Milwaukee Bucks: Is This the Season Michael Carter-Williams Breaks Out?


Is it time for Michael Carter-Williams to take a leap forward with the Milwaukee Bucks and have a breakout year?

To say that the beginning of the season has been a disappointment for the Milwaukee Bucks would be an understatement.

After signing Greg Monroe in the offseason, the Bucks were a trendy pick to vault up the standings and improve upon their 41-41 record of a season ago. On Thursday night they suffered a primetime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers to bring their record to 5-7.  That places them near the bottom of a surprisingly jam-packed Eastern Conference.

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There are reasons for concern, injuries have piled up and a 29th ranked defensive rating sure doesn’t help, but it’s not time to press the alarm siren just yet. However, they still need something to pull them out of their current funk.

One player that Milwaukee needs to see improve is starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams. So far, his Bucks career has been a bit of a mixed bag. The trade to acquire the 6’6″ point guard was slightly controversial when it happened, especially among fans. The Bucks were riding high, enjoying an unexpected run of success, highlighted by their stifling defense and the contributions of young up and comers like Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Then, just like that, Knight was dealt to Phoenix and Carter-Williams became a Buck. It was his turn to run the show on a playoff team after spending his entire career in Sam Hinkie’s funhouse of losing.

In 25 games with Milwaukee he averaged 14.1 points, 5.6 assists, and, 4.0 rebounds per game. Not too shabby on the surface, but his shooting struggles followed him from Philly. MCW shot only 42.9 percent from the floor and a ghastly 14.3 percent from outside. The Bucks also finished the regular season 10-15 with Carter-Williams in the lineup.

Nov 14, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd (L) talks to guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) during the the first overtime period against the Cleveland Cavaliers at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks won 108-105. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you liked the deal or not, Carter-Williams is here to stay for the foreseeable future. It’s his and Jason Kidd’s responsibility to make sure he develops into a competent NBA point guard.

Considering all his baggage, and the conflicting opinions about him, MCW is such a confusing player to watch.

Immediately you notice the talent and his impressive measurables. Combining his height with long, gangly arms he looks the part of a playmaking point guard who could be an absolute monster defensively. He’s a good ball-handler, and can make a flashy pass or two, but then he takes a jumper or throws a ball into the stands and fans are left shaking their heads in bewilderment.

Seeing such a talented player with a career outside shooting percentage of 25.5 percent and a career turnover rate of 18.2 percent can be mind boggling. It’s not safe for work or school, kids.

MCW began his career in 2013-2014 with the Philadelphia 76ers. This was year one of their notorious “trust the process” era, so the roster was comprised of Carter-Williams (the 11th overall pick before the season) and a collection of dudes that were lucky to even make an NBA roster. They stunk, but he became a household name as he carried the offense.

He won the 2014 Rookie of the Year award after averaging 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game. He also racked up triple-doubles like they were going out of style which made him a must see highlight machine. The accolades, the subpar talent around him, the highlight reel performances distracted fans and media alike from noticing his dreadful shooting numbers.

Carter-Williams’ play started debate among basketball circles (usually Twitter and comment sections) about whether gaudy points, assists, and rebounds totals meant anything if they were attained in such an inefficient manner.

Nov 14, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 108-105. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been bearish on Carter-Williams his entire career. He just hasn’t looked like he was capable of turning into an above average NBA player. In the era of pace and space how can a team rely on a point guard that can’t shoot? Yet, somehow, today I come to you flowing with basketball optimism.

I think Carter-Williams becomes a solid NBA point guard, and I think this is the season the transformation begins.

The one promising part of this season has been the realization that this Bucks teams can flat out score. They’ve got guys that can get buckets, which is a significant change from last season’s 26th ranked offense. The Bucks now have the 11th best offensive rating in the NBA, scoring 104.1 points per 100 possessions.

Greg Monroe provides a serious threat in the low post, Khris Middleton has struggled so far but last season he proved he can be relied on as a top scoring option, Jabari Parker is back from injury and should provide a scoring punch.

Then there’s Giannis. The Greek Freak is coming into his own this season and is currently averaging career highs in points and field goal percentage (18.4 points per game with a 52.1 percent field goal percentage). Last night he even outdueled LeBron, pouring in 33 points on 12-for-15 shooting.

That means MCW doesn’t have to be a scorer on this team. Worry less about improving the jump-shot and focus on creating for the scorers while locking down the opposing team’s point guard defensively. He needs to be a creator and a caretaker, not necessarily a scorer. He can run the offense without feeling the need to carry a significant portion of the scoring load. If he occasionally knocks down an open three-pointer or pull-up jumper that’s just icing on the cake.

They may not be as easy as I’ve made it sound, but the key for Carter-Williams may be focusing on his strengths rather than attempting to improve a weakness that may be too far gone to repair. Or, there’s always the chance that with a little coaching and some hard work that MCW will discover the shooting touch that has eluded him during his young career.

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If anyone can turn him into a good player it has to be Jason Kidd, right? Kidd played point guard in the NBA for 19 seasons and turned himself into a reliable outside shooter after beginning his career as someone that was jokingly referred to as “Ason Kidd” (no J). If there is any coach in the league well equipped to help a young player locate a missing jump-shot, it’s Kidd.

When healthy and in the lineup Carter-Williams is showing signs of improvement this season. Through seven games he’s averaging 12.7 points and 5.1 assists per game on 42.7 percent shooting. His three-point stroke has even improved, at the moment he’s knocking down 33.3 percent of his outside shots on 2.1 attempts per game.

He’s also showcasing an improved mid-range game, his 41.7 percent mark from between 16 feet and the three-point line would be a career high. He’s still turning the ball over 3.4 times per game, but that’s down from his career average of 3.7. Progress! It’s early, but there are reasons to be optimistic. Just don’t look at his on/off stats.

Am I letting his physical tools and my glass half full mentality distract me from truth? Is MCW just going to let me down with bricked three-pointer after bricked three-pointer? One thing is certain. If the Bucks are going to reach their full potential this season, they need Michael Carter-Williams to reach his.