We had hoped moving from Philadelphia to Milwaukee would spark a quick change in Michael Carter-Williams. MCW is still pretty young, but he's played enough basketball and said all the right things to suggest he knows where his flaws are as a player. He wants to be a pass-first point guard, a guy who sets up his teammates in the right spots while systematically choosing his own.
Really, "hope" isn't a strong enough word. For Carter-Williams to work out in the long term, that change has to happen. The Bucks saw what a high-usage, low-efficiency point guard can do to an offense during the Brandon Jennings era, and nobody wants that back. It's very early in the experiment, to be sure. It's probably unwise to throw in the towel on MCW's potential on this team until he gets at least a full season under his belt.
Still, it's discouraging to see the two key stats we're watching, usage rate and assist percentage, hold steady (in terms of USG%) and actually decrease (in the case of AST%) since moving from the 76ers to the Bucks. According to Basketball-Reference.com, MCW is using roughly 25.6% of the Bucks' possessions , the highest on the team, but his 46.1 TS% is the lowest among all the regular rotation players by a pretty wide margin. That's a nasty combination and a near guarantee of inefficient team offense these days (note that usage rate also incorporates turnover rate, which isn't doing MCW any favors either).
What's interesting (maybe even a bit maddening) is that MCW's shot distribution since joining the Bucks looks much like one might have hoped it would when he joined the team. Specifically, over half of his total shot attempts have come in the immediate basket area.
Shots at the rim are great, and Carter-Williams has the size, strength, and athleticism to get there against most of the perimeter defenders he faces. But as a Buck, he's had one hell of a time finishing those shots, shooting just 48.3% inside three feet. That's a big drop from his rookie season mark of 55.3%, and way down from the 62.7% he was hitting at the rim with the Sixers this year.
There's not much of a track record to go on, but even a staunch Carter-Williams detractor would have to wonder whether MCW's finishing can stay as bad as it looks right now. Given more time to acclimate to Milwaukee's offensive scheme, and just work out the kinks in his own game, the expectation has to be that his shooting numbers will come up at least a bit, while his turnover rate would hopefully decline along with increased familiarity with the Bucks system. A summer of good health would hopefully also make a difference in his outside shot; shoulder surgery last May prevented him from doing any summer work on his problematic jumper a year ago.
That said, Milwaukee's spacing problems don't make it easy on anybody. Every drive by a Bucks player is likely to be met with multiple opposing defenders, since only Ersan Ilyasova is a reliable shooting threat in the frontcourt at the moment (but there's hope for Giannis!). Shooters are a point guard's best friend, so it's perhaps no surprise that Carter-Williams's success has been largely tied to the presence of Khris Middleton (though it seems the same could be said about nearly every Bucks player this season). According to NBA.com/Stats, in the 87 minutes MCW has played without Middleton, the Bucks have been outscored by 16 points. In the 525 minutes they've shared the court, Milwaukee has outscored the competition by 51.
These concerns aren't exactly surprising, and even if some positive regression is a reasonable expectation, the constraints that come with a lead guard who doesn't have a threatening outside will continue to weigh heavily on the Bucks' offense. Milwaukee has gotten creative in their attempts to turn Carter-Williams into a passable offensive weapon, turning him loose in the post where his size presents an obvious advantage. And the good news is that the Bucks overall have been pretty good with MCW on the court -- outscoring opponents by 2.5 pts/100 overall, with the team's current starting five +3.7 pts/100. But post-ups are most valuable when they open up perimeter teammates for open shots, and that requires a posting player to be dangerous enough to warrant extra help defense. Carter-Williams has looked pretty good in the post at times, but it's still very situational. Moreover, despite the relative success of lineups featuring Carter-Williams, it's difficult to look at his individual numbers and conclude they're doing well because of him.
Short term, the clear edict is that MCW simply needs to shoot the ball less, though that might be a bit challenging for a team comprised mostly of complementary scorers. Elite point guards set up their teammates with the threat of individual offense, but that's just not really an option for Carter-Williams right now. If it sounds like an unworkable situation, well, there's a reason the Bucks are one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA. But there's hope that things can get better with some natural regression, a slightly more restrictive approach, and increased reliance on the Bucks' other scoring options.