On walks around a city desperate for an heir to Allen Iverson’s star and staying power, Michael Carter-Williams has swiftly turned from a franchise prospect to an improbable successor, or so people tell him. From fans to friends, team staffers to sports talk, Carter-Williams listens to the ways Philadelphia’s star of yesterday represented its blue-collar ethics, the ways he molded the 76ers.
Carter-Williams will never score with the frequency Iverson did over an entire career, nor become the unique cultural icon, but he’s already shown Philadelphia flashes of the level of talent that made A.I. a legend there and the mental makeup to go with it. Now, he’s hearing about it, too.
“I’m hearing the comparisons, and it’s an honor,” Carter-Williams told RealGM. “Allen Iverson was great, one of the best of all time. What he did for the city of Philadelphia is amazing.”
When Iverson returned to the city for opening night, he celebrated several of Carter-Williams’ finishes at the rim and precise passes and the win over the Miami Heat. Past and present, Iverson and Carter-Williams had met briefly later that night. “I said what’s up to him, but there were a lot of people around him,” Carter-Williams said. Yes, the crowd will always follow Iverson in Philadelphia the fashion they do for very few professional athletes.
Suspicion of the 76ers tanking a season had started in the summer when new management deliberately hired Brett Brown and dispensed youth throughout the roster. To Carter-Williams’ first professional coaches in Summer League, what struck most were his competitiveness and his willingness to seek all avenues to win.
In the minds of old personnel, the 76ers’ hot start came as no surprise – not with Carter-Williams, not with Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes motivated in contract seasons. For Carter-Williams, people bringing up the idea of tanking irritated him and challenged his spirit for competition.
“It definitely bothered me,” Carter-Williams told RealGM. “We try not to listen to the talk, but clearly it gets to us. No one on the team has that attitude. We fight every night, and we use it as motivation.”
Despite an inability to sustain winning, Brown has instilled an environment susceptible to nurturing young players and engraving principles into their habits. A disciple of Gregg Popovich, Brown’s taken a hands on approach in huddles and practices, leaving players smiling about the intensity of the coach out of Maine who climbed the ranks through the National Basketball League in Australia.
From Jim Boeheim at Syracuse to Brown now, Carter-Williams admits the differences in coaching techniques. He knows all of Brown’s hollering is to receive the most from him and the team. He’s cognizant of Brown’s pedigree under Popovich.
“Boeheim is kind of relaxed, and [Brown] gets a little riled up sometimes,” Carter-Williams said. “They’re a lot alike in some ways and completely different in a lot of ways. It’s something that I’ve had to adapt to, something where I fit with both guys.”
Within the 76ers, there doesn’t appear to be any urgency to get Nerlens Noel onto the court this season, and that’s a prudent approach given their current state and his upside. For his part, Noel is steadily progressing in his rehabilitation from a torn ACL, has added muscle, and weighed in at 223 pounds late last week, a source told RealGM.
Teammates have seen dedicated training regimens in Noel and Carter-Williams – Sam Hinkie’s first two draft picks projected as hits for now. “They’re both hungry guys, and the way they work on and off the court shows a lot to us,” James Anderson said.
The 76ers’ coaching staff has consisted of significant voices and teachers, and they understand the development needed in Carter-Williams’ jumper and ability to consistently run the offense. He’s a superb athlete at 6-foot-6, in the mold of Shaun Livingston pre-knee injury, and still, his remarkable stat line has yet to be placed into challenges that come with being on a winning team and facing the opponents’ defensive walls all for him.
“I’m trying to continue to play with patience,” Carter-Williams said. “Slow down in certain situations and then speed up in certain situations. That’s what I’m really trying to learn. I’ve been working a lot with coach Lloyd [Pierce], and coach Brown is always in my ear about things and we’re always communicating.”
There were questions about Michael Carter-Williams’ position during the draft process, wonders of whether his frame placed him as a combo guard. And through it all, he remained confident as a point guard, boasted the 76ers’ first Rookie of the Month since Allen Iverson – and, slowly, Philadelphia has begun to cheer him like their last great one.