Last time Michael Carter-Williams sat in front of his locker
in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center and spoke to the media, the inquiries
revolved around the progress of his own game, his teammates’, and the
organization as a whole. Such questions had become a familiar refrain for the
reigning Rookie of the Year. On Monday night however, after the Milwaukee Bucks
bested the Sixers in the season’s second-to-last regular season game, the
questions Carter-Williams faced were slightly different.
“It’s really exciting,” he replied when asked about his
upcoming inaugural playoff appearance.
“It’s my first playoffs and a lot of these guys first
playoffs,” he furthered, nodding his head toward his teammates.
Next to him, OJ Mayo and Jerryd Bayless poured over their
cell phones, trying to figure out exactly which team had the upper hand in the
race for the East’s final playoff spot.
“Indiana still has a shot, but they have to win out,” Mayo
explained to a seemingly-perplexed Bayless.
The excitement of the approaching playoffs was nearly
Image taken by Michael Kaskey-Blomain
“You know, from where they came from last year to be going
to the playoffs now has been really unbelievable,” Carter-Williams continued. “I’m
glad to be a part of it.”
A few short months ago – any time before February 19’s trade
deadline – it is safe to say that Carter-Williams, despite high expectations
for the future, didn’t expect to be participating in the playoffs this season. The
trade that sent him to Milwaukee came as a surprise, but Carter-Williams holds
no ill will towards his first franchise or its fan base, and remains appreciative
of his time in Philadelphia. The feeling is mutual, as the organization honored
Carter-Williams’ tenure with the team with a short tribute video during a first
“That was great,” Carter-Williams said, smiling. “I didn’t
really see [the tribute video] at the time or else I would have acknowledged
the crowd. But, it’s unbelievable, I’m thankful for it, and I appreciate it. As
much as they appreciate me, I appreciate them.”
In a town notoriously tough on its ex-athletes,
Carter-Williams seemed almost relieved by his reception.
“I had no idea [what to expect]. You know, I was only here
for a year and a half, so I didn’t know what it was going to be like, but I’m
happy for it.”
Carter-Williams spent several minutes prior to tip-off catching
up with his old coach Brett Brown, and a few of his old teammates like Nerlens
Noel, Joel Embiid, and Jerami Grant, who Carter-Williams plans to work out with
over the summer. Though they are no longer united in a quest for a common goal,
the respect remains. When asked if he was glad to get the at time
emotionally-draining homecoming game out of the way, Carter-Williams replied:
“I was just happy to be here to see my old teammates and old
While Carter-Williams will get the first taste of the NBA’s
second season, if all goes according to plan, his old coaches and teammates won’t
be too far behind.
Everyone sitting close to the pool's
edge can breathe a sigh of relief. There won't be any more Canaanballs for the
Sixers this season.
Recently-acquired guard Isaiah Canaan has
been an observer during the Sixers last few games, as Coach Brett Brown
revealed last week that Canaan would miss the remainder of the season with a
Canaan, who was acquired on trade
deadline day in the deal that sent K.J. McDaniels to Houston, appeared in 22
games for the Sixers this season, cracking the starting rotation in 12 of them.
He averaged 12.6 points and 3.1 assists per game over that span, while shooting
37% from the field and playing 26 minutes per game.
Steals are a stat usually associated with guards; quick, small players who can pick the pocket of an opposing point and effortlessly pop up in passing lanes.
That is not the case for Nerlens Noel, the Sixers nearly 7'0'' rookie, who is currently ninth overall in the entire NBA in steals per game, averaging 1.77 steals per contest.
To get an idea of just how dominant he has been defensively, Noel also ranks eighth in the entire NBA in blocks per game, with an average of 1.89 per contest, and is the only player in the league to rank in the top 10 in both of those major defensive categories. He also remains the only player league-wide with over 100 total steals and 100 total blocks on the season.
In only his first season, Noel has already established himself as probably the best steal-generating big man in the game, His quick hands help to generate a lot of those steals, as he is often able to pop the ball loose from an unsuspecting big about to make a move, or interrupt a pass in the paint This hand-speed also helps him to compensate for his lack of size against some of the league's bulkier post players.
His quick foot-speed, especially for his size, also helps Noel to generate some steals, as he can seamlessly switch onto a perimeter player off of a pick-and-roll, often times surprising the opposing offense which in turn leads to steal opportunities. Noel has had multiple solo fast-breaks for slam dunks this season off of steals he has generated above the opposing key.
Take a look at the below graphic, courtesy of NBATV's The Starters:
Noel stands out as the only big man on the list, and also, of course as the only rookie.
Defensively, the freshly-minted 21-year old former Kentucky Wildcat is playing beyond his age and experience. His ability to both protect the paint and to generate steals is uncanny, and in just a single season, he has already established himself as arguably the league's best steal-producing big man.
Noel will be central to the Sixers development of a dominant defense moving forward, and if his rookie season is any indication, it appears as though he is really going to be something special on that side of the ball.
The Sixers will finish the 2014-15 NBA season with a record
nearly identical to the one that they posted in 2013-14 – their first year
under Head Coach Brett Brown and GM Sam Hinkie. The similarity in total wins
and losses does not mean that there was no progress from first to second season
however, it just means that the progress has not yet been reflected in record.
In actuality, the Sixers are substantially further along in
their rebuilding process at the end of the second season with Hinkie at the helm
than they were just eleven months ago when current Milwaukee Buck, Michael
Carter-Williams was named the league’s Rookie of the Year.
Last season’s nineteen wins, which were accumulated with the
help of veterans – Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, LaVoy Allen, and Thaddeus Young
– who had no future with the franchise, felt empty. Wins this season on the
other hand were achieved by young, developing players, brought in by Hinkie
himself, eager to show that they had a place in the ‘plan’ moving forward, or
at least belonged in the league at large. Thus, this season’s wins felt
rewarding, even at times exciting, as they were the direct result of hard work
and development from guys that could potentially help to build the team back
into a contender.