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Mailbag: Are Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers for real?

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Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 20 points, 7.8 assists, 5 boards and 3.3 steals through four games.

We are one week into the NBA season and have plenty of questions to address. Let's tip off the first mailbag of the season with the first week's biggest surprise, the Philadelphia 76ers.

What were your early predictions for Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams and how do they compare to how he's played thus far?
-- @SidelineUpdate

Needless to say, I did not predict a 3-0 start for his team or an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award for him. Carter-Williams had his first bad game (4-of-17 shooting with six turnovers) in Monday's 110-90 loss to the Warriors, but that doesn't mean he isn't the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.

I had no prediction for Carter-Williams because I wasn't expecting much. He was a point guard lacking in scorers to make his first season easier. The Sixers went into this season expecting to struggle after trading Jrue Holiday for injured Nerlens Noel and a first-round pick next year, and the lopsided loss to the Warriors figures to be no anomaly.

It was hard to expect much from Carter-Williams after he went No. 11 in what was regarded as a weak draft.

"He couldn't shoot," a rival general manager said of Carter-Williams's failure to be selected in the top 10. "People were leery of nothing more than his ability to shoot. His upside is that he could be like a Penny Hardaway -- a big point guard. But the downside was that he could be Shaun Livingston -- the point guard that can't shoot.''

DOLLINGER: Sixers shoot up Power Rankings

Carter-Williams didn't always look like a lottery pick at Syracuse, averaging just 10.3 minutes as a freshman.

"I loved him in the McDonald's [high school All-American] practices," the GM said. "I loved the way he could play. He had a great feel for the game. But then his freshman year, [Syracuse coach Jim] Boeheim didn't play him. He just sat there.''

When he finally did play as a sophomore, Carter-Williams made just 29.4 percent of his threes and 39.3 percent of his shots overall. Now compare those numbers to the 47.1 percent he was converting from the extended NBA three-point line before Monday while averaging 20.7 points to lead all rookies, joining Shaquille O'Neal as the only rookies to earn Player of the Week honors in their first week.

The Sixers are obviously seeking a high pick in next June's draft, which was why I was joking with friends that the 3-0 start might get new coach Brett Brown fired for conduct detrimental to the franchise. As nice as their surprise start was, the 76ers won't be able to win consistently because they'll be outmatched at most positions by most opponents. But Carter-Williams can stay in the running for ROY because he'll be a go-to scorer and Philadelphia will be seeking to run whenever possible, which suits his style. The plays he made down the stretch of three tight victories revealed his confidence and wits.

The other thing going for him is that there won't be much competition for the award. Four of the players who were chosen ahead of Carter-Williams have yet to play, while No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett has gone 0-for-15 in 49 minutes over four games with Cleveland.

Explain your love for Brooklyn this year -- No. 3 in the East -- and your dismissal of the Celtics a year ago. No. 3 vs. No. 6 for the Celtics a year ago. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are a year older, yet you guys are totally gushing over Brooklyn, whereas a year ago Boston "was old" and potentially age- and fatigue-plagued. I'm a Celts fan and realize that Boston is rebuilding, so don't take it as Celtics animosity. But your judgment is disjointed and inconsistent.
-- Ben, Lancaster, Pa.

Look at it this way, Ben: In the preseason last year, I picked the Nets to be No. 4 in the East, which is where they finished. Then they surely enhanced their team by adding Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. So how can it be a stretch to pick them No. 3?

CRYSTAL BALL: Predictions for 2013-14 NBA season

The reason I picked the Celtics No. 6 last year was not just because Pierce, Garnett and Terry were old; it was mainly because they were not surrounded by All-Stars or former All-Stars like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Kirilenko. The funniest thing is that I took a lot of grief from those who believed Boston would finish much higher in the conference; now this year I'm taking heat for expressing faith in Kobe Bryant ...

While your decision to go against the grain and project the Lakers to grab a No. 6 seed is admirable, the vast majority of the country and I fail to see your logic. You cite your reluctance to bet against Kobe Bryant, but last year we saw him drag this team with one of the three best centers in the league to only a No. 7 seed. The Grizzlies have two players who right now are better than anything the Lakers have to offer, save for an in-his-prime-type season from Pau Gasol. They also have an emerging point guard, wing defenders and an established, top-flight defense. The Grizzlies are not only a much safer but also a more realistic pick to make the playoffs than the Lakers. I fully understand that this magazine has an obligation to play to big markets, and why sometimes you must include some teams against your better judgment. I would welcome a reconsideration of this obscene ranking.
-- Ryan, Toronto

If the Lakers can be close to .500 when Kobe comes back, then their top three will be Bryant, Gasol and Steve Nash with lots of shooting around them. A great defensive team? Of course not. But teams that finish No. 6 in the conference usually aren't great defensively. I believe they'll be on the same page this season.

And I agree with you, Ryan, that the Grizzlies would have been the safer pick. But trust me on this one: My decision to pick the Lakers No. 6 does nothing for Sports Illustrated. Do you really think people in L.A. are running out to buy copies of our magazine or signing up for subscriptions because I picked them sixth? If that were the case, then I never would have gone against the grain by picking Oklahoma City to win it all.

Do you think Wiz made bad decision to re-sign John Wall? He hasn't developed an outside shot. He's a track guy playing b-ball.
-- @drdunc1220

I like it in part because he has a terrific scorer in Bradley Beal alongside him. The only problem for Wall will be if he tries to prove he can shoot. What he needs to prove is that he can win. His jump shot will develop naturally over the course of his career. But his reputation will be damaged if he forces jump shots instead of playing to his strengths, which will be to push the ball and create shots for Beal.

BELLER: Budding backcourt holds key to Wizards' future

Should the Toronto Raptors trade their star players to make way for a top-three pick in the 2014 draft?
-- @PsqueeTegra

There's no guarantee the Raptors would earn a top-three pick by getting rid of one of their stars, and I doubt any team would send a potential top pick back for one of Toronto's best players. Those teams are clearing a lot of space and absorbing a lot of pain in order to get a high pick; they aren't likely to exchange that pick for a Raptor who has been contributing to a losing program.

Biggest star to get traded at the deadline?
-- @Andy_Pat

I'll stick with Rajon Rondo. He'll be seeking huge money as a free agent in 2015, and will the Celtics want to build their next generation around him? I don't think so.

Have a question for Ian Thomsen? Ask away using the link at the top of the page or send a tweet to @SI_NBA.

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