Carter-Williams Making Most of Opportunity

Magic sign veteran point guard to second 10-day contract
by John Denton

ORLANDO – In something of a no-brainer of a personnel move on Monday, the Orlando Magic rewarded point guard Michael Carter-Williams for his stellar play thus far with a second 10-day contract.

A much more difficult decision on Carter-Williams’ long-term future with the Magic could come in early April.

The 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams, a former Rookie of the Year award winner in 2014, signed his first 10-day contract on March 15 and he immediately helped Orlando to wins in his first three games in Magic pinstripes. During those first three games, Carter-Williams averaged 3.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists over 16.4 minutes per night. Those stats don’t begin to tell the impact he’s had on the team as he helped shut down Atlanta’s Trae Young defensively, contributed four points, five rebounds, two assists and a block in the rout of New Orleans and he snagged two key rebounds in Friday’s stirring overtime defeat of Memphis.

``He’s played well,’’ said Magic coach Steve Clifford said of Carter-Williams, who worked previously with Carter-Williams in Charlotte, allowing him to pick up the Orlando offensive and defensive sets quicker. ``Both ends of the floor - we’ve played well offensively when he’s on the floor and we’ve played well defensively. And, obviously, as you saw the other night (in the win over Memphis), he’s such a good rebounder for his position.’’

Carter-Williams will see his second 10-day contract expire on April 3, and the Magic will then have to make the decision whether to sign the veteran point guard for the rest of the season or cut ties with him. By then, fellow reserve point guard Isaiah Briscoe – who had arthroscopic surgery to repair torn meniscus in his right knee on March 13 – could be close to a return. Jerian Grant, a backup to starter D.J. Augustin, is also an option.

The 27-year-old Carter-Williams knows that he is likely fighting for his NBA life in Orlando, and he wants to do everything in his power to impress the Magic with his play.

``This is very important. I don’t know, you know, how many more chances I’m going to get,’’ Carter-Williams said recently. ``I don’t take (for granted) anything. I’m going to play hard every possession, try to make the right play all the time and just have fun. I love the game and I love playing at the highest level. I believe I’ve still got a long career to go, but I’ve just got to work hard every day, do my due diligence, study, take care of my body, keep getting shots up be confident in myself and listen.’’

POSITIONAL VERSATILITY: As analytics and small-ball tactics have steadily infiltrated their way into the NBA game, terms such as ``positional flexibility’’ and ``position-less rosters’’ have become more prevalent.

More so than ever, NBA teams are starting to stack their rosters with versatile players capable of playing multiple positions offensively and able to guard different-sized players defensively.
The Magic, for example, have stockpiled their roster with the likes of Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, two Swiss Army knife-type of forwards capable of playing either on the perimeter or in the post. Wes Iwundu, a second-round pick from 2017, has also evolved into a weapon off the Orlando bench because of his abilities as a defender against point guards, shooting guards and small forwards.

``Just like every other game, I try to go in with the same mindset of trying to make some things happen on the defensive end,’’ said Iwundu, who came into Monday knowing he could potentially guard Philadelphia standouts Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler or J.J. Redick. ``I have to know my assignments, come in focused and try to give our team the best chance to win.’’

Magic center Nikola Vucevic thinks his team’s positional versatility is one of the reasons that it has matched up so well this season against the star-studded 76ers. Prior to Monday, the three meetings between the two teams – two wins for the Sixers and one for the Magic – had been decided by a combined total of 14 points.

``We feel like we matchup pretty well against them,’’ said Vucevic, who averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and 1.7 steals in the first three games against Philadelphia. ``We have size that we can use against their size. And we have some good matchups that (are) fun. Obviously, me and Embiid, (Aaron Gordon) will usually guard (Ben) Simmons and (Jonathan) Isaac probably on Tobias (Harris), so we have good size to throw against them. But they’re obviously very talented with a lot of good players.’’

PRAISE FROM BRETT BROWN: Prior to Monday’s game, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown had high praise for Vucevic and Magic teammate Terrence Ross. Part of the reason for Brown’s complimentary words, of course, is the success the two players have had against the Sixers.

Vucevic, who was drafted by the Sixers in 2011 and traded to Orlando in 2012, has played well throughout his career against Philadelphia. In 22 games versus the Sixers prior to Wednesday, Vucevic – an all-star this season for the first time – has averaged 19.5 points and 12.1 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 45.8 percent from 3-point range.

``I think he’s one of the most underrated players in our league,’’ Brown said. ``I think night in, night out he just sort of gets it done. He is a big man that is nimble and his ability to use both hands close to the basket efficiently is excellent. And I think over the years, defensively he’s improved a lot. I think the thing that stands out the most is his reliability. I just feel like he’s somebody, for the most part, who you know what you’re going to get night in, night out. And in today’s modern NBA, that isn’t entirely common. I respect his professionalism and consistency.’’

As for Ross, Brown has noticed a major shift in the shooting guard’s aggressiveness – one possible reason why he’s averaged career highs in scoring (14.8) and rebounding (3.5) and has already registered career highs in field goals made (390), field goal attempts (914), made 3-pointers (185) and 3-point attempts (489). In Orlando’s defeat of Philadelphia on Nov. 14, Ross scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and he drilled the game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds.

``He’s just a bouncy athlete who is a fearless type of scorer,’’ Brown raved. ``He can score in bunches and from range. And the thing that stands out the most, especially lately, is his mindset. He is really aggressive and he’s somebody we talk a lot about in a scouting report.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic will be in South Florida on Tuesday night to face the rival Miami Heat in what could be described as the franchise’s most significant game in seven seasons. Orlando hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012, and in many of the years since then, the team was out of the running by the break for the NBA All-Star Game.

Against Miami, the Magic will be able to have a hand in their playoff fate. Orlando is already 2-1 this season against the rival Heat, winning 104-101 in the season-opener in Orlando and 105-90 in Miami on Dec. 5. The Heat captured the third meeting on Dec. 23, winning 115-91 at the Amway Center.

With a win on Tuesday, the Magic can clinch the tiebreaker over the Heat should the two teams finish with identical records. Even if Orlando loses on Tuesday and the season series is knotted at 2-2, the Magic can still capture the tiebreaker by virtue of its record among Southeast Division foes. As of now, the Heat are 7-8 in the division, while the Magic are 7-6. Orlando plays its final Southeast Division game on April 5 when it hosts the Atlanta Hawks.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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