2021 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Michael Carter-Williams still needs availability

Michael Carter-Williams hoped to play every game for the Orlando Magic this season, but injuries were the story of his season in the end. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Carter-Williams hoped to play every game for the Orlando Magic this season, but injuries were the story of his season in the end. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Michael Carter-Williams had one goal for the 2021 season.

It was not something that was tied to statistics or anything like that. He certainly wanted his team to do well — all of Carter-Williams’ skills usually go undetected in the box score, they just help the team and give them an edge.

Carter-Williams just wanted to play every game in the season.

Maybe that goal was always a bit unrealistic in this age of load management. And it certainly felt unrealistic with the way Carter-Williams tends to play. He is a physical guard who is not afraid to throw his body into the mix. HIs style invites injury.

But he knows, as much as his shooting struggles, his injury history is the biggest part of his career arc. Especially for this Magic team, they needed Carter-Williams on the floor to give their bench a boost and keep their energy up.

If this was Carter-Williams’ goal this season, then he fell short of it. And the unfortunate thing about injuries is that it is a goal that is still wholly out of his control.

Michael Carter-Williams hoped to play every game for the Orlando Magic this season. But he fell well short and that hid the impact he brought to the team.

Carter-Williams still proved a valuable player off the bench. The edge and energy he gave the team were still super valuable — not to mention his leadership on the roster in engaging the community over social justice issues. He just was not on the court long enough.

Carter-Williams played in only 31 of 72 games this season. It marked the sixth time in eight career seasons where he failed to play in three-quarters of his team’s games. Undoubtedly injuries have been a big story of Carter-Williams’ career. He knows and understands that.

It is hard to deny how much the Magic needed him when he was healthy.

Carter-Williams’ averages feel pretty tame — 8.8 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and 4.2 assists per game. Carter-Williams’ shooting troubles are well noted throughout his career and those continued with a 41.7-percent effective field goal percentage and a 24.6-percent mark from deep. He did make 42.9-percent of his corner 3-pointers according to Basketball-Index, so at least he had that going for him.

The Magic could rely on Carter-Williams to drive headlong toward the rim and create something off the dribble and finish at the rim, especially in transition. That has always where Carter-Williams has been best.

But the impact of his presence is measurable too.

Just take his game against the Sacramento Kings, his first game back from a 20-game absence. With the team desperate for anyone with point guard experience, Carter-Williams stepped in and scored 21 points to go with seven rebounds and seven assists.

The team was certainly inspired by the return of a favorite teammate and leader for that game. But Carter-Williams undoubtedly gave the team a necessary edge about it too. It was something coach Steve Clifford spoke about a lot when it came to Michael Carter-Williams and one of the reasons he trusted him.

In a season where the team struggled defensively overall, the Magic had a 105.6 defensive rating with Carter-Williams on the floor. That is the best mark among players who were in the rotation from the beginning of the season.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Carter-Williams is adept at getting steals and forcing turnovers. And especially for a guard, he was one of the best at blocking shots. Carter-Williams’ size and length help him tremendously defensively.

All the defensive metrics point to Carter-Williams having a positive impact — a +1.2 D-LEBRON (88th percentile), +0.6 Defensive RPM (71st percentile) and +3.5 Defensive RAPTOR (94th percentile). Considering how poor the Magic were defensively throughout the year, even through all the flaws in defensive catch-all numbers this all points to Carter-Williams being a key defensive player.

He was among the Magic’s best players at getting deflections and making the plays that coaches absolutely love. Carter-Williams had 1.5 deflections per game and led the regular rotation players in 0.9 loose balls recovered per game according to NBA.com’s hustle stats. He also led the team in charges drawn per game.

Carter-Williams works and has a place somewhere in the league because he fills in these gaps. And he does that exceptionally well. Carter-Williams in three seasons with the Magic has undoubtedly carved a niche for himself to stay in the league.

The issue was again that he was out so much.

He left the first game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in early January with a foot injury that kept him out for 20 games. Carter-Williams returned for a long stretch and was key in the Orlando Magic’s upset win over the LA Clippers on the road.

But he missed the next game with a non-COVID illness and would play only five more games the rest of the season. His final game of the season was the cathartic win over the Chicago Bulls. He missed the final 17 games of the season with an ankle injury.

That might have been as much about the team disadvantaging themselves because of their desire to get a top pick. Carter-Williams is the kind of player who will help a team win. And Carter-Williams’ story matches the team’s story — injuries kept him from reaching his full potential.

At the end of the day, a player’s best ability is availability. And Carter-Williams was not available enough. Certainly not to the level that he hoped in the beginning of the season.


With injuries to both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams’ importance increased far more than it should have. It did not help anyone that Carter-Williams dealt with his own injury issues. And so Carter-Williams’ inability to even match his goal of playing a certain amount of games hurt the team.

But undoubtedly, Carter-Williams helped the Magic be a better team. He was a player who gave the team a defensive edge and was never afraid to mix things up. That was something the Magic needed and still need.

So the bigger question with Carter-Williams is now is where does he fit in with this new team?

In one respect, his ability to be locked into a gameplan and create a little chaos without demanding too many shots or attention will be valuable for a young team. The team needs some veterans and his voice in the locker room will surely be valuable.

In another, Carter-Williams is the kind of player who boosts winning teams far more than rebuilding ones. Can the team afford to have a non-spacer like Carter-Williams on the floor, taking the ball out of the hands of some of their young guards or moving them off the ball as the lead ball-handler from the 2-spot.

Clifford was very clearly a big fan of Carter-Williams. So without Clifford there, what happens to Carter-Williams and where does he fit in?

The Magic have Carter-Williams under contract for one more year at $3 million. That is not an exorbitant price or cost for the Magic. They can try to shop him or add him to trades they are interested in or Carter-Williams could become an interesting buyout candidate late in the season.

Until then, the Magic will probably value his veteran and defensive leadership. It seems like Carter-Williams is someone the magic should keep around for a little while.

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At the very least, they should just hope he can finally stay healthy.