Amongst NBA talent circles, Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams is a rare commodity. The sophomore’s combination of size, length, scoring ability, and passing from the point guard position makes him a potential lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Carter-Williams’ entire offensive game is set up by his elite first step, a trait that allows him to get into the lane and break down the opposing defense. He is a lethal offensive threat because he can finish with his length or get off difficult passes to shooters on the perimeter. As a scorer in the paint, Carter-Williams possesses a great floater from within 6-8 feet, a shot that all NBA point guards need in their arsenal. He also has great balance and long arms, allowing him to finish around bigger players from within the restricted area. As a passer, his combination of length and outstanding vision make him one of the best drive-and-dish prospects in the draft. He has no trouble finding shooters from the crowded paint, and often finds teammates from positions that most guards can’t pass from. Carter-Williams is a very good ball handler whose vision makes him a threat to create offense in transition. He is a solid midrange scorer who can catch and shoot or pull up, making him a versatile prospect with the potential to play off the ball at times at the next level. Carter-Williams takes over at times with his scoring, getting into the lane with relative ease or finding his shooting stroke from the perimeter to carry an offense.
The question with Carter-Williams on the offensive end involves why his production does not quite match up with his physical skill. As the floor general of a top-15 program, Carter-Williams’ production actually dropped rather than improved over the course of his sophomore year. Carter Williams sometimes struggles with the balance of asserting his scoring and creating offense for others, often lacking the aggressive scoring mindset to carry his team when need be. He does not demand the ball enough in the half court, often playing off the ball once a transition opportunity disappears and the pace slows down. Carter-Williams can score from all over, but he does not yet have a polished midrange or perimeter scoring game. His jumper is inconsistent at best, and needs more arc before he can rebuild the rest of his perimeter scoring game. Carter-Williams is also turnover prone, and struggles when being guarded by more physical guards. He shows flashes of the tools to be a star NBA point guard, but needs to improve his offensive consistency as a scorer and distributor to improve his stock.
At the top of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, Carter-Williams has done a great job of utilizing his length to generate turnovers and disrupt opposing guards. He has outstanding size and length to guard multiple guard positions at the next level. He already generates a high number of steals at the college level, and projects as a good on-ball defender if he adds a bit of strength to his frame. Carter-Williams frustrates shooters with his long arms, and uses his frame to battle over ball screens. Because of his long arms he can play a bit off of his man, keeping his man out of the lane without giving up an open jumper. Carter-Williams is already an above-average defensive player, with the chance to be a very good one if he adds strength and shows he can keep smaller guards in front of him when forced to guard in space.
Playing in the 2-3 zone, however, does bring up a few questions about Carter-Williams’ game that will only be answered in workouts and games at the next level. There are concerns about his foot speed and ability to keep his man in front of him, a skill that is not tested at Syracuse but will need to improve in the NBA. Carter-Williams is also an improving team defender who is sometimes slow to rotate over and has a tendency to lose his man off of the ball. He is susceptible to struggling against stronger guards in the paint, in spite of his length, because his frame is so thin. But overall, he needs to prove that he can transition from the top of the zone to broader defensive assignments, from chasing shooters around screens to guarding in the post and defending the pick and roll, skills that aren’t tested as much when defending at Syracuse.
Michael Carter-Williams’ physical frame, passing ability, and flashes of scoring production combine for a point package guard destined for the NBA Lottery. Carter-Williams combines great size and length with elite court vision and an ability to penetrate the lane as a passer and scorer. He has little trouble scoring in the lane against length and size, but can also kick out to perimeter shooters with passes that few guards at the collegiate level can make. He can take over a game as a passer or scorer, but can also cost his team in both ways on the offensive end. Carter-Williams must polish his perimeter scoring game and improve the consistency of his jump shot, while taking better care of the ball and cutting down on turnovers. Defensively, he has the physical tools to continue to wreak havoc and disrupt perimeter passing lanes thanks to his length and anticipation skills. But again, he still has more to prove, as he transitions from the 2-3 to more complex and demanding NBA defenses. Michael Carter-Williams, although a likely lottery pick, still has the feel of a prospect that leaves more to be desired regarding consistency. If he can improve as a shooter and show an ability to assert his offensive game without turning the ball over, he has the chance to join the league’s crop of elite young guards within the next few years.