Why likely NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams is having such a difficult season

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports
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OAKLAND, Calif. – It's been difficult for rookie Michael Carter-Williams to enjoy his individual success given the Philadelphia 76ers' historical struggles and some off-court adversity.

"It's been pretty tough, but I've been trying to deal with it and cope with it. I'm just staying in prayer," Carter-Williams, 22, told Yahoo Sports after the Sixers' 123-80 blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night.

Without question, Carter-Williams is easily the front-runner for the NBA Rookie of the Year award. The point guard leads all first-year players per game in scoring (17.1), assists (6.4), rebounding (5.4), steals (2.1), free throws attempted (5.4) and minutes played (34.5).

However, his lofty numbers haven't translated to wins.

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Only the Milwaukee Bucks (9-42) have a worse record than the Sixers (15-38). Philadelphia has lost seven straight contests and nine of the past 10. The Sixers are 1-11 in games Carter-Williams has missed.

This frequency of losing had been foreign for the former Syracuse star taken 11th overall in last year's NBA draft.

"No player is excited about losing games no matter what accomplishments he gets," Carter-Williams said. "I'd be a lot happier if we were winning."

The young Sixers enter Wednesday's road game against the Utah Jazz having dropped its past two games by a mammoth 45 and 43 points against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Warriors, respectively. Philadelphia joined the 1993-94 Sixers as the only two NBA teams to lose consecutive games by 40-plus points. This week's beat-downs were also the third largest total margin of defeat in consecutive games in NBA history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I'd love to go out there and win," said Carter-Williams, who had a season-high eight turnovers in Sunday's loss to the Clippers. "I understand that it's a process. Some teams are better than us. Some teams have more talent. We got to work twice as hard.

"If a team is more talented than us, then we got to work harder. That's something we failed to do the last two games."

Even with all of the losing, accolades keep coming Carter-Williams' way. He has won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Award twice so far, joining Allen Iverson as the only other Sixer to do so. During the upcoming All-Star weekend, Carter-Williams has been selected to participate in the Rising Stars-Rookie Challenge and the Skills Challenge.

"Did I realize before he was that good? Did I think he was going to be this impactful in my first year?," Sixers first-year coach Brett Brown asked. "My answer is no, I did not. I'm wonderfully surprised. I'm pleasantly surprised. But the road for him is far.

"I don't want to get too dramatic, too excited, too flattering. So far so good, but he has a really long ways to go. I think he has the intellect, the poise and the quiet competitiveness to pull it off."

Chances are, though, the Sixers may undergo significant changes before Carter-Williams reaches that point.

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The rebuilding Sixers have trade rumors circling them as the Feb. 20 deadline approaches. While Carter-Williams is safe, two Sixers that could be moved are starters Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner. Young has previously expressed hope, but not an ultimatum, to the Sixers of being traded to a winning situation.

"It's a business and I've always said that," Young said. "If it happens, it happens; pack up my family and we got to go on to the next city. At the end of the day while I'm here or if they choose to keep me here, I'll just keep playing and be ready each and every night. I'll keep going out there trying to do my job."

While Carter-Williams is unfamiliar with the on-court team struggles he's faced this season, he has had to overcome several difficult family issues that have arisen over the past year.

His childhood home in Hamilton, Mass., was on fire on March 23 at the same time his Syracuse Orange were playing against California in the NCAA tournament in San Jose, Calif. The roof collapsed and firefighters from eight towns needed two hours to put the fire out.

More recently, his 16-year-old sister, Masey Zegarowski, tore her ACL playing high school basketball this season and he learned that a close family friend is extremely ill. He was given permission by the Sixers to go home for personal reasons after a loss to the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 1.

Young is hoping that Carter-Williams can use basketball to get his mind off his personal problems. But the Sixers' losses aren't much of an elixir.

"Sometimes things happen where you have to continue to go out there and do your job and try to just block things out," Young said. "Use basketball as something that can get you away from all the frustrations, all the things going on with family or off the court."

Carter-Williams' mother, Mandy Carter-Zegarowski, attended the Sixers' road games against the Clippers and the Warriors, and had a lengthy discussion with her son in the Oracle Arena stands after the Golden State loss.

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"Right now he could use the extra support," Carter-Zegarowski said. "I did make a point of coming to see him right now. We just thought it would be nice for him to look up in the crowd and see support. He definitely wants to do more to help the team win."

Carter-Williams will be extremely busy during All-Star weekend taking part in two events, attending Sunday's All-Star Game and making appearances for the NBA and the companies he endorses. While Carter-Williams will have little time to take a much-needed mental breather this All-Star weekend, he is looking forward to the experience and wants "to soak it all in."

"I could mentally use a little bit of a break right now," Carter-Williams said. "But I'd rather be in the game [Friday] than not in the game."