After his Nov. 29 benching, Michael Carter-Williams cut all this hair off. His play has been markedly better since. Coincidence? (Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)Fans have long been frustrated (to say it lightly) about Michael Carter-Williams and his polarizing, inconsistent play. Now he may never get a chance to silence the doubters.
The Bucks announced Monday that the third-year point guard will undergo season ending surgery due to a torn labrum in his left hip. Carter-Williams is expected to miss three months. He has not participated in the last four games, last playing Feb. 27 in a loss to the Detroit Pistons. Before reports of hip soreness emerged, he was dealing with patellar tendinitis. This will be the second summer he has spent recovering from an injury. He tore the labrum in his right shoulder following his rookie season for the Philadelphia 76ers. The 11th overall selection in the 2013 draft has averaged 11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.
The 6’6″ guard has seen inconsistent adjustments between his roles as a starter and bench player this season. He was first benched Nov. 29 against Charlotte. After a string of good performances, he was reinserted into the starting lineup Dec. 16 against the Los Angeles Clippers. He struggled mightily in November, to the tune of 3.2 turnovers while averaging only 26.6 minutes per game. In December, the Bucks began to favor Khris Middleton’s emerging playmaking abilities, and he became the primary ball handler. Over the course of the next three months, Carter-Williams’ turnovers dropped to just under 2.7 in 31.2 minutes per game.
On Feb. 9, O. J. Mayo replaced Carter-Williams in the starting lineup. Head Coach Jason Kidd said this was a decision made to try something new, not based on performance. The team has seen significant improvements since Carter-Williams was demoted in favor of Mayo. In the meantime, Giannis Antetokounmpo took over the role of playmaker and ball handler. Antetokounmpo has, to put simply, dominated since taking over the role, already achieving his first three career triple-doubles in only three weeks. He has seen five games with double-digit assists, surpassing Carter-Williams’ four.
Because of his length, the former Syracuse guard has had a fair measure of hype as a defender. He has not lived up that expectation, showing ineptitude off-ball and struggling with pick and rolls. As a poor shooter, he has been a bad fit with a Bucks roster that struggles with spacing. Now, with his third year in the books at nearly 25 years-old, his development may have halted (For what it’s worth, he has had only one offseason to work on his game).
Carter-Williams remains an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker at his position (5.6 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game over his career). His three-point shooting and turnovers remain a concern, despite career-bests in both this season (27.3 percent from three and 2.8 turnovers per game). His length enables him to take advantage of mismatches and cuts to the rim. At times he has taken over a quarter like no other Buck could, driving to the basket and knocking down long shots inside the arc. He is a decent on-ball defender and pickpocket (1.7 career steals per game) and does have the potential to evolve his defensive game. Could he accept a role as a backup for the Bucks? Carter-Williams has said he is a starter in this league. Has his value decreased in the eyes of front offices around the league following this injury? Regardless, he remains a player that does not fit well with today’s perimeter-shooting NBA.
A trend of success was emerging this season with lineups featuring Carter-Williams and an extra floor-spacer replacing one of Antetokounmpo or Jabari Parker. In 89 minutes, a lineup of Jerryd Bayless/Carter-Williams/Middleton/Antetokounmpo/Monroe has a net rating of +11. In 77 minutes, a lineup featuring Mayo/Carter-Williams/Middleton/Parker/Monroe has a net rating of +3 (Both of these examples should obviously be taken with a grain of salt). Can Carter Williams develop a three-pointer at this point in his career? Can one of Antetokounmpo or Parker develop into a good enough shooter to allow Carter-Williams to play to his strengths? As both are superior slashers (and the future of this team as a championship contender!!!!), that will likely impede the Bucks’ future success.
What does all this mean for Michael Carter-Williams and his future as a Milwaukee Buck? His injury only compounds this authors’ belief that Carter-Williams’ trade value will likely not supersede his cheap $3.2 million salary of next season. It is worth seeing if the former Rookie of the Year can continue to improve his game under the tutelage of future Hall of Fame point guard Kidd, either as a piece of the future or a trade.