February 19, 2015 was a day that broadsided Bucks fans everywhere. It was the day of the NBA Trade Deadline, and the Bucks were sitting with their eyes fixed on the playoffs. It was smooth sailing for the Bucks. The team had been shocking fans and experts from every facet of the league, as they had positioned themselves for a playoff spot after finishing with the league’s worst record the year before. They were winning games despite their first round draft pick Jabari Parker going down with a torn ACL. The odds were stacked up against them, yet the Bucks kept defying them. Then, all of a sudden, massive seismic activity shook the roster. The Bucks traded point guard Brandon Knight to Phoenix in a four-team deal that involved the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers. In return, the Bucks received Michael Carter-Williams, the league’s reigning Rookie of the Year. The move resembled a magician pulling out a rabbit from his hat, as nobody seemed to see it coming. The acquisition garnered in mixed response from Bucks fans and still does to this day. Most tend to have either a love or hate relationship with Carter-Williams. This year is going to prove lofty for the third-year point guard, especially as this season serves vital for the development of the young commodity of talent on the roster. The Bucks are positioning their pieces on the chessboard towards winning an NBA Championship in the next five years. One thing Carter-Williams has on his side as he works on improving his game is coaching. Not just any coaching either, but the coaching of one of the greatest point guards the game has ever seen, Jason Kidd. With the mentoring and leadership style of Kidd, Carter-Williams has the potential to blossom into a star.
Success after the All-Star Break did not come as nicely as it did in the first half of the year for Milwaukee last season. The Bucks won only 13 of their 22 games in the second stanza of the season compared to the impressive achievement of 30 victories prior to the All-Star break. The finger often points at Michael Carter-Williams as the sole reason behind this, but to do that resembles unfairness and misinterpretation. The Bucks staggered in the second half of the year not because of poor play from Carter-Williams, but rather a bench that plateaued and eased off the gas, as while as a plague of nitpicking injuries. Prior to the All-Star Break, Milwaukee’s bench was the stage crew that orchestrated the Bucks’ strong start, as they averaged 42.3 points per game. Fast-forward to the second half of the season. The total bench points plummeted down to 29.1 points per game and a field goal percentage .624 compared to the first half’s .787. To pin Michael Carter-Williams as the scapegoat to the Bucks’ demise in the second half of the season is extremely unjustifiable. Veterans such as Jerryd Bayless and Jared Dudley came back down to Earth after their lightning quick starts at the season’s beginning. In fact, after the trade, Milwaukee outscored its opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions with Carter-Williams on the floor during the regular season. People tend to have just noticed Knight’s offensive firepower vacant from the lineup. They then immediately made the correlation to Carter-Williams’ lack of a similar playing style as the reason the Bucks began to slump, which is simply not the case.
Now, if the Bucks had made this move two years ago, opinions may have fared different (If the trade did occur two years ago, chances are that Goran Dragic would have been a Buck for half a year, but we won’t get into the old ownership in this article). Larry Drew would not have exactly boasted the similar tangibles that Kidd brings to the table when aiding Carter-Williams. There’s an old saying that always makes its way around in times like these: Trust the process. Right now, the process involves a young point guard who has yet to wrangle his full capability but has the eyes of a future Hall of Famer looking over him. It’s pretty evident as to why the Bucks made the decision of trading away Brandon Knight last year at the deadline. Not only did it free up cap space and push the Bucks into a position to resign Khris Middleton and bring in Greg Monroe, it also set up Jason Kidd with the player he envisions running his offense. Brandon Knight was a terrific player and he still will be over in Phoenix, but his foot just did not fit the slipper of the Bucks’ playing style. Knight was a point guard who attempted 14.3 field goals per game with Milwaukee last season. Granted, he was putting the ball in the hoop, but Kidd realized that not only was Knight going to evolve into a financial burden on the team, but could also throw a wrench into the offense down the line. How would Giannis and Jabari be able to develop if Knight was putting up that high number of shots on a consistent basis? That’s not even taking Middleton into consideration. Plain and simple, there would not have been enough shots to evenly distribute throughout the starting lineup. Kidd also strived for a point guard who can be a menace on defense and that’s just what he got with Carter-Williams and his 6’7” wingspan. The length of the Bucks is what makes them so difficult to beat, as it transpires into a defensive scheme that stifles opposing offenses. Sean Sweeney is the mastermind architect behind this lockdown defensive system, and Michael Carter-Williams resembles a better fit than Brandon Knight.
Another thing to consider when making the connection between Carter-Williams and Kidd is the passing ability. Jason Kidd is the second all-time assists leader in NBA history with his astonishing 12,091 dimes. His court vision and ability to pick defenses apart like a surgeon were on a level of their own. Kidd has the desire to transfer his knowledge of the traditional point guard assets to Michael Carter-Williams which will blossom him into a better distributor of the ball. In his first NBA season, Kidd averaged 7.7 assists per game. Michael Carter-Williams wasn’t too far behind that in his own rookie campaign, as he averaged 6.3 assists per game. Under a full offseason and training camp with the great Jason Kidd providing insight and intellect, Carter-Williams’ assists should go up drastically in the future. Kidd would not have wanted him as the Bucks’ point guard if he did not think he was capable of developing him into a player who can facilitate the ball to others in an efficient manner. Adding in the fact that everybody else in the projected starting lineup is expected to take a leap in terms of contributions bodes even better for Carter-Williams when it comes to assists. MCW may never surmount to the type of scorer that Brandon Knight resembles, but he definitely has the potential to develop into a more sophisticated all-around point guard.
Now to mention the white elephant in the room: Carter-Williams’ disastrous shooting. Last year as a Buck, MCW shot .429 from the floor. That shooting came from mostly inside the perimeter, as once he steps outside of it, his zone becomes colder than the middle of Siberia in January. As a member of the Bucks, Carter-Williams attempted 28 three-pointers and only connected on only four of them. That translates to a measly .143 percentage from deep. Bucks fans were not used to such poor three-point shooting from their point guards. They had been treated to Brandon Knight shooting .409 from beyond the arch to open up the season. It was literally night and day between those two players when it came to ability to shoot from the perimeter. However, looking back at Jason Kidd’s first two seasons provides an interesting spin to the story. In his rookie season, Kidd shot .385 compared to Carter-Williams’ .405 percentage from the floor. In the three-point category, Kidd shot only slightly better than MCW, at .272 compared to .264. Kidd’s percentage from deep went up in his second season to .336, while Carter-Williams’ stooped to .235 from beyond the arch. Although there was a drop off in percentage from deep, it’s not a reason to be worried too much. As we just hinted at, Kidd’s three-point game took time to develop and unfold and it’s going to be same process for MCW. Now, is Michael-Carter Williams going to shoot .400 from downtown this season after having a full offseason of Kidd at his helm? Absolutely not, that’s extremely overhyping things. However, from what Carter-Williams has shown this offseason in his time with Team USA and preseason action, it definitely looks like he could be ready to break out of his putrid relationship with the three-point line. It’s not going to happen overnight, but his coach was in his very similar shoes 19 years ago when he entered his third season.
All in all, it’s going to be a very important year for the Bucks, especially for Michael Carter-Williams. He has the ability to showcase his potential and quiet his haters. To those haters, it’s only a matter of time before we see the results. However, to jump to conclusions after only having him on the team for half a season is unfair. With a full offseason under his belt, it’s time to see if Carter-Williams can blossom with a strong relationship with Jason Kidd and develop him into a player so many Bucks fans envision. Now, could things fall apart and the situation arise where MCW just doesn’t fit in with the direction the team is heading? Absolutely. Could the Bucks cut ties with MCW following this season and chase after a point guard in free agency, possibly Mike Conley? It’s hard to decipher. Everybody thought the Bucks were going to ride it out with Brandon Knight last season but then the trade-heard-round-the-world hit. However, right now, speculation that far into the future should not be unfolding. Michael Carter-Williams has a terrific opportunity in front of him to learn from one of the greatest minds the league has ever seen. It’s time for Bucks fans to enlist their full trust into the process. If there’s a coach that can lead Michael Carter-Williams into a perennial point guard, its Jason Kidd.