The rookie race is perennially my favorite NBA plotline to track. It transcends team records, it blankets all positions, and it generates excitement for soon-to-be stars. Portland has enjoyed the speculation surrounding CJ McCollum since the 2013 NBA Draft, but when history is made elsewhere we have to take a moment to appreciate it. After last night, there is another point guard worthy of water cooler praise.
Philadelphia 76ers’ Michael Carter-Williams had the best rookie debut I have ever seen; against the defending champs no less. The 6’6” point guard, drafted 11th overall in the first round (one spot behind McCollum), led the Sixers to defeat the Heat 114-110 in their season opener. Carter-Williams was a celebrated defender at Syracuse, and Miami learned why the hard way.
Michael Carter-Williams’ stat line
|22 points||12 assists||7 rebounds||9 steals||1 turnover|
He truly stuffed the stat sheet, but let’s focus on one statistic in particular for now. Those nine steals are not only the most recorded in an NBA debut since the inception of the category in 1973-1974, but they tie the regular season franchise record set by Allen Iverson, who officially announced his retirement before the game. Is it possible that the Sixers have stumbled upon their next great point guard?
It’s far too soon to answer that question, but if even half of last night’s production becomes a trend for him, it may not be too soon to ask it. His defensive aptitude is matched on the offensive end with a smooth jumper and elite court vision. His unprecedented length at the point guard position allows him to obstruct passing lanes with ease and shoot over most opposing point guards, making him a dream on both ends of the floor.
Michael Carter-Williams debut highlights
The implications for the Sixers are a mixed bag. On one hand, discovering possible breakout talent is fantastic for the fanbase. On the other hand, if Michael Carter-Williams fits that bill, it could mean that the Sixers’ tank job becomes familiar mediocrity, sabotaging their plans for the 2014 draft. Still, perhaps a young core of Carter-Williams, Turner, and an eventually healthy Nerlens Noel will be more formidable than we realize if it comes to fruition.
As for the rookie race, CJ McCollum’s outlook has grown dimmer. Unless you’re Craig Sager, you don’t get national attention for showing up in a different suit each night. While McCollum remains sidelined recovering from a broken foot, rookies like Carter-Williams are gaining ground in the public eye. That doesn’t necessarily mean that McCollum can’t catch up, but Carter-Williams has a head start.
As much as we like to think Rookie of the Year is given based solely on merit, there is more to it than that. A great deal of success is based on a player’s situation. You think Damian Lillard wins last year if Cleveland takes him with the 4th pick and plays him behind Kyrie Irving? Not likely. When it comes right down to it, Michael Carter-Williams is a starter on a rebuilding team (much like Lillard was last year) and CJ McCollum will return to action in an already crowded guard rotation.
My challenge to you, Rip City, is this—Pay close attention to Michael Carter-Williams this year. Bordering a quadruple double is no fluke, but it won’t happen every night. Take stock of his successes and failures so that you know what McCollum has to stack up against upon return. If it turns out that his production off the bench outshines Carter-Williams’ relative production as a starter, he’s in good shape. As of right now, Michael Carter-Williams has jumped to the top of the rookie ladder with a debut worthy of league-wide remembrance.