ORLANDO – When the Orlando Magic won seven of their first nine games with late-season signee Michael Carter-Williams running the second unit, it was something of a no-brainer for the team to keep the veteran point guard on the roster for the remainder of the season.
Now, after seeing the enormous impact that Carter-Williams had on the Magic with his long-armed defense and his ability to push the pace offensively, it was also a no-brainer to bring him back for the upcoming season.
The Magic and Carter-Williams came to an agreement early in the free-agent courting period to continue their partnership and the 27-year-old point guard officially signed his contract with Orlando on Wednesday night.
Bringing Carter-Williams back was great news to Magic head coach Steve Clifford, who marveled at the impact the 6-foot-6 guard had on the team last season in 12 regular-season games and five playoff games. Clifford had coached Carter-Williams previously in Charlotte, and along with Magic GM John Hammond – who worked with the point guard in Milwaukee – they were able to add a guard who helped push the Magic to the postseason with his stellar play.
“Sometimes when you watch film, you say, `Wow, these guys are good!’ Defensively, there are nights now where defensively – and I don’t know if we all realize it – but he was spectacular,’’ Clifford raved. “He can guard (point guards), (shooting guards) and many (small forwards), contain the ball, pressure the ball without getting beat and steal the ball. There’s just not many guys who can do that. Plus, we played faster (with Carter-Williams on the floor). He played really well.’’
Bringing players back from a Magic team that closed last season 22-9 was a mission of the Orlando front office going into the summer, and the team has done just that in a big way so far. The Magic have already retained unrestricted free agents Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross and Carter-Williams. Restricted free agent Khem Birch also officially re-signed with the franchise on Wednesday night.
Signed to a 10-day contract on March 15 after reserve point guard Isaiah Briscoe injured his knee, Carter-Williams showed his potential as an elite-level defender right away by playing a major role in Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young missing all five of his 3-point shots in a 101-91 Magic victory.
The Magic won their first three games with Carter-Williams on the roster, and after he signed a second 10-day contract on March 25, the Magic pushed their winning streak to five with him in the fold.
Carter-Williams was signed for the remainder of the season on April 4 and the Magic won their final four games to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2012. In 12 games with the Magic, he averaged 5.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks in 18.9 minutes a night. Among the Magic regulars, Carter-Williams had the second-best individual defensive rating on the team (103.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), trailing only reserve center Khem Birch (102.7 points per 100 possessions). Also, he averaged the second-most pass deflections a game (1.8), trailing only Jonathan Isaac (1.9).
However, the number that mattered most to the Magic was this one: They were 10-2 with him on the roster over the final 12 regular-season games.
He also played well in the playoffs, contributing 10 points, five rebounds, two 3-pointers and two assists in Orlando’s Game 1 defeat of the eventual World Champion Toronto Raptors. In the five-game series won by the Raptors, Carter-Williams averaged 6.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists despite making just 36.9 percent of his field goal opportunities.
Next season, Carter-Williams will mostly likely continue to back up veteran starting point guard D.J. Augustin. Also, he could battle with Markelle Fultz for minutes as Orlando’s second point guard if the former No. 1 pick fully recovers from the thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder that has kept him out of action much of the past two seasons.
Clifford can also see scenarios when Carter-Williams is on the floor as a shooting guard or a small-ball small forward with either Augustin or Fultz because of his versatility on the defensive end of the floor.
“John Hammond was a big part of Michael coming (to the Magic) because he had him in Milwaukee and one of the things that he talked about was that (Carter-Williams) can play more than one position,’’ Clifford said. “When you talk about depth, the guys who can guard more than one position, that’s a big deal.’’
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