The Philadelphia 76ers unexpectedly made the best pick of the 2013 NBA Draft when they selected Michael Carter-Williams with the 11th pick in the first round. Carter-Williams turned in a great rookie campaign, and he predictably took home the Rookie of the Year honor.
As a serious student of the game, it was near impossible for me not to notice the similarities between former NBA star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Carter-Williams. This prophetic realization could bode well for Philly, or it could end on a sad note like Hardaway’s career.
Carter-Williams won the ROY award with season averages of 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.9 steals. Though Hardaway didn’t win the award in his inaugural season, his averages were 16 points, 6.6 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 steals. You can obviously see the similarity in the numbers, but that doesn’t do the comparison justice.
Watching Carter-Williams play and comparing it with old game tape of Hardaway, one thing is obvious — both guards have been successful because they knew exactly how to use their length to bother opposing guards. Many guards have great length, but knowing how and when to use it is a completely different skill that both MCW and Hardaway understood.
Like Hardaway, Carter-Williams gets most of his baskets on drives to the rim where his height (6-foot-6) and immense wingspan help him convert over defenders at the rim. He also likes to post up on smaller guards, knowing there is nothing they can do to stop him from drawing some additional help or a foul. The one weak spot in Carter-Williams’s offensive game is his three-point shooting. In his rookie season, he shot an abysmal 26.4 percent from three-point range, but there is hope in the progression of Hardaway’s career.
Hardaway shot 26.7 percent from downtown is his first year in the league, shockingly close to MCW’s three-point percentage. While the Orlando Magic were disappointed with Hardaway’s poor outside shooting numbers, they looked forward to improvement in that area. In his second season, Hardaway’s three-point percentage rose to 34.9 percent and hovered around the 30 percent mark until the 2000 season, when his career was derailed by injuries.
Hardaway’s career arc suggest that Carter-Williams can also become a serviceable outside shooter, which in the end would make him a nightmare for opposing guards on a night-to-night basis. Carter-Williams already has an edge on Hardaway at this point in their careers by winning the ROY award. Whether he can become a multiple time All-Star and/or make multiple All-NBA teams is yet to be seen. But if we use Hardaway’s career as a baseline, the future looks bright for Philadelphia.