Photo Credit: Username slgckgc via Flickr
One week prior to the 2013 NBA Draft, an article on DraftExpress stated “the two key areas Michael Carter-Williams’ scouting report notes he needs to make strides in to reach his potential as a pro: his decision-making and perimeter shooting.”
Fast-forward four months and Carter-Williams electrified a Philadelphia 76ers crowd—one that’s still confident their team’s plateau is 16 wins— to the tune of four treys, 12 assists and one solitary turnover. He also broke the record for most steals in a debut game with an alarming nine. You know, just for good measure.
If there’s anything more tantalizing than a 6’6″ rookie point guard who registered a 12;1 assist:turnover ratio in his first professional game, it’s the manner in which he did it. Yes, he’s a rookie. No, he didn’t play like one. Carter-Williams was remarkably focused, playing with more certitude than anything you’d associate with the nervous tension of lacing your sneakers side-by-side with the best in the world. He was everywhere, oozing with immediacy and risk I hadn’t seen since Jeremy Lin said “screw it, if this is my last shot I’m taking everything opportunity I can get” and gave birth to Linsanity (note: he didn’t actually say that). Only Carter-Williams’ future is relatively stable, he’s just intrepid by choice.
Look: There isn’t a less enviable existence on a basketball court than playing point guard against the Miami Heat, who blitz and trap ball-handlers for the sole purpose of forcing them into reactive mistakes. Wary souls need not apply. But Carter-Williams demonstrated poise not seen in the most seasoned veterans. Stylistically reminiscent of LeBron James, Carter-Williams used his superior height and athleticism to navigate passes over the frightening arms of the Miami Heat defense to the delicate middle of the paint; an act that closely resembles flying over the Bermuda Triangle.
Michael Carter-Williams had the nerve to tempt the basketball gods in his first game; to split LeBron-Birdman pick-and-rolls, to play passing lanes with Ray Allen in the corner. It was reckless and irresponsible, yes, but brazenly beautiful.
It’s a risky existence, allowing the fates to decide whether or not LeBron James will convert an overhead pass into a steal and thunderous dunk on the other end, but it’s an important part of the charm. Yet on this night, it was Carter-Williams whose shears threatened to cut the strands of destiny; for his seventh(I know, right?) steal, Carter-Williams positioned himself on the side of LeBron that was receiving a post-entry and poked it away just a moment prior to its arrival. Sure, it was a fruitful endeavor but there’s always the chance you’ll miscalculate and leave LeBron, a one-man wrecking train, with nothing standing between him and the rim. A rookie taking a gamble against the best player in the world doesn’t just take cojones; it feels audacious.
None of this is to say Carter-Williams won’t be forced to atone for his sins. The risks involved with his style will transform into palpable mistakes. He’ll get burnt plenty. The scouting report will update and opponents will learn to go backdoor against him (among other things), an event from which Carter-Williams may never recover. The NBA has a funny way of coming around full circle on players. In fact, there’s a good chance Dwyane Wade would have dunked in Carter-Williams’ face had he suited up.
But on Wednesday this was a rookie who threw caution to the wind and as a result, the projected worst team in the Eastern Conference defeated the projected NBA champions. In an ode to the return of basketball, Carter-Williams’ performance provided an element of surprise—in both its consequence and method — that reminded us why we watch this glorious game.