After a solid rookie reason, Michael Carter-Williams needs to expand
The NBA is in the midst of golden age of point guards, and this has been showcased perfectly by the playoffs.
A look around the league's landscape at all the current contenders shows a striking similarity; almost all of the league's top teams are led by athletic elite-level point guards. The list of point guards competing in this year's Playoffs reads like an All-Star team: Tony Parker, Damien Lillard, Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley, Jeff Teague, John Wall, Deron Williams, Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, and of course a (seemingly-always) injured Derrick Rose are all playoff participants.
Basically, every team that is a true contender has a proto-point. The lone exception is the Miami Heat, which has some guy named LeBron James who handles a large portion of the play-making.
The league's abundance of point guard excellence isn't limited to playoff participants either. Plenty of all-star caliber guards got an early jump on summer this season. Rajon Rondo, Eric Bledsoe, Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, and Ricky Rubio are among those in the mix with the league's elite.
In short, current point guard competition is tough.
After his developmentally and statistically successful rookie reason, Michael Carter-Williams took a solid step toward adding his name to that of the elite, but he needs to continue to improve and expand if he wants to consistently compete, and succeed against, the league's deep roster of talented point guards.
Generally, Carter-Williams needs to get stronger. The addition of strength isn't a specific skill, but it will aid in his improvement in all areas. He doesn't need to get overly jacked up - just enough to help him absorb extra contact and exploit smaller defenders.
Outside of simply adding some size, here are a few other areas that Carter-Williams can concentrate on improving in order to continue his development and maximize his potential:
Add a steady pull-up jumper: Carter-Williams' shot is an obvious area of improvement, and specifically, he should work to perfect his pull-up. He has the ball in his hands quite a bit throughout the course of a game, and if defenses have to be constantly aware of his ability to pull-up on a dime, it will open up the rest of the floor.
Carter-Williams looked hesitant to shoot at times this season. Defenders would often play off of him, respecting his ability to drive and dish, but not showing the same respect for his shot. If defenders have to respect his shot, they will stick closer to him, affording him increased opportunity to beat them off of the dribble and break down the defense.
The development of a pull-up jumper will be especially prudent in the pick-and-roll, where defenders have been going under screens for Carter-Williams, making it more difficultfor him to make plays. If Carter-Williams improves on his pull-up, defenders will be forced to go over those screens, in turn opening up a plethora of possibilities on the offensive end.
Carter-Williams was able to be extremely productive offensively without the aid of a consistent pull-up jump shot. The addition of one will greatly expand his game and what he is able to do on the offensive end.
Develop a post-up game: As a pure point guard, Michael Carter-Williams has size that coaches dream about and drool over. His lanky, 6-foot-6' frame gives him a size advantage over most of his peers at the position. Now he needs to expand the way he exploits that advantage. He would be an immediate mismatch for most points in the post, and his vision would make him especially effective from a posted position.
With his back to the basket in the block, it would be extremely difficult to stop Carter-Williams if he developed a post-up game. He would be able to get his shot off over any points on him in the post, and a switch to a taller defender would likely causes mismatches elsewhere. If double-teamed in the post, Carter-Williams has the size, and vision, to pass out of it. He would be adept at hitting cutters and spotting shooters from the post as well.
A turnaround and a baby-hook would be excellent additions to his arsenal, and would help to make him exceedingly difficult to defend.
Improve his off-ball game, specifically catch-and-shoot: Carter-Williams spends a lot of time with the ball in his hands, but certain situations will call for his ability to play off the ball, and his ability to knock down shots in these situations will vastly improve his value.
Brett Brown likes to play the game at breakneck speed, pushing the pace at every opportunity. In order to do this at full effectiveness, all of the players, or at least most of them, have to be able to push the ball up court. When a rebound is secured, the time can't always be taken to located the point guard and get him the ball to bring it up.
Instead, the ball is passed forward to the frontcourt in as quick a manner as possible, which is something that Chris Paul and the Clippers have been doing this season. Forwards, and even centers can then initiate an offense while the defense is recovering, and potentially give the team an offensive advantage. Often in these situations, the point guard will come off screens looking to catch-and-shoot, or to drive and dish.
If Carter-Williams can become an off-ball option - a player that can move without the ball, come off screens and knock down shots - it will open up what the Sixers can do offensively, especially on the break.
We don't know who the Sixers will select in June's draft, but if they were to acquire a player like Dante Exum, or Marcus Smart, it would only be beneficial if both the pick and Carter-Williams are able to play on the ball and off it. The options offensively would be almost unlimited.
Michael Carter-Williams had a very solid, and statistically successful rookie season, and he figures to be a big part of the franchise's future. But in order to continue to contribute to the Sixers' resurrection, and to develop into as good as a player as he appears he could become, his expansion is essential.