Michael Carter-Williams’ high school highlight videos depict a 6-5 off-ball guard with elite scoring instincts. His signature prep performance was a 44-point outburst at NIKE’s 2010 Peach Jam.
Since prep school, Carter-Williams has shot up an inch and switched to a position usually dominated by basketball’s smallest players. Many combo guards have attempted to make the switch, but Carter-Williams’ transition is the rare one to surpass expectations.
As a freshman, the McDonald’s High School All-American purchased a timeshare on the bench and recorded more DNPs than Rudy Ruettinger, but did manage to flush a soul-snatching slam over St. Johns center God’s Gift Achiuwa.
Despite tipping off his sophomore campaign with a season-low four assists in Syracuse’s season-opener aboard an aircraft carrier, Carter-Williams is dicing up opposing defenses by averaging an NCAA-best 10.8 assists per.
Yet, there are no YouTube highlight videos of Carter-Williams firing passes at geometrically impossible angles. Genius makes the complex look simple.
When he runs the break or penetrates the lane, Carter-Williams comes bearing gifts for shooters whether they’re ready to receive or not. This holiday season, the kid is dropping more dimes through the chimney than Jolly Ole Saint Nick himself.
Carter-Williams’ last names are even throwing chest passes to one another. Born to separated parents Mandy Zagarowski and Earl Williams, the dash was tacked on to carry on his grandfather’s last name
Jim Boeheim has coached a litany of first-class floor leaders in his 35 years holding down the Syracuse bench. Sherman Douglas couldn’t miss an open man, Gerry McNamara couldn’t misfire from deep, Jonny Flynn declared eminent domain penetrating into the lane and Pearl Washington’s creativity with the dribble was incomparable. Carter-Williams’ size and skillset make him the most unique high school prospect has ever lured to the Carrier Dome.
Boeheim is also a different type of cat. Last season, he used this summer’s fourth overall pick Dion Waiters in a sixth man capacity. While fellow frosh Myck Kabongo was padding his 2013 NBA Draft resume, Carter-Williams was a spectator who didn’t log a single minute of PT during Syracuse’ Elite Eight run. The roles have been reversed, as Kabongo has been excommunicated from the Longhorns lineup, while the NCAA inexplicably investigates his eligibility following pre-draft workouts. Conversely, Carter-Williams’ draft stock is soaring.
His upside is a blend of Penny Hardaway’s versatility and athleticism in addition to Jason Kidd’s omniscient court vision. His collegiate ceiling could be the record book. The NCAA’s single-game assists record is held by the aforementioned Syracuse great, Sherman Douglas. Carter-Williams remains a neophyte point guard, but has a season-high of 16.
Smaller and quicker pre-season All-Americans Pierre Jackson and Trey Burke are more natural scorers whose respective scoring averages dwarf Carter-Williams’ 12.3 points per contest. However, Carter-Williams’ has spent more time looking for shooters, rather than his own shot, while attempting fewer field goal attempts than assists.
They also have limitations at the next level. Jackson is unranked Baylor’s Nate-Rob clone and despite leading Michigan to an 11-0 start, Burke is projected as an NBA backup.
The nearest talent equal for Carter-Williams’ is Oklahoma State’s 6-4 muscle-bound freshman Marcus Smart, who looks like he could start for the Oklahoma City Thunder right away. Instead, he’s throwing no-look, one-handed cross-court alley oops on a string to a 6-3 junior Markel Brown. However, it’s too early to tell whether Smart can replicate Carter-Williams’ evolution into a full-time point guard or Russell Westbrook Jr.
Carter-Williams’ height doesn’t hinder him either.
“I’ve been playing against short point guards my whole life,” Carter-Williams explained to the Post-Standard about his strategy matching up against pesky point guards. “I use my body, or keep them on my hip. And if they press me a few times and I go by them or make a play, then gradually they’ll start backing up.”
However, Carter-Williams’ contemporary peers aren’t the only ones choking on his exhaust smoke. So is history.
Only two underclassmen, sophomore Kidd and freshman TJ Ford, have ever led the nation in assists. Carter-Williams is dishing a pair of extra assists per game more than anyone else in the nation.
Syracuse’s top-three ranked scoring offense is clicking but Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense has been giving opposing offenses the Kevorkian treatment for decades. Carter-Williams, who played on what had to be one of the best defensive AAU teams in the nation alongside Kentucky’s sultan of swat Nerlens Noel, has used his length and wingspan to become the nation’s best pickpocket. In the future, ‘Cuse Nation is optimistic that Carter-Williams sticks to mimicking The Glove and plucking ball handlers rather than shoplifting chic robes and gloves.
Carter-Williams obviously towers over point guards he faces on a nightly basis and as the season progresses, the towering Syracuse sophomore’s legend (and YouTube resume) will catch up.