One month is not enough time to fairly judge a player. And it has not even been that long since Michael Carter-Williams first arrived in Milwaukee on Feb. 19. Plus, he missed the first three games post-trade and sat out the team’s most recent game as well. The trade signaled a long-term approach versus a short-term one. But if you are thinking a lot about a player after just nine games, and if that player happens to be Carter-Williams, here are some things you could think about.
He is shooting from the field better than ever.
Shooting is not his strength, but he is doing it better with Milwaukee than he ever did with Philadelphia. As a rookie, he shot 40.5 percent from the field, and before the trade this season he was at 38.0 percent. Since joining the Bucks, Carter-Williams is shooting 43.9 percent from the field. Not a fantastic number, but in fact it is better even than Brandon Knight (43.5 percent) was shooting with the Bucks this season.
Speaking of whom … and I am not going to give this the satisfaction of bolding: He is playing better with Milwaukee than Brandon Knight is playing with Phoenix.
This one really is not important. Knight (shooting 37.6 percent with Phoenix) has also played just 10 games. It is way too small of a sample size. Knight is far better than what he has shown so far with the Suns. But just for some perspective, Carter-Williams has so far outplayed Knight by virtually every metric since the trade. I am not going to bother to get into the details, because again, this is not the point. Just so you know.
He is shooting from the mid-range better than ever (even quite well).
A weakness of weaknesses, Carter-Williams has transformed into a positively adequate shooter from the mid-range with the Bucks. He is at 42.9 percent on shots from 10-16 feet (compared to 31.3 percent with the 76ers this season), and 39.1 percent from 16 feet to the 3-point line (up from 23.0 percent with the 76ers this season).
On those long twos from 16 feet to the 3-point line, his 39.1 percent with the Bucks puts him in this type of company this season: LeBron James (39.9 percent), Tony Parker (39.8 percent), Kyle Lowry (39.0 percent), Damian Lillard (37.9 percent), Brandon Knight (37.4 percent), Bradley Beal (36.7 percent).
He is shooting free throws much better than ever (and getting to the line more than ever).
For a point guard (okay, for anyone), Carter-Williams has always really struggled at the stripe. He shot 56.5 percent as a freshman at Syracuse. This season with Philadelphia, he was at 64.3 percent.
Well, not only is he getting to the line more than ever (both on a per-minute and per-game basis), but he is knocking them down at a solid clip as well, converting 83.0 percent with the Bucks. In his most recent game, he made 12-of-15 from the stripe.
He is shooting fewer 3-pointers than ever.
You got me. The phrasing has changed. Carter-Williams is in fact not shooting threes better than ever, that is for sure. He is just 1-13 (.077) from long range with Milwaukee.
However, it is somewhat encouraging to see him simply not shooting as often from deep. This season with Philadelphia, he was attempting 3.0 threes per game, despite making just 25.6 percent. At that type of percentage, shooting threes is not an efficient choice. Since joining the Bucks, he has been more discerning, attempting just 1.4 threes per game. In the long run, you have to hope that cutting down on the attempts would increase the accuracy. In the meantime, simply cutting down on the attempts is a start.
His points per minute is better than ever.
Very close call, but true. While his points per game numbers are slightly down because his minutes are down, his points per minute numbers are actually up (quite slightly) from each of his seasons with the 76ers.
He has a better assist percentage than anyone on the team in the last five years.
Carter-Williams has an assist percentage of 32.7 since joining the Bucks. That is better than anyone on the team this season, even slightly better than the departed Kendall Marshall (Marshall has the slight edge in assists per minute). In fact, it is the best number of any Bucks player since Ramon Sessions and his 34.6 back in 2008-09 (given that, perhaps we should not read too far into this one).
In terms of assists per minute and turnovers per minute, he is coincidentally the same in Milwaukee as he was during his time in Philadelphia.
He is racking up more steals than ever (and the Bucks have been fantastic on defense with him on the court).
Just about everything so far in this story has been about offense. Defense is even harder to figure out. But the team has really been much better on defense than offense with Carter-Williams on the court. To be fair, the team was consistently excellent on defense before he arrived, so it is debatable how much credit he is due.
But at the very least, he has not hurt on that side of the ball, and perhaps even helping a good thing. The Bucks have a defensive rating of 98.5 while he is on the court. To put that in perspective, the Bucks overall have a 99.1 defensive rating this season, which is the second best in the entire NBA.
Also: Carter-Williams is averaging 2.0 steals per game in just 30.2 minutes, the best rate of his career on a per minute basis.
He has a better PER than ever.
His 18.2 PER with the Bucks is a whole lot better than the 12.9 PER he had with the 76ers earlier this season, or even the 13.5 PER of last season. I already almost regret bringing this up, but it is better than Knight’s overall PER this season of 17.5.
The Bucks are 3-6 with him in the lineup.
That is not such a great record. The team offense has not been good (actually, bad, like worst in the league) for a full month now, and part of that falls on Carter-Williams.
Just because he happens to be the most prominent new player on the team during that time though, it does not mean he is fully or even most responsible for the team record or sputtering offense.
In his nine games, the team has also been without some key players. Of course, Jabari Parker has missed all nine games, O.J. Mayo has missed six games, Jerryd Bayless has missed three games, Jared Dudley has missed a game, and so on. Then again, the team had played quite well in spite of major absences until recently. So that one feels more like excuse than reason.
More importantly, the team simply has gone cold offensively after a real hot streak that lasted large parts of January and early February. Specifically, the bench is no longer routinely outplaying its counterparts, as players such as Dudley, Bayless and Zaza Pachulia have seen their efficiency dip since All-Star Weekend.
As the point guard, Carter-Williams is tasked with making his teammates better, to oversimplify it. That is fair, though, especially since he is not out there dominating games by himself. But it also appears fair to say that a number of his teammates have struggled all on their own since his arrival, and it is hard to tie that closely to Carter-Williams.
The Bucks are outscoring opponents with him on the court.
This seems potentially important, at least to consider in conjunction with the unflattering team record. As a starter in all nine of his games, playing largely against other starters, the Bucks have outscored their opponents with Carter-Williams on the court.
Here are the numbers, from the perception versus reality file: +10 with Carter-Williams on the court, -34 with him off the court.
With the team not winning as often, it has been hard to appreciate Carter-Williams, and easier to blame him. Even for me, as I was surprised also to see that his individual numbers – while incredibly imperfect across the board – are a bit better than expected so far.
So far has not been very far, but it also has not been so bad.