On Michael Carter-Williams and Picking Up the Pace

Jason Kidd wants point guard Michael Carter-Williams to focus on pushing the pace offensively for the Bucks. Plus: looking ahead to the next five games, stats of the week and more.

Since Michael Carter-Williams arrived in Milwaukee in February, Bucks fans have asked a lot from him. Score more on fewer shots; make more threes; record more assists; don’t turn the ball over.

What is interesting to note, however, is that some view his success primarily through his ability to put up numbers in the box score when, in fact, the league’s best point guards do so much that cannot be measured by numbers. Truly great point guards find a way to drastically impact the game in more subtle ways that don’t show up in their stat line.

Recently, the Bucks have asked Carter-Williams to focus on one of those things.

“I thought Michael did a really good job with (pushing it make or miss),” head coach Jason Kidd said, in reference to Carter-Williams’ performance against the Pacers on Saturday. “He was one of the guys that set the tone for us on the offensive end by pushing the ball and getting the ball over (half court) with 21 seconds (on the shot clock) and giving us an opportunity to get an easy basket.”

This season, the Bucks are dead last in pace, despite having a number of players that excel in transition and playing at the league’s 12th fastest pace last season. In recent games, Carter-Williams has tried to push the tempo.

“That is what I want to continue to do. Push the ball up the floor,” Carter-Williams said Wednesday night. “We have guys that can run, so that’s what I want to continue to do.”

Pushing the tempo is an easy way to get teammates involved and put pressure on the defense. This is especially important for the Bucks who have one of the league’s most dangerous weapons in transition, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is currently scoring in the league’s 89th percentile on transition opportunities (1.39 points per transition possession).

“First, I’m looking for open teammates,” says Carter-Williams. “If they’re running the lanes, kick it ahead to them, so if they have a driving lane they can get to the hoop. If they’re not open, I’m looking to attack, get in the paint and create help. If (defenders) don’t help, finish.  If I have nothing, I can always pull it out and run a play.”

On Wednesday night vs. the Detroit Pistons, it was the second and third part of the plan that came to fruition for Carter-Williams early in the game. In the first quarter, it seemed as though the Pistons were focused on limiting his teammates, so Carter-Williams went on the attack, tallying 10 first quarter points and two assists.

When pushing the tempo, the player benefiting from the quicker pace will change, but the increased scoring opportunities will not. As the game went on, the Pistons started to take away Carter-Williams’ transition opportunities, forcing the Bucks to score in other ways. The Bucks handled that change with relative ease.

“Getting the ball over with 21 seconds (on the shot clock) just gives your offense multiple opportunities and that also gives you more time to make the defense work,” Kidd said Wednesday night.

No box score records the number of times the Bucks cross the halfcourt line with 21 seconds left on the shot clock or the number of long passes Carter-Williams makes to a wing player attacking in transition, but while points, rebounds, and assists will fluctuate, pushing the ball up the floor is something that can be done consistently.

So, while others will be looking to the box score for the maturation of Michael Carter-Williams, I will be looking at the half court line and the shot clock. I suggest you do the same.

Clip of the Week

This seems like a completely innocuous play in the middle of a 20 point blowout, but it is so much more. On Saturday night, the Pacers beat the Bucks in transition over and over again. Despite the Bucks being up by 20 points against the Pistons on Monday, O.J. Mayo took care of his responsibilities and gave the young players on the team a valuable example of how to carry yourself on the floor.

What to Read

The Bucks Represent an Ideal, Collaborative Milwaukee – Allen Halas took a closer look at what the Bucks have done to collaborate with local businesses and artists and how they could serve as a uniting force for the city of Milwaukee.

How the small-ball virus has infected the NBA – Zach Lowe is back to writing things at ESPN (!!!) and this week he took a look at the “small ball revolution” taking place in the NBA. The piece contains a few interesting quotes from Bucks coach Jason Kidd and might shed some light on the positional futures of Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker.

Rough third quarter sends Bucks to third consecutive loss – This is normally a place for in-depth pieces about specific topics during the Bucks season, not game stories, but this one was too important to ignore. Even though the Pacers dominated the Bucks, it was exciting to see the way Greg Monroe and Khris Middleton talked about the Bucks lackluster effort after the game.

Week in Review

Saturday – The Bucks were embarrassed in Indianapolis as they failed to keep up the Pacers and were blown out 123-86. The Pacers hit 15 of their 30 three point attempts and seemed to get just about whatever they wanted in transition against the Bucks.

Monday – After one of their worst performances of the season, the Bucks put together their two best quarters of basketball and arguably their best game of the season in a 109-88 victory over the Detroit Pistons. Greg Monroe was fantastic (20 points, 13 rebounds) in his battle against former teammate Andre Drummond and six other Bucks recorded double digit point totals.

Next Week’s Preview

Wednesday – The Bucks host Boogie and the boys in their second straight home game. It will be just the second game against a Western Conference opponent for the Bucks this season and the eighth straight game against an Eastern Conference foe for the Sacramento Kings. DeMarcus Cousins injured his back in overtime of the Kings game on Monday and appeared to still be dealing with discomfort on the way to Milwaukee.

Friday – After two games at home, a familiar face will greet the Bucks in Orlando as they prepare to take on the Scott Skiles-led Magic. Skiles has his young team out to a 6-8 start and has seemingly helped revitalize the career of Frenchman Evan Fournier, who leads the team in scoring with over 18 points per game.

Sunday – Up next for Milwaukee: the Charlotte Hornets. After losing their first three games possibly due to significant offseason changes (including the departure of Lance Stephenson and the addition of Nic Batum), the Hornets have won eight of their last 11 games.

Monday – A return home will offer a chance at some redemption for the Bucks as they welcome the Denver Nuggets, who beat the Bucks by a single point on a late Kenneth Faried putback in Denver earlier this month.

Wednesday – The Bucks head out on the road once again for a game against one of the Western Conference’s best teams, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs made one of the splashiest moves of the entire offseason by signing LaMarcus Aldridge and it has paid off as they have won 11 of their 14 games this season.

Stats of the Week

54.7 – Opponents are shooting 54.7 percent on shots in the restricted area against the Bucks. This is the league’s third lowest percentage. Unfortunately, teams are taking 30.3 shots in the restricted area per game, the league’s second highest number.

1.14 – Giannis Antetokounmpo travels 1.14 miles on defense per game this season, which is the 17th highest per game amount.

51.6 – Despite taking on a larger scoring load, Jabari Parker has managed to take 51.6 percent of his shots within three feet of the rim.

Quick Bucks is Milwaukee Magazine‘s weekly roundup of all things Milwaukee Bucks written by Eric Nehm. You can also find his work at SBNation’s Brew Hoop or you can find him on Twitter @eric_nehm, where he would love to know how you eat the things on your Thanksgiving plate. Mixed together or separately?