to put up big numbers against MCW. The NBA is full of elite point guards, and another one comes to town tonight in the form of Derek Rose. While it won’t always be pretty, these match-ups are more important to his development right now than filling up the stat sheet. With his size and instincts, Michael Carter-Williams has the potential to be a lockdown defender, but after playing zone in college, he is raw on the defensive end. Watch him closely this year on defense. If he can learn to use his size to stay in contact with quick guards, keep his focus and avoid losing his composure, and avoid picking up any lazy habits, Michael Carter-Williams will be well on his way to joining the elite class of NBA point guards.