The I-76ers

Will MCW Turn Out Like Rondo?

image via Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

(image via Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

With Evan Turner trade rumors swirling, the 76ers begin an integral stretch for the remainder of the month of February in their quest for the highest possible draft pick in June’s NBA Draft with games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, and, tonight, the Boston Celtics.

The Sixers currently hold the third-worst record in the NBA with the Celtics just a game ahead (or behind, since they’re both racing for the bottom) of them in the standings. After a Turner buzz beater sealed a win in Boston for the Sixers last week, it would be more beneficial than not to see the Celtics squeak out a win tonight at the Wells Fargo Center.

The game features the first head-to-head matchup between point guards Michael Carter-Williams and Rajon Rondo, who, based on skill set and play, has served as comparison to Carter-Williams since the pre-draft process last summer. Both players left college after their sophomore seasons and were picked in the NBA Draft without a ton of fanfare, despite them each being a first-round selection. Carter-Williams and Rondo are both noted for their defensive prowess and, more so in MCW’s case, potential on that side of the ball, as well as the fact that neither of them could probably make more than 10 shots in a row at the Pop-A-Shot gamein their local Dave & Buster’s.

It’s been said in a bit of a condescending tone that if Carter-Williams ultimately doesn’t improve his shot, he’ll end up just as good as Rondo, as if that’s something to be disappointed about; however, are they really that similar? Here’s a look at some of their statistics, using per 36-minute statistics to take away the minutes per game discrepancy between the two (Carter-Williams: 34.8 MPG; Rondo: 23.5 MPG), in a side-by-side comparison of their rookie years:

Rk Player Season FGA 3PA 3P% 2P% FTA FT% TRB AST STL PTS
1 Michael Carter-Williams 2013-14 16.1 3.6 .305 .428 5.6 .710 5.6 6.8 2.4 17.9
2 Rajon Rondo 2006-07 8.8 0.6 .207 .432 3.6 .647 5.7 5.8 2.5 9.9
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2014.

Their seasons are fairly similar to an extent with the exception being MCW’s huge advantage in PPG that comes mostly from his nearly double field goal attempts per game number. Rondo had yet to develop his ability to attack the basket and score at the rim (43.2% on two-pointers), which would become a trademark of his game in later years (53.6% on twos in 2010). He rightfully barely attempted any three-pointers, given his woeful 20.7% shooting from beyond the arc.

The three-point shot has become a clear focal point in the Sixers’ organizational philosophy that was brought in due to general manager Sam Hinkie’s time with the Houston Rockets and is something that Brett Brown has implemented into his offense, as Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes have launched more threes per game than either had previously in their respective careers.The concept has extended to MCW, who, despite shooting below league-average from deep, has shot nearly four threes per 36 minutes. Considering that players have a tendency to improve their shooting stroke as the age, it’s still quite possible that Carter-Williams develops into a league-average three-point shooter, which would be a deadly combination in a Brown-run offense with his propensity to drive into the paint and get to the free throw line.

Doing a similar head-to-head look utilizing some advanced and rate metrics could be useful as well:

Player Season PER TS% 3PAr ORB% DRB% AST% STL% TOV% USG% WS/48
Michael Carter-Williams 2013-14 17.0 .484 .223 4.5 12.3 30.7 3.2 16.0 25.8 .054
Rajon Rondo 2006-07 13.1 .472 .064 4.7 14.6 26.3 3.6 20.5 16.5 .064
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2014.

While Carter-Williams has gained some notoriety around for the league for swiping balls from opponents on defense (he’s currently third in the entire NBA in steal percentage), Rondo was even better during his rookie year and his percentage would rank second in the league right now. With the league-average PER being somewhere around 15, Carter-Williams was essentially a bit more efficient than Rondo was, despite them both falling way short of the the average true shooting percentage of around 53%. 2007 was a pretty good start to Rondo’s career, but MCW has been borderline-great at points.

That’s ultimately not an entirely fair comparison, as Rondo was just 20-years-old in his rookie season and Carter-Williams is already 22-years-old. Looking at how each played in their age-22 season, again, utilizing per 36-minute numbers, in conjunction with how each played as a rookie might give Sixers fans a better idea of what type of player MCW currently is and will develop into:

Rk Player Season FGA 3PA 3P% 2P% FTA FT% TRB AST STL PTS
1 Michael Carter-Williams 2013-14 16.1 3.6 .305 .428 5.6 .710 5.6 6.8 2.4 17.9
2 Rajon Rondo 2008-09 10.3 0.7 .313 .518 3.7 .642 5.7 9.0 2.0 13.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2014.

Rondo blossomed during the Celtics’ title defense this year, his third as a pro, turning into one of the league’s top-tier point guards, as the NBA became increasingly point guard-centric. His assist numbers jumped over MCW’s total, as he finished sixth in the league in assists per game, as well as drastically improving his percentages from both two-point range and beyond the arc. His rebounding and steal totals stayed fairly similar, but his adjustment to finally being able to score with a tad bit of consistency on a loaded Celtics team made this his definitive breakout season. He would go on to make the next four-consecutive All-Star games.

Looking at Rondo’s near-All-Star numbers at age-22 gives a blueprint for Carter-Williams to follow as his develops as a NBA point guard. With his three-point rate not too far off from Rondo’s and his assist totals hurt by playing with a sub-par supporting cast in comparison to three Hall of Famers Rondo played next to, it appears that the biggest improvement Carter-Williams could make is his proficiency around the basket. Developing a floater to avoid block shots, something that proved difficult against Kevin Garnett and the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, and strengthening his wiry frame in the hopes of adding a post-game to his arsenal would be significant, given that being 6’6″ is a huge height advantage over the vast majority of point guards.

Viewing the more advanced rate metrics illustrates some similar concepts:

Player Season PER TS% 3PAr ORB% DRB% AST% STL% TOV% USG% WS/48
Michael Carter-Williams 2013-14 17.0 .484 .223 4.5 12.3 30.7 3.2 16.0 25.8 .054
Rajon Rondo 2008-09 18.8 .543 .063 4.8 13.9 39.7 3.0 19.2 19.2 .179
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2014.

Rondo’s evolution led to him being a vastly more efficient player than his rookie self, improving both his PER and true shooting average to above league-average rates. His assist percentage was good for seventh in the NBA that season and a more than 13% jump from his rookie year. Carter-Williams’ usage rate still dwarfs that of Rondo’s, most likely due to the fact, again, that Rondo was surrounded by Hall of Famers and MCW is currently surrounded by Lavoy Allen. With some hopefully franchise cornerstones coming into the Sixers’ organization this summer via the draft, it would be likely to see that usage rate drop for Carter-Williams, as he ends up playing next to a better cast of players.

While it ultimately took until Rondo’s third year for him to make a big leap in production, Carter-Williams at the same age isn’t drastically off his pace this season as a rookie. With an improved plan of attack at the rim, a few more capable teammates, and a close to league-average shooting stroke, Carter-Williams could certainly have as good, if not better, of a season as Rondo had in 2009 at age 23, as a second-year pro.

With the previously mentioned tanking race in full effect, it would obviously be bad for the Sixers to win tonight’s game against the C’s. A best-case scenario would be MCW outplaying the elder point guard and illustrating that he’s gifted enough to reach or improve upon Rondo’s level of play in the near future, while the team simultaneously collapses and loses the contest.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. tonight at the Wells Fargo Center.