Michael Carter-Williams: The Leader of the Milwaukee Bucks


Giannis Antetokounmpo is not the leader of the Milwaukee Bucks. He may well be the player with the brightest future on the team, and could be the franchise’s cornerstone from here on out. But he’s not the team’s leader–at least not yet.

It’s also not Jabari Parker, or Khris Middleton, or Greg Monroe, or even John Henson. Those four are all good players with lots of potential too, but none of them are the leader of the Bucks. That responsibility falls on a man who might be objectively worse than all five of the players previously mentioned–Michael Carter-Williams.

Carter-Williams has been mired in controversy since John Hammond decided to swing the deal that brought him to Milwaukee. He’s been adored and berated by the Bucks fanbase–often simultaneously. We here at Behind the Buck Pass have called the trade that brought Carter-Williams “Milwaukee’s Harden trade”.

More from Bucks News

That’s a lofty comparison–the deal that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets is one of the more important and controversial deals that’s gone down perhaps in league history–but it might just be accurate.

MCW’s role as a key component of the Young Bucks that are to someday bring a championship to Milwaukee has come with a lot of scrutiny, but that’s nothing new to him.

In his rookie season (in which he won Rookie of the Year, for what it’s worth), Carter-Williams was a part of a 76ers team that tied the NBA record for consecutive losses. Anyone who followed NBA twitter around that time can easily remember the huge number of jokes made at the 76ers’–and at Carter-Williams’–expense.

But the thing about Michael Carter-Williams is that he doesn’t really give a damn what people on social media or elsewhere think. When HoopsHype interviewed him after that streak was broken, this is what MCW said about the negative media attention he received:

"I am a person where things don’t get to me that easily and I am able to block things out and focus on what is important, which is my coaches and teammates. People are going to say what they want to say. That is why there is freedom of speech, but I am focused on our guys and coaches."

Aside from a deft understanding of the Bill of Rights, Carter-Williams really shows who he is here. MCW is about winning basketball games with the help of his teammates and coaches–he’s not about Twitter trolls.

One of the biggest criticisms levied against Carter-Williams in his Bucks’ tenure so far is his tendency to try to do too much in crucial situations. He’s been getting better at distributing the basketball more, but even when Carter-Williams was launching into hero ball mode it was apparent he really didn’t care if he was 6-7 or 0-7 so far that game–he still had confidence in himself, and was trying to win.

And can you really blame Michael Carter-Williams for thinking he still had to do everything for a team, when he came from a Philadelphia 76ers team where he did have to do everything? MCW was top three in points, assists, rebounds and steals per game on the 76ers in his rookie season, and was second to only Tony Wroten in usage rate.

Apr 30, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) during the game against the Chicago Bulls in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Chicago won 120-66. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

That team was nothing without Michael Carter-Williams. He was accustomed to being the first option on offense for most of his NBA career, and it took him some time to get out of that mindset. That makes a lot of sense. Fortunately for Milwaukee, he hasn’t shaken every part of his Philly self–MCW is still a leader, and a fighter, on the floor.

It was Carter-Williams who gathered his team together in a meeting after their 26th consecutive loss against the Houston Rockets, and told them they “had to come out swinging and fighting every single possession” to break that streak and win their next game. And they did.

In the 123-98 win over the Detroit Pistons, Carter-Williams scored 21 points, to go along with seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block. He led his team in plus-minus and carved up a former Buck, Brandon Jennings.

Despite his great effort (and it wasn’t solely that game against the Pistons in which Carter-Williams played hard, and well), the common narrative was still that he was part of a team that was tanking.

This was something he addressed in a particularly good Player’s Tribune article early in his sophomore season:

"When I was riding the bench my freshman year at Syracuse, I used to stay in the gym so late doing dribbling drills that I had to superglue my fingers to stop them from bleeding.You can question my shooting. You can question my ceiling. Just don’t question if I’m giving my all every single night. Don’t talk to me about tanking."

That kind of fiery dedication has never left Michael Carter-Williams. In his first game back with the Bucks after a plantaris injury in his foot sidelined him for five games, MCW showed both his talent and his tenacity in a single Vine:

That is what the Bucks have been missing lately. Everyone knows by now that Giannis is good for a stink face moment now and again, but no one on this Milwaukee Bucks team fights as hard night in and night out as Michael Carter-Williams does.

Carter-Williams learned more than how to ignore the media and play hard in Philadelphia, though. He also learned to lead. When asked about growing as a leader in that same HoopsHype piece, he had this to say:

"It took me a while, but I think from that moment [when veterans were traded away] on I just felt like I needed to say what I needed to say."

Carter-Williams knows what he needs to say. Having to lead a team as a 22-year-old rookie can’t have been easy, but Michael Carter-Williams managed to do it. That’s something that nobody on the Bucks besides him can say.

Since guys like Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley were around until Carter-Williams arrived, none of the other Bucks had to take on that responsibility. Giannis and Jabari are both developing and maturing quickly, but neither of them truly leads the Bucks.

More from Behind the Buck Pass

This is now the second team Michael Carter-Williams has been on where the veterans who provided much of the leadership were traded away. Just like in Philadelphia, Carter-Williams seized that opportunity–and responsibility–for himself.

MCW is the heart and soul of this team, and he’s been through enough in his short time in the Association to be its leader too. He’s smart, he’s fierce, and he’s pretty damn good at basketball.

Now, watch him lead the Young Bucks from here on out like a good point guard should–decisively, intelligently, and ferociously. After all, you can question a lot about Michael Carter-Williams, but you can never question if he’s giving it his all every single night.