Michael Carter-Williams - from his first official NBA game - proved himself worthy of the league's top rookie honor. The 22-point, 7-rebound, 12-assist, 9-steal effort he displayed on opening night against the Miami Heat was just a glimpse of the well-rounded box line that the 6'6" tall, 185-pound point guard was capable of delivering on a regular basis.
On Monday morning, what was presumed for the better part of the regular season, and recently had been reported as fact by local media, was indeed confirmed; Carter-Williams won the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy as NBA Rookie of the Year. He and Allen Iverson are the only two players in Philadelphia 76ers franchise history to earn the recognition. This past season, Carter-Williams paced all rookies with 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.86 steals; Iverson averaged 23.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 2.1 steals during the 1996-1997 season.
Carter-Williams offered plenty of memorable showings over the course of his first 70 games as a pro:
- As a part of his promising debut week, Carter-Williams not only held his own against the defending champion Miami Heat, but also out-played Chicago Bulls MVP-winning point guard Derrick Rose, posting 26 points and 10 assists in the Sixers' third game of the season.
- On December 3rd, Carter-Williams went toe-to-toe in a triple-double showdown with the Orlando Magic's Victor Oladipo, who was second to Carter-Williams in Rookie of the Year voting. That game marked the first of two triple-doubles on the season for Carter-Williams.
- There were also two 30-point games that the Syracuse product offered, albeit in losing causes; Carter-Williams put up a career-best 33 points at Cleveland on January 7th, and later had 31 points at Washington on January 20th.
While there were many individual, isolated games in which Carter-Williams stood out, the consistency with which he competed at the start and finish of the year was arguably his most impressive achievement. In 19 games over his first two months, Carter-Williams reached double-figure point totals 18 times; also during this period, he accumulated 143 assists against 67 turnovers (with his turnover total only once exceeding his assist total), and manufactured eight double-doubles.
After converting 13 of 22 field goal attempts for 31 points at the Washington Wizards on Martin Luther King Day, Carter-Williams' shooting touch declined for a bit. At that point, he had been hitting 41.5 percent of his shots and averaging 17.5 points through 30 games. Over the next 30 games, his field goal shooting dipped to 36.7 percent, and his scoring average went down by two points. Amidst this stretch, which coincided with the Sixers trading away two of their best players, and the team's 26-game losing streak, both Carter-Williams and his head coach, Brett Brown, acknowledged that the rookie was dealing with fatigue.
Despite the physical and mental burdens he assumed in the closing months of the Sixers' 19-63 season, Carter-Williams managed to find a spark that helped him finish strong. Beginning with the Sixers' slump-busting win over the Detroit Pistons on March 29th, Carter-Williams looked re-energized, exhibiting some of his most efficient scoring of the season by knocking down 51 percent of the attempts he took over the team's final 10 games. On top of that, he gave away no more than three turnovers in each of his last nine outings. Here's a breakdown of the splits referenced above:
- Games 1-30: 34.6 M / 17.5 P / 41.4 FG% / 69.5 FT% / 5.7 R / 6.7 A / 3.4 TO / 2.5 S
- Games 31-60: 35.1 M / 15.5 P / 36.7 FG% / 68.6 FT% / 5.9 R / 5.9 A / 4.1 TO / 1.3 S
- Games 61-70: 32.4 M / 17.8 P / 51.2 FG% / 77.2 FT% / 7.6 R / 6.4 A / 2.2 TO / 1.5 S
"I was thrilled with the way our team competed the last few weeks of the season, where it would be very easy to roll over. Michael didn't, the team didn't, the coaching staff didn't allow it, and we moved forward," Brett Brown said today. The Sixers won four times the last two weeks of the season. "I thought we were playing pretty good basketball at the end, and a large part of that was [Carter-Williams'] leadership.
Carter-Williams expressed appreciation for and pride in receiving the Rookie of the Year trophy at a ceremonial press conference held afternoon. He sounded happy about the individual accomplishment, but also spoke about helping his team take its next step.
"One day, I'd love to be an All-Star, and do all those great things," Carter-Williams said. "But, I think, after this year, my goal is to bring my team to the playoffs. It's a goal that I can realistically be focused on, working towards getting wins to the playoffs."
Brown indicated again today that it might take an additional two or three seasons for the Sixers to be in position to regularly contend for a post-season berth, but Carter-Williams' first season has at least given the franchise reason to believe that such a mission is achievable.