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How Michael Carter-Williams’ NBA career went downhill after his first game

Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year, and now five years later, he’s without a team.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Carter-Williams started his NBA career as Rookie of the Year, and five seasons later, he became trade bait in a money-saving deal for his former employer that didn’t save much money, with his new team expected to cut him.

Carter-Williams was dealt from the Houston Rockets to the Chicago Bulls, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and the Bulls are expected to release him before his contract can be guaranteed. That could be the end of MCW’s 2018-19 season if no team is willing to give him yet another chance.

Carter-Williams’ professional career floundering this hard, this quickly is a surprise, even if his gaudy first-year stats appeared too good to be true. He’s only 27 years old and has played for five teams, none longer than two seasons. He played 1.5 seasons with the Sixers, then 1.5 with the Milwaukee Bucks, a season with the Chicago Bulls, a season with the Charlotte Hornets, and half of this season with the Houston Rockets.

Carter-Williams’ rookie season with the original “Trust The Process” 76ers began with several standout performances, including a near triple-double with nine steals in his debut against the defending champion Miami Heat.

That hot start didn’t last, though. He averaged 17 points, six rebounds and six assists that year, putting him in company with Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only three to do so as rookies.

He wasn’t spoken in near the same breath as those legends, since poor shooting, sloppy ball-handling, and erratic play dispelled his stuffed stat sheet. But even MCW’s biggest detractors couldn’t imagine the former Rookie of the Year crash-landing this early.

What happened?

In 2013, Carter-Williams was drafted No. 11 overall to the Sixers out of Syracuse. He was one of the first in the NBA’s newest generation of oversized point guards at 6’6, and Philly, amid a full-on rebuild, took a flier on him after trading starting point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans. MCW played with a miserable group that won 19 games and started Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, before they were dealt at midseason. He was handed the keys and produced the numbers to win Rookie of the Year.

But after he missed training camp and the opening few weeks of the next season to shoulder surgery, the Sixers saw MCW’s ceiling and traded him in a trade-deadline three-team deal to the Milwaukee Bucks, receiving a first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers in return.

He showed modest improvement with his turnover problem in Milwaukee, defending decently, and shooting slightly better, but he never became the long-term support to Giannis Antetokounmpo that then-coach Jason Kidd envisioned. Up-and-down play saw him gain and lose his starting spot in his only full year in Milwaukee, and then a torn labrum in his hip ended his season in March.

Then, his career really bellyflopped. He was traded to the Chicago Bulls in the opening month of the 2016-17 season, where he averaged seven points, three rebounds, and three assists on 37 percent shooting in about half the playing time he received in Milwaukee.

In the summer of 2017, he signed a one-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets where his numbers declined further before he lost his season in March again to a labrum tear in his shoulder.

Now, just months after signing with the Houston Rockets, he was traded back to the Bulls for Houston to save luxury tax money. Even Chicago, one of the league’s worst teams and in dire need to playmaking, isn’t expected to give him a chance.

So is that it for him?

Maybe MCW can find his way into a rotation again if fully healthy. But for now, MCW’s career has further proven the point that counting stats — like his rookie year triple-doubles — don’t always mean success.

Even in games he’d lead his team in scoring, MCW was not an effective offensive player. His shooting mechanics were poor, and a career 25 percent from three-point range showed that. He could never develop an adequate jump shot, in large part due to his recurring shoulder issues.

That’s proving to be a death sentence for Carter-Williams’ career. Shooting the ball is more important now than ever as everyone’s range is expanding, and Carter-Williams hasn’t been able to find other ways to contribute. In a sense, it shows just how great Ben Simmons, the current 76ers point guard who won’t hoist jumpers, is at the non-shooting aspects of basketball.

Basic box score numbers don’t paint the full picture, and sometimes, they don’t even paint half of it. Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Michael Carter-Williams’s names in succession are proof of that.