Learning from the Best

by April 08, 2014


by Jake Fischer

Back when the Philadelphia 76ers visited the Boston Celtics on January 29, SLAM asked All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo for his thoughts on blossoming rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who had just been named to the Sprite Rising Stars Challenge earlier that day.

“Nothing. I’ve never seen him play,” a still-recovering Rondo responded before he watched Celtics lose to the Sixers on an Evan Turner buzzer-beater.

Following Turner’s game-winner, the Sixers notably spun into a downward spiral, losing 26-straight games mostly after Turner and Spencer Hawes were dealt on the February 20 trade deadline. The infamous streak set off a tailspin of hot takes and columns, many claiming that Philly’s constant losing was, while perfect tanking, detrimental to the future progression of Carter-Williams and the other young pieces the Sixers may choose to keep around as part of their rebuild.

MCW and the Sixers returned to TD Garden last Friday night, April 4, just two games after ending that horrendous streak. Carter-Williams, a Hamilton, MA, native, returned to Boston a different player than when Rondo claims was the first time he saw the former Syracuse guard ball. He no longer has viable scoring options in Turner and Hawes to pass to and, outside of Thaddeus Young, is surrounded primarily by teammates who should be suiting up for a D-League team. Yet, he’s playing with more confidence and seems to be grasping how to take advantage of the fact most his defenders are shorter than he is at 6-6.

Sixers head coach Brett Brown says he’s proud of how far Carter-Williams has come since he first entered the League.

“I think he’s the Rookie of the Year. I’ve seen a growth in him on and off the floor,” Brown said prior to the Sixers-Celtics clash. “I’m so proud of what he’s done in that regard. He lets me coach him. We have candid conversations. I think that’s the Holy Grail for him: grabbing a city, grabbing a program and being our point guard now and for the future.”

Brown has been notorious for grabbing hold of each tiny potential “teaching moment” for his young team this season. He calls fourth quarter timeouts with his team trailing by double-digits just to go over a single defensive assignment. At the end of the first half, he frequently burns a 20-second huddle opportunity to draw up a last-second shot attempt. He’s also been pointing out the strengths of the NBA’s great point guards to Carter-Williams as part of his ongoing lessons.

“I just think there’s a tenacity in Rondo, there’s a tenacity in Russell Westbrook, there’s a tenacity in Chris Paul, where there’s an anger in them as a competitiveness and a toughness that I just fall in love with,” Brown says. “When you have that disposition as a point guard and they’re your leader and it’s a point guard’s league, as I said and I think, that’s what I hope Michael learns, where he gets that competitive edge and that tenacity and looks at it like these types of players. He’s shown that he’s got far more competitive drive than I initially thought. I’m always pointing out those types of players like Rondo, and Michael is one of them.”

Rondo showed Carter-Williams just how competitive he can be out on the parquet. He hung a triple-double on the Sixers to the tune of 11 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists. But MCW got the win and posted 24 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists of his own while only giving up 1 turnover and scoring a clutch 8 straight fourth-quarter points for Philly.

The two ball handlers weren’t matched up with one another for a large portion of the game. Carter-Williams mostly guarded Boston’s shooting guards due to his superior length and Jerryd Bayless mostly drew the assignment of sticking the leading ROY candidate for Boston. But after the game, he discussed what he learned from going toe to toe with, when healthy, one of the top PGs in the L.

“He’s a great player. He passes the ball, does all the little things out there,” Carter-Williams says of Rondo. “We play somewhat similarly, he tries to get a lot of rebounds and make hustle plays. It’s great to see a guy like him just to learn from him. You just learn how to run your team, really. Learn how to bring the guys together and play as a team.”

With 6:58 remaining in the contest and Henry Sims about to step to the foul line, Carter-Williams huddled his team together at the top of the key and delivered an in-the-heat-of-battle message. He didn’t reveal what he said post-game, but after Sims knocked down both attempts at the stripe, that’s when Carter-Williams scored those 8 straight points that guided Philly to the win.

It was the Sixers’ second win in four tries after ending that two-month long losing streak, to which Brett Brown sarcastically proclaimed, “We’re on a roll!” in his post-game presser.

SLAM checked back in with Rondo in the Celtics locker room after the game and asked what he thought of Carter-Williams now. His answer was very Rondoian.

“He played well.”