2020 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Michael Carter-Williams found a home with Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams conducted a Jr. NBA workout online to help young players stay sharp during quarantine. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams conducted a Jr. NBA workout online to help young players stay sharp during quarantine. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

Michael Carter-Williams was nearly out of the league last season before the Orlando Magic scooped him up. He ended up playing a vital role for the team.

There is very clearly a thin line between being in the NBA and being on the outside of it.

The wrong situation, the wrong injury at the wrong time and suddenly a player who has clear NBA skills can find themselves trying to figure out how to get back in. They can be in that waiting game trying to find an opportunity. And even that opportunity can be short-lived or fleeting.

The NBA is a relationship business. It helps if you have made some good connections along the way and made an impression for these moments when you are trying to keep your head above water.

That is where Michael Carter-Williams found himself after he flamed out with the Houston Rockets and was traded to and cut by the Chicago Bulls. He was working a gym with weekend warriors trying to stay in shape when Steve Clifford and the Orlando Magic gave him a call.

Steve Clifford worked with Michael Carter-Williams in an injury-filled year in 2018 with the Charlotte Hornets. The Magic’s entire coaching staff is essentially that same staff from Charlotte. And so it seemed the Magic would be able to drop Carter-Williams into the lineup and help them make their final push for the postseason.

Clifford said when the Magic acquired him that Carter-Williams was one of the best defenders he had ever coached. That got some early snickers as a coach trying to pump up a new acquisition. But then Carter-Williams went on the court and the defensive change was visible.

The incredible part of that acquisition was how seamless it all felt. Carter-Williams’ impact was immediate and positive. He played 12 games for the Magic to end the 2019 season, but it felt like he was always a part of the team.

Re-signing him was a simple decision. All the baggage that had followed him from failed stops with the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls seemed to go away. Carter-Williams had found his home.

He found a place that took advantage of his unique size and defensive abilities.

The only thing he seemed like he could not cure was the random assortment of injuries he picked up during the course of the season. The little random knocks that would leave him out of the lineup for several games.

There may be no cure for that. Carter-Williams may simply be a player whose style will always seem him picking those up. But after five seasons trying to sojourn through the league and find a home.

Multiple offensive roles

Even entering another round of free agency, it feels like Michael Carter-Williams has a place in this league. He had a fantastic season for the Orlando Magic this season, becoming an integral part of the team and playing multiple roles.

Per Game Table

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/24/2020.

Carter-Williams averaged 7.2 points per game and 2.4 assists per game in 18.5 minutes per game. He shot 42.7-percent from the floor (the second-best mark of his career) and a career-best 29.3-percent from beyond the arc.

Those are meager numbers coming off the bench. And they are not overly impressive individual numbers. As an individual producer of statistics, Carter-Williams is not in there to score or rack up counting stats.

Individually, Carter-Williams is not particularly great at anything offensively.

His poor 3-point shooting often means defenses left him completely open, daring him to shoot. Shooting less than 30-percent from deep as a career-high is not exactly ideal.

He was not a particularly strong driver either. He shot 52.9-percent at the rim according to Basketball Index. And his shot rating at the rim was one of the most difficult in the league. He often made things harder on himself offensively — or drove headlong into a set defense.

The one thing he was great at is passing. He posted 23.9 potential assists per 100 passes according to Basketball Index. He could still make risky passes and always played full force to the basket.

But that speed is what made him valuable. The Magic emphasized pace and Carter-Williams delivered the more than any other player. At least when he was on the ball.

Plays like this are what Carter-Williams can be very good at. He is not much of a threat to score and so he always has his eyes up. And his passing is good enough that he can squeeze the ball through some tight windows on the interior or fire passes to the corner like this one.

Teammates always have to be ready when Carter-Williams has the ball. And he is able to get the defense to collapse around him when he gets into the paint.

Defensive impact

By measurement, Michael Carter-Williams was not much of an impactor. He drove through the lane and created some chaos — sometimes for his own team. But this is not necessarily the best way to measure things.

Rather, his production comes from the impact he gives everyone else. Steve Clifford often talked about how Michael Carter-Williams gave the team an edge. He was willing to mix things up. The Orlando Magic need someone who was not afraid to get into it with people.

Carter-Williams never backed down. And his teammates stepped up with him.

The stats show that too.

Related Story. 2020 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: Michael Carter-Williams. light

The Magic had a 109.5 offensive rating and 108.1 defensive rating with Carter-Williams on the floor. Both numbers were better than the team’s average. His on-court net rating was the second-best on the team, trailing only D.J. Augustin.

Even more impressive was he did this with Clifford playing him at shooting guard for the majority of his minutes — even more impressive without the ability to shoot consistently.

While fans chafed at some of these two-point-guard lineups, a favorite tactic from Clifford even in his Hornets days, they actually kind of worked. Lineups with Carter-Williams and Augustin posted a +10.8 net rating (including a 116.9 offensive rating) in 409 minutes played together. The shooting from D.J. Augustin is likely why as lineups with Michael Carter-Williams and Markelle Fultz posted a -11.6 net rating (scoring only 103.7 points per 100 possessions).

Clifford valued Carter-Williams’ versatility on that front. His ability to defend bigger guards was valuable. But more than that, Clifford had to find a way to get him on the floor.

He was at his best defensively where his brand of chaos could wreak havoc on opponents.

Teams avoided him defensively. Teams attacked him fewer times than any player in the league. He averaged 3.3 deflections per 75 possessions and 2.8 steals per 75 possessions, both in greater than the 90th percentile in the league according to Basketball Index.

Every major defensive metric and predictor rates him as one of the best defenders in the league. His defense made a real impact for the team.

The only thing that still trails Carter-Williams is his injury history.

He played in only 45 games this season. He broke a bone in his face early in the season, requiring him to wear a mask. He had a hip injury early in the season that slowed him down. He missed 13 games in December and January that kept him out of the lineup.

And like everyone else it seemed, he had a foot injury that kept him out during the time inside the campus and the playoffs themselves. He is the kind of player with an edge that is necessary for any team to find success in the postseason.

That remains the most frustrating part of Carter-Williams’ career. It is not necessarily the shooting or anything else, it is that he cannot stay on the court long enough to make his fullest impact.

Undeniably impactful


That was the biggest frustration for Michael Carter-Williams this season. His impact was undeniable. He made the Magic a better team every time he stepped on the floor, providing a necessary player to a mix who can sometimes let things happen rather than making things happen.

Carter-Williams may not be the most statistically pleasing player. But he gets the job done.

As he enters free agency, the Orlando Magic have a lot of big questions to ask themselves at point guard especially. With both Augustin and Carter-Williams hitting free agency, the Magic may not be able to keep both. And both obviously have their impact and benefits to the team.

He was not only a big player on the floor, but he has also become a leader off of it. He is actively engaged with the Central Florida community. He not only found a home, he has made himself at home here too.

The only thing that should be clear about Carter-Williams’ future is that he has found a home back in the NBA again. There is no doubt about that. The Magic found a role for him to reclaim his career and prove he can be an impact player.

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That is a major sign of progress. And finding someone like Carter-Williams, if not Carter-Williams himself, will be vital to the Magic’s chances.