Michael Carter-Williams has made a measurable difference for the Orlando Magic

Michael Carter-Williams may not start off as the backup, but he is a model of the way the Orlando Magic want to play. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Michael Carter-Williams may not start off as the backup, but he is a model of the way the Orlando Magic want to play. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Michael Carter-Williams was picked up off the NBA scrap heap and has proven to be a difference maker for a playoff-hungry Orlando Magic team.

The Orlando Magic were seemingly going through the motions of another game against a NBA also-ran in a game where the team needed to show its playoff credentials and, most importantly, get a win.

The lowly New York Knicks were ready from the jump and brought an energy the Orlando Magic were struggling to match. They took an early 10-point lead and Orlando had to right the ship. Their starters were not getting their normal traction.

The Magic turned to their suddenly reliable bench, hoping to reinvigorate things.

They found that energy in one play.

Wesley Iwundu struggled to get around a Luke Kornet screen and Kevin Knox got a head of steam rolling toward the basket. Michael Carter-Williams was a hair late adjusting and had to recover to chase him down.

He got to him though, extending both arms to block the shot and send a spark through the Amway Center.

Orlando went on an 8-2 run to end the quarter from that point on. Terrence Ross hit a 3-pointer immediately after that block and the Magic would get back in control of the game early in the second quarter.

That play helped change the game in much the same way Michael Carter-Williams has reinvigorated the Magic.

Orlando announced the team has re-signed Carter-Williams for the rest of the season. The team opted to cut Isaiah Briscoe to ensure Michael Carter-Williams would be eligible to play in the playoffs. He has made that much of an impact in the last nine games. And that impact is completely measurable.

"“He is really bringing a lot of energy,” Evan Fournier said. “He is a huge spark off the bench. he does all the little things really well. He is just terrific for us.”"

Carter-Williams is averaging a fairly meager 5.4 points per game and 3.7 assists per game in 18.7 minutes per game. He is shooting just 34.7 percent from the floor and 18.8 percent from beyond the arc.

These are not impressive individual numbers by any stretch. Many of the issues that had Carter-Williams on the outside of the league are still present. He is not a great shooter or scorer. But his ability to get into the lane and create for others is dangerous off the bench.

And his defense fits in perfectly with the team’s identity and length. He switches seamlessly with everyone and has helped the Magic’s bench become especially deadly.

Standing out

That defense and intensity is what stands out most to his teammates. He brings a new energy to the team when he steps on the floor, able to push the ball up the court and get the team into offensive rhythm quickly.

Carter-Williams just does a bit of everything, even if he is not filling up a box score.

"“He has been great for us,” Nikola Vucevic said. “His impact on both ends of the floor has been huge. A lot of hustle plays that he makes — rebounding the ball, his defensive effort and his length. He has been really great for us.”"

That impact is most clearly seen with how the team plays when he is on the floor.

The Magic have a +13.3 net rating with Carter-Williams on the floor (112.7 offensive rating and 99.5 defensive rating). That is the best mark for any rotation player on the team (second only to Troy Caupain, who has played a minuscule 16 minutes this season).

Players often talk about how Carter-Williams increases the team’s pace. And that is abundantly clear too. The Magic have a 105.2 pace when Carter-Williams is in the game, against 98.6 pace for the season.

Orlando pushes the ball up the court quickly and the energy picks up.

In the nine games Carter-Williams has played, the Magic’s bench unit specifically has been a lot better. In its last 10 games, the Magic have a +7.6 efficiency differential, according to HoopsStats. That is ninth in the league in that time. For the season, the Magic are 20th at -2.3.

Carter-Williams will not take credit for the team’s success. It has been everyone stepping up.

"“It definitely feels good, I can’t lie,” Carter-Williams said. “But I think everybody is playing well. Vooch is giving us All-Star numbers and Evan [Fournier] and Terrence [Ross]. Everybody is playing well. We have had some big nights coming off the bench from Wes [Iwundu], from Khem [Birch], from myself. Everybody has played well. Jonathan [Isaac] has had big games and big moments. Everyone has come in and everyone has been solid. D.J. [Augustin] has been solid. We have all had big moments in those seven wins.”"

A lot of players have stepped up. But the added energy from the bench as fed from Carter-Williams’ presence.

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Figuring out the team’s bench has been a huge issue for the team throughout the entire season.

Isaiah Briscoe’s entry into the rotation helped spark much of this change. Like Carter-Williams, Briscoe pushed the pace and was a wrecking ball on defense. His untimely injury opened the door for the Magic to add Carter-Williams. He has turned into what Briscoe provided plus more.

A second chance

No doubt Carter-Williams would probably not be on the roster if Briscoe did not get hurt. Carter-Williams’ early season run with the Houston Rockets flamed out and he was traded to the Chicago Bulls and cut on Jan. 7.

Carter-Williams was waiting for his opportunity, working out in Los Angeles. It may not have come to him. He simply had fallen out of the league.

The injury gave him a lifeline from a general manager who acquired him in 2015 and the coach who coached him last year.

John Hammond was the first to give Michael Carter-Williams a second chance with the Milwaukee Bucks. Steve Clifford and the Charlotte Hornets gave him a shot last year, where injuries derailed his season.

The comfort with the coaching staff especially has allowed him to thrive quickly.

"“I’m definitely comfortable,” Carter-Williams said. “They do a great job of making me comfortable. Things I don’t know, I know I can look at anybody and they will tell me where I need to be. It definitely helps I was with Coach Cliff before in Charlotte. I feel comfortable. I feel great. coach is doing a great job helping put me in positions to be successful.”"

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

There were plenty of doubts this marriage would work. Carter-Williams had done very little this year and his career after winning Rookie of the Year in 2014 has been a massive disappointment. His shooting never came around and his playmaking turned into more ball dominance.

More than anything, the expectations that award created crushed Carter-Williams. Everyone wanted that version of him to grow from rather than perhaps what he actually is.

Carter-Williams needed an opportunity to fight his way back and fill a specific role. He needed the right situation to make that role work.

He found that with the Magic.

"“He understood that his chances weren’t great when he came with us,” Nikola Vucevic said. “He had a tough year but he took advantage of it. He played great, he really fought for his spot and earned everything he got. He works really hard every day. Every game he has played great for us bringing the effort. It’s great to see. The guy is hungry.”"

Carter-Williams has to be that way. He is on his last legs.

Now with a contract for the rest of the season and a place on a potential playoff rotation, Carter-Williams is still in the fight. He understands his role and what he has to do each game. The Magic feed off his energy and are made better from that.

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He has made a measurable difference for the Magic. It has been quite the turnaround.