Their owner might call 19-63 a "huge success," but for Philadelphia 76ers fans, there weren't very many bright spots in a dismal season that saw the hometown team tie an NBA record for consecutive losses. There was one silver lining surrounding the dark clouds of defeat and all that tanking vs. rebuilding chatter, though: the play of first-year point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who was viewed as a boom-or-bust prospect coming out of Syracuse and showed bits of burst and bloom during his first season, and who now has a bit of hardware to show for it.
The NBA announced Monday that Carter-Williams won the league's 2013-14 Rookie of the Year award. He's the third straight point guard to take home the award, following in the footsteps of Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving, and the fifth in the last six years, joining Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose.
After winning four out of a possible six Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors this season, Carter-Williams was far and away the most popular choice among award voters. He received 104 of a possible 124 first-place votes from ballot-casting sportswriters and broadcasters, while tallying 569 total points — you get five points for a first-place vote, three for a second-place nod, and one for third place — to outpace second-place finisher Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic (16 first-place votes, 364 total points) and third-place rookie Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz (one first-place vote, 96 total points).
Brooklyn Nets big man Mason Plumlee, who finished fourth with 58 total points, received two of the remaining three first-place votes, while the final top nod went to New York Knicks shooter Tim Hardaway Jr., who came in fifth with 23 points. (And who cast that lone first-place vote for Hardaway Jr.? Turner Sports analyst Steve Kerr. Have fun with that, conspiracy theorists.)
Rounding out the top 10 were Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng, who rode a strong final month of the season to three third-place votes, and the trio of Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams, Milwaukee Bucks wing Giannis Antetokounmpo and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Nick Calathes, each of whom received one third-place vote.
Eight of the top 10 picks in the 2013 draft received no votes. (Seven of nine if you exclude Carter-Williams' teammate, Nerlens Noel, who missed the entire campaign rehabbing a torn left ACL.) That includes four of the top five picks — No. 5 selection Alex Len, who saw limited minutes in a significantly better than expected Phoenix Suns frontcourt; No. 4 choice Cody Zeller, who rounded into a rotation contributor for Steve Clifford's playoff-bound Charlotte Bobcats; No. 3 pick Otto Porter, buried on the Washington Wizards bench by the Trevor Ariza-Martell Webster small-forward combo; and, of course, No. 1 overall selection Anthony Bennett, whose rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers was, to put it mildly, a pretty significant disappointment. (Per K L Chouinard of Bucksketball, Bennett is the first non-injured top pick to receive zero points in Rookie of the Year voting since the point system was introduced in 2003. Oof.)
Carter-Williams grabbed national attention right out of the gate with a 22-point, 12-assist, nine-steal, seven-rebound performance to lead the Sixers to a shocking win over the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat in their season opener. He became the first rookie since Shaquille O'Neal in 1992 to begin his career with a conference Player of the Week award after leading the Sixers to a surprising 3-0 record; while the team's fortunes would turn precipitously thereafter, Carter-Williams continued to put up numbers at the controls of head coach Brett Brown's offense.
There's a reasonable argument to be made for the Nets' Plumlee, who led all rookies in Player Efficiency Rating, posted the league's third-best True Shooting percentage and played an integral role in Brooklyn's post-Jan. 1 surge by performing admirably in place of injury-limited centerpiece Kevin Garnett. Ditto for Oladipo, who shot 38 percent from 3-point land after the All-Star break while also nudging his field-goal/free-throw percentages and assist-to-turnover ratio north, and helped the Magic defense improve from third-worst-in-the-league-caliber when he sat (108.5 points per 100 possessions allowed) to just-outside-the-top-10 when he played (102.7 points-per-100).
Ultimately, though, Carter-Williams' overwhelming counting stats carried the day, as he led all freshmen in scoring (16.7 points per game), rebounding (6.2 rebounds per game) and assists (6.3 assists per game), joining Oscar Robertson and Alvan Adams as just the third player since the 1950-51 season to top all three categories; he also led all rookies in steals, per-game and total. The 22-year-old triggerman also stands as one of only three rookies in league history to average at last 16-6-6 over the course of his first season, joining Robertson and Magic Johnson. Some more "you're in good company, kid" news: The only other player to put up 16-6-6 this year was a guy you might've heard of named LeBron James.
With the 76ers potentially adding two lottery picks (their own and, if it falls outside the top five, the choice the New Orleans Pelicans sent them in exchange for Jrue Holiday) and an ostensible third in a healthy Noel this summer, Carter-Williams could soon find himself surrounded by even more good company in Philadelphia. Sam Hinkie's rebuild remains a long way from complete, but he looks to have found a pivotal building block in the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year.
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