Michael Carter-Williams saw his stock skyrocket at the start of the college basketball season, then drop considerably toward the end of the year, when his game was picked apart by analysts and critics. Until Trey Burke soared onto the scene, Carter-Williams was considered the best point guard in the draft.
Before the start of the season, Burke was considered a late first-round pick. After March Madness, Trey Burke was the consensus top point guard in the draft. Not only was Burke the National Player of the Year, he led a young Michigan team to the title game with both his scoring and playmaking ability.
Now, Carter-Williams has made a bit of a comeback. Questions about Burke's translation to the NBA, and Carter-Williams' incredible upside, has clouded the discussion of who will be the first point guard off the board.
Let's examine the arguments for, and against, each of these two talented but different point guards:
The Case For Trey Burke
We saw Burke's all-around game during the NCAA tournament- his ball handling, scoring, and playmaking abilities. His scoring instincts are incredible. Even without elite speed and athleticism, his ball handling allows him to maneuver his way into the paint. His shooting ability forces defenders to close out hard; that then allows Burke to blow past them. He is fearless driving to the basket, where he can finish himself or find open teammates. He is adept at running the pick-and-roll, seeing the floor, and utilizing the change of speed.
But even more incredible than his scoring and facilitating was his poise during the tournament. Burke, as a sophomore, was leading a young team against much older, more experienced teams. He showed leadership on and off the court and was assertive at all times. His confidence and swagger rubbed off on his teammates. His style would suit a team in need of an identity or a leader well.
The Case Against Trey Burke
His size and athleticism, or lack thereof, are the two main concerns surrounding Trey Burke. Listed at 6'0, Burke will have a hard time defending bigger point guards. He is not fast, quick, or explosive; his limited athleticism might not have affected him too much in college, but in the NBA, he will be crippled against bigger, stronger, faster players. Burke was no doubt the best point guard in the country last year, but will that success really translate to the NBA?
The Case For Michael Carter-Williams
Michael Carter-Williams had the attention of scouts the entire year. A 6'6 point guard is sure to demand attention, but what separates Carter-Williams from the rest is that he is a natural point guard, a natural facilitator. He's an elite ball handler, has good court vision, and is unselfish and creative. He has a good feel for the game, allowing him to create opportunities for himself and for his teammates. Though not elite, Carter-Williams is a good athlete. Due to his size and athleticism, MCW has a lot of potential on defense. His long arms should be able to play the passing lanes and get easy deflections. Carter-Williams has the most upside of any point guard in the league. In today's point-guard dominant league, the risk might be worth the potential rewards.
The Case Against Michael Carter-Williams
Carter-Williams was picked apart by critics towards the end of the college basketball season, and with good reason. Even though he is a great facilitator, he might not get those opportunities to pass the ball in the NBA. He doesn't have a quick first step, so he could struggle to get into the paint against NBA defenders. He's not a great shooter, and struggles to finish around the basket. His decision making is questionable. Like many young point guards (though he is already 21), he goes for the home-run play instead of the easy, right one. He often forces passes and commits unnecessary turnovers. He settles for jump shots instead of attacking the paint.
Even though he has great upside, he may not realize his potential because of his lack of aggressiveness; he does not have the killer mentality that Burke does.
So who should be the first point guard off the board on draft night? Sacramento and Detroit are likely the first ones to take a point guard; Carter-Williams and Burke might go back to back to those teams. The other name in the mix is C.J. McCollum, who many scouts like more than either Carter-Williams or Burke.
In my final mock draft, I have Carter-Williams going off the board first to the Kings. They would love Burke's swagger and leadership, but five years down the road, Carter-Williams will almost definitely be the better player, and the Kings can afford to wait.
Wherever these two young men go, they will be valuable if given enough opportunities.