Michael Carter-Williams Ready as Ever, Even in Scrimmage Opener

Michael Carter-Williams
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- It’s difficult to garner many takeaways from a team’s opening scrimmage in the restart of the 2019-20 NBA season.

Every performance has to be filtered through a lens that takes into account that players are coming off a four-month-plus layoff, they’ve had just two weeks of organized practices and many key members of teams are either on minute restrictions or absent from lineups. However, that’s the world they’re living in and those that can morph quickest into prime postseason form will have a distinct advantage this season.

Under these circumstances, Michael Carter-Williams is built for success. Having had to fight on numerous occasions just to maintain his place on a roster and remain in the league, he knows the value of staying ready.

That was evident in the Orlando Magic’s opening scrimmage against the L.A. Clippers as Carter-Williams stormed up and down the floor, bearing a strong resemblance to the key role player that was averaging 10.8 points on 49.1 percent shooting from the field in the eight games before the hiatus.

In just 18 minutes of action, MCW posted 16 points and three assists, while going 6-for-11 from the floor.

“He’s played well,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said. “He was one of the guys that was here and took full advantage of the individual workouts that we did. He’s practiced very well and he continued that (against the Clippers).”

His high-energy level was evident throughout the contest. Not only did he play with pace in transition, but he carried the second unit offensively at the start of the fourth quarter, scoring eight of his points in the final frame.

“He’s a very, very energetic guy for us,” Magic center Nikola Vucevic explained. “He always brings energy when he comes into the game and at times it changes the game.”

Ever the uber competitor, Carter-Williams found himself, along with his teammates, frustrated at times during the scrimmage that they weren’t as sharp of a unit as they were at the end of last season with eight regular season games remaining on the schedule.

“We want to win and we want to compete,” he said. “We want to be where we were at the end of last year and it’s frustrating to go out there and we’re not. But it’s going to take time and we’ve got to realize that it’s only day one.”

It’s those lofty expectations and competitive spirit that make him such a valuable piece on the squad.

“Since we’ve been back practicing as a team, he’s really been playing well, playing hard and just competing,” Vucevic said. “That’s what he does. He had a good game for us, he was aggressive trying to get to the paint, which he’s very good at, so it was good to see. We need him when he comes off the bench to bring that energy.”

Along with his tenacious spirit, the Magic are hoping that Carter-Williams can swiftly resume shooting close to his pre-hiatus level. Along with shooting 49.1 percent from the floor in the Magic’s final eight games, MCW also shot 42.1 percent from 3-point range.

“He’s tough out there,” Magic forward Aaron Gordon said. “He makes the right plays, makes hustle plays, and his jumper is coming along. He’s knocking down the three ball now, so that’s also helping us as well.”

The seven-year veteran and former NBA Rookie of the Year credits his steady shooting improvement to his work with Magic assistant coaches Bruce Kreutzer and Steve Hetzel.

“Bruce has been a big part of that,” he said. “He’s helped me out with my feet, with just little things here and there. And then, just getting the reps in and just working. Him and coach Hetzel have done a great job with me of just getting a lot of shots up and just being in the gym.”

Even when Markelle Fultz returns to the lineup – the Magic’s starting point guard is still working himself into game shape after missing the team’s first seven practices to deal with personal matters not related to COVID-19 – and D.J. Augustin slides into the backup point guard role, Carter-Williams still provides a valuable piece for Orlando as a secondary ballhandler and an elite defender capable of guarding primary ballhandlers as well as opposing wings.

For the Magic (30-35) to jump ahead of the Brooklyn Nets (30-34) for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, they’ll need MCW to remain a key second-unit contributor. And if the scrimmage opener was any indication, he’ll be as ready as ever.

“This is when the real competitors will come to the front, because even though it’s (just restarting) we’re playing – our team – the eight most important games that we’ll play all year,” Clifford said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re fortunate Mike is with us. He’s highly competitive.”

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