Can Michael Carter-Williams Thrive Off The Bench?


With his chances of starting looking slim of late, could Michael Carter-Williams really thrive off the Milwaukee Bucks bench?

There have been very few highs and a lot of lows to the start of this Milwaukee Bucks season.

While we’ve seen promising performances from the young core of players, it’s been overshadowed a bit by multiple blowout losses. To compound that, what was supposed to carry over from last season as the Bucks biggest strength, that highly rated and aggressive defense, had been their biggest Achilles’ heel before the end of November.

After yet another dispiriting loss to the Orlando Magic about two Fridays ago, it was time to make a change in order to try to turn the team’s fortunes around before a very tough month of December.

Now it’s been a little more than a week since that controversial lineup change made by coach Jason Kidd, which saw, a very inconsistent Michael Carter-Williams, and Jabari Parker, who has still been working his way back from a torn ACL, head to the bench.

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Putting the controversy aside, it was clear that the decision was to try to recapture some of the defensive prowess that the team grew to have last year, whether coach Kidd would admit that or not.

However, what obviously can’t be lost was the clear message sent to the very polarizing Carter-Williams in hopes that he could turn around his play after a dismal stretch of games.

The early returns are in and while the team went 2-3 this past week, they’ve started to curb some of those overall defensive problems that have plagued them from the beginning of the season as they’ve been the second highest rated defense since the lineup change.

But what’s more interesting is Carter-Williams’ role in all of this and when the Bucks win in general.

You wouldn’t look at Carter-Williams’ traditional stats since the move to the bench and come away impressed.

After all, aside from the decrease in turnovers (3.6 turnovers per game as a starter to 2 turnovers per game since the move to the bench, per, his numbers are largely the same, give or take.

But his advanced statistics tell a different story, the one that we expected to see entering the year. Again, per, Carter-Williams’ advanced numbers have improved dramatically on almost all fronts, with the most encouraging improvement being his dRTG per 100 possessions falling from 113 points per 100 possessions to 87.2 points per 100 possessions over the last five games.

Yes, the sample size is quite small and the opponents the Bucks faced this past week range in the middle of the league offensively, but Carter-Williams’ improvements are encouraging especially without much of a minute change.

Nov 30, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams (5) dunks during the game against the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks beat the Nuggets 92-74. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t end there, though.

Carter-Williams’ win/loss splits are incredibly illuminating on what his impact means to this Bucks team and speaks on what’s been his biggest knock against him since joining the team mid-season last year which has been his inconsistency.

So what does this all mean going forward? Does Carter-Williams return to the starting lineup once/if Kidd has his faith restored in him?

Well, Kidd addressed that question before the start of the game Saturday, but even after a strong game from Carter-Williams against the Knicks, it seems more likely that we see MCW coming off the bench and either Greivis Vasquez or Jerryd Bayless become the team’s starting point guard once either of them return from their respective ankle injuries.

But could this by the role (we’ll call it the “super-sub”) that Carter-Williams can hopefully grow accustomed to playing for this team?

It’s very easy to look at the role change for Carter-Williams as the team already giving up on him this early into the season, which has already been rightly pointed out by some very smart writers/followers of the NBA, and again another reason to reignite the great trade debate.

However, Carter-Williams’ play was the reason for the role change and now that we’re starting to see a bit of consistency from him without any drop-off in minutes (which may have to do with the injuries to the other point guards), it’s a role he can hopefully continue to thrive in.

Yes, it’s incredibly unconventional and as unpopular as the decision was to some (myself included) to move Carter-Williams to the bench, it’s hard to argue against it, given the performances we’ve been seeing from him.

It remains to be seen whether this can keep up as it’s been the recurring theme with Carter-Williams, but he ultimately controls his own destiny on if he’ll ever fully integrate himself back into the starting lineup or continues as a “super-sub.”

But once you think about it, it’s arguably no different to what he’s been asked to do lately.