Michael Carter-Williams is going back to Vegas.
Fresh off supporting his Bucks summer league teammates in Sin City two weeks ago, Carter-Williams will be back in Vegas from August 11-13 to take part in Team USA's annual summer mini-camp, per ESPN's Marc Stein. To be clear, most of the 41 mini-camp participants are a long way from actually making the 12-man team that will represent the US at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, so don't expect MCW's camp invite to translate into much beyond that. Steph Curry, Mike Conley and (get ready for it) Trey Friggin' Burke (huh?) are the other point guards publicly named for the camp roster thus far, underscoring just how big of a variance there is in the players attending. You could count off a dozen or more other American point guards who would have a clear case over MCW (and more for Burke) provided they were interested and healthy, though the USA Basketball mini-camps have traditionally included some slightly random young guys for the "USA Select" rosters that scrimmage with the A-team. Among them was Larry Sanders, who sprained his ankle on the first day of the camp two years ago.
Either way, MCW's invite is a nice (if somewhat unexpected) honor as well as an opportunity to practice with some of the world's best players for a couple days. You'd hope that might also reinvigorate the pass-first mentality that we didn't see enough of last spring, though we'll have to wait a few months before we see any potential payoff. Though he improved notably after landing in Milwaukee last February and often created havoc with his ability to switch defensively, MCW's rep as a high-usage (25.8%), low-efficiency (49.6% true shooting) type won't be easy to shake.
The good news is that we can at least hold out hope that a healthy offseason -- recall he missed all of last summer after shoulder surgery -- and full training camp will put him (and his teammates) in a better position to succeed. While his overall shooting numbers were still rather woeful, there were signs of progress after his trade to Milwaukee, both in terms of mindset and results. He halved his three point rate and saw an uptick in shots at the rim, as his average shot distance fell from 11.5 to 9.0 feet and his raw (38% to 43%) and true shooting (44% to 50%) numbers both rebounded notably vs. his first half numbers in Philadelphia.
The overall result was a pretty good one for the Bucks on the scoreboard as well, as they outscored opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions with MCW on the court, including an excellent 98.0 points/100 allowed defensively. While he might not be a one-on-one stopper, his size and nose for the ball (2.4 steals and 0.6 blocks per-36) fit in well with the Bucks' switching scheme and there's no reason to think he can't be a major plus on that end moving forward.
Offensively, MCW seemed programmed to eschew three pointers and focus on attacking off the dribble and out of the post, a Shaun Livingston-style approach that Steve predicted back when the deal went down. Of course, it's not to say the results were optimal. MCW's forays into the paint led to more accuracy overall, but also plenty of wild shots and a lower finishing rate at the rim than in Philly. He also had a nagging penchant for short passes in traffic that either caught teammates off-guard or were mucked up by a crowd of defenders, contributing to an underwhelming assist-to-turnover rate. And despite shooting 56% from 10-14 feet, his percentages from 15 feet and further were again below 30% even with teams often daring him to shoot from the perimeter.
So what's the recipe for 2015? I'd suggest "less is more." Replacing Zaza Pachulia with Greg Monroe takes some of the pressure off MCW as an initiator, while Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker also figure to soak up more possessions as they mature and gain confidence. Throw in what will hopefully be a slightly more assertive Khris Middleton and there should be less pressure on MCW to force shots for himself, a habit that was exacerbated by his early success and general lack of talent surrounding him in Philly. Don't get me wrong -- point guards will always carry an outsized burden to create shots when the offense breaks down, and by definition those shots tend to be less efficient. You can't eliminate 20-foot jumpers from a point guard's game entirely, and MCW hoisting some here and there won't be what stops Giannis or Jabari from becoming the offensive stars we're dreaming they'll become. But we've also spent the last seven years scheming for ways to make the offense less dependent on Brandon Jennings, Brandon Knight and now MCW, so this isn't a new problem. Much of this is on the likes of Monroe, Giannis and Jabari to step up and create more shots on their own, but MCW's ability to embrace more of a playmaking role is also key.
If MCW doesn't improve, Kidd now also has the option of using the ever-confident Greivis Vasquez as his closer, either with or without MCW next to him. While Vasquez doesn't have a history of über-efficient scoring, he can knock down threes (38% from three last year) and make plays for others (7.3 assists vs. 2.8 turnovers per-36 career) without requiring star-level usage (19.8% last year). I wouldn't expect him to steal MCW's starting spot in camp, but Vasquez does give the Bucks a viable role-playing starter in the event that the MCW experiment stalls out. Bucks fans will hope that won't be necessary, but with MCW turning 24 before the season and an extension possible next summer, they'll want to see improvement sooner rather than later.