Even casual Philadelphia sports fans remember Michael Carter-Williams’ debut: 22 points, 12 assists, 9 steals, 7 rebounds as the Sixers upset the defending NBA champion Miami Heat, 114-110. The first play of his professional basketball career was a transition dunk!
But, as Carter was announced as the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year yesterday, he didn't cite the season opener as his favorite game. No, he cited a 111-102 road win against the Celtics in early April. After snapping a 26-game losing streak, the Sixers had won for a second time in four games. MCW had a fantastic game: 24 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, including 7 points on an 11-4 run that put it away late in the fourth. "I know we won a game to end our streak," he said yesterday, "but another win was big for us."
Michael Carter-Williams could have given up. He missed 12 games due to injuries. He struggled with turnovers. The team lost an NBA record-tying 26 straight. But his perseverance — and solid play — gave Sixers fans hope: Imagine what MCW can do with better players around him! He gave Sixers fans reason to watch.
For a team that stripped away a lot of its talent before the season and another large chunk of it midway through, the Sixers were entertaining this year. They had weird stretches: Unstoppable overachievers at the start of the season, an embarrassing 26-game losing streak, Iverson nostalgia throughout. Evan Turner, now struggling in the playoffs with the Pacers, hit two buzzer beaters for the Sixers this year! And through it all Michael Carter-Williams hustled his way to 16.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds a game.
Carter-Williams had the third-highest Player Efficiency Rating of all rookies, too — doing it in much more minutes, and at much higher rates of usage than any other rookie. MCW had a 25.3 percent usage rate this year! That's the 25th-highest rate of any player, not just rookies, in the league.
Sure, the rookie class last year was probably pretty weak. But MCW led all of them in points, rebounds and assists — only the third rookie to do that in NBA history, along with Oscar Robertson and Alvan Adams. Allen Iverson is the only other Sixer to win the Rookie of the Year. There is reason for optimism.
A year ago, there were zero reasons to be excited about the Sixers. The team was coming off a season where high-profile acquisition Andrew Bynum didn't play a minute. We didn't have a GM or a coach. Now there is a new front office in place with Sam Hinkie. He hired Brett Brown, who not only seems like a promising young NBA head coach but comes off as incredibly likable and entertaining. The team has a ton of draft picks — as well as a returning-from-injury Nerlens Noel next year. These are reasons for optimism, too, but on the court this year just about the only thing to get excited about was Michael Carter-Williams.
This latest attempt to turn the Sixers around may fail. But for now, the first piece of the Sixers' rebuilding process is looking pretty great.
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Read Richard Rys's Philadelphia magazine profile of Michael Carter-Williams.