Only three players in NBA history have averaged at least 16 points, six rebounds, and six assists per game during their rookie seasons: Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Carter-Williams.
And while it may feel like he’s been around for a minute, MCW is only entering his fourth season in the NBA in a career that has taken plenty of twists and turns. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 thanks to his historic first year with the Philadelphia 76ers only to be dealt to the Bucks midway through his sophomore season. He later suffered a torn labrum that put him on the shelf for the final two months of the 2015-2016 campaign.
While putting up numbers that many would envy thus far in his career, people have been harshly (and perhaps unjustly) critical of the 24-year-old. Some argue that the current version of MCW isn't the same as the one that existed back in 2014—his points, assists, and rebounds per game have all dipped—but the Syracuse product is poised to prove that he’s still one of the top young point guards in the league.
Currently, he’s in the Philippines headlining the sixth annual NBA 3X event, which includes a three-on-three tournament open to men’s and women’s teams from all over the country. We spoke to MCW about his summer, the upcoming NBA season, his thoughts on Thon Maker, and his former acting career.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Tell me a little bit about the NBA 3X event. What is it, what are you doing for it?
It’s at the Mall of Asia. There are some three-on-three games, and I’m just going there to interact with the players, see the kids play, and just enjoy the whole atmosphere.
I know that basketball is huge in China and people there go crazy for it. Would you say there’s a similar level of excitement in the Philippines?
Yeah, for sure. They’re big basketball fans there. You can tell just by being here how much they appreciate the game. So many people play. Just by doing things like this, you can tell how much they really love the game, and they get really excited when they see NBA players. They appreciate us a lot because they love the game so much.
Have you had any crazy encounters with fans there?
[Laughs.] Not anything super crazy, but they’re really excited like I said before. They probably don’t see NBA players too often, so when they do, they get excited and it’s just a good experience for them.
Shifting gears a little bit now to basketball and the Bucks. Your coach Jason Kidd was one of the best point guards in NBA history. How has he influenced your game?
He’s influenced my game a lot. When he played the game, he was able to see and learn different things out there. Now he explains them to me and helps me apply them to my game both offensively and defensively.
It wasn’t like one day I was like, 'Okay, I want to be Aladdin.'
What specifically has he taught you on both sides of the floor?
On the defensive side, just getting in passing lanes and forcing the man I’m guarding one way. On the offensive side, he’s really taught me how to read defenses and how to see the floor when I’m coming off of pick-and-rolls. He was really good at pushing the ball in open space, which he encourages me to do too.
Going into last season, a lot of people thought the Bucks were primed to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Obviously, you guys didn’t end up making the playoffs and you tore your labrum back in March. How frustrating or disappointing was last season?
It was frustrating at the time, and I think we were all disappointed with how it ended. But it was a good learning experience for us. We learned what it really takes to win in this league, and I think we’ve got to learn to play together better and just be better overall as a team; focus on the right things so we can win ballgames.
What are you expectations for the Bucks this season?
Our goal is to make the playoffs, and I think we’re capable of doing that. It’s just about us putting the pieces together.
During the off-season, J-Kidd mentioned that Giannis [Antetokounmpo] was going to run the point next season, which is obviously a position that you’ve played your entire career. Do you know if you’ll be sharing time with him?
To be honest, Coach and I really haven’t talked about it too much yet. Like you said, I tore my labrum and I think the biggest thing for me was to get healthy, get back on the court, and just improve my all-around game. So there’s definitely things him and I still have to talk about, but we haven’t really spoken about it yet.
If it were up to you, would you want to be the full-time starting point guard for the Bucks?
Yeah. I think that’s what I came in this league to do. I think that’s what I am, and I know a lot of people have different roles on different teams. I’m just looking to go out there and win and do whatever I can to help my team win. I just want to be helpful on the floor.
Going back to a few years ago, you won the Rookie of the Year award with the Sixers, but then were traded to the Bucks midway through your second season. Did that move come as a surprise to you?
Yeah. I wasn’t expecting to be traded, so it definitely was a surprise to me. But things happen in this league so I just decided to take in stride and start a new journey in Milwaukee.
How did the experience of getting traded so early on in your career help you grow as a player and even as a person?
As a person, it helped me adapt to different situations. As a player, it’s something that I never experienced before so it just taught me how to deal with that, and how to go into a new situation and try to make the best of it.
What are your first impressions of Thon Maker on the court?
He’s a hard worker. I’ve worked out with him a few times, and I can tell he works really hard. I watched him a little bit in Summer League. He’s definitely a talented kid and he loves the game. If you work hard and you’re somewhat talented, you’ll be successful in this league.
He definitely fits in with the rest of the lengthy dudes on the Bucks’ roster. To stick with Thon for a moment, there’s been a lot of speculation in the media about his age. Do you know how old he is?
[Laughs.] No. It’s not really something that I’ve spoken to him about. I think it’s kind of dumb and it doesn’t really matter what his age is. There’s a bunch of rookies that come from oversees that are older. It doesn’t really matter. He’s here to play. I could care less how old he is.
Who are your top-five Syracuse players of all time?
Hmm. Top-five Syracuse players. In no order, I would say G-Mac [Gerry McNamara], Melo…Can I name players that played with me?
Absolutely. You can say MCW if you like.
[Laughs.] Myself, Kris Joseph, and Jerami Grant.
I’m definitely not a singer, you know what I mean? I didn’t even realize how much pressure being on stage really was.
I like it. A stacked team. Speaking of which, what do you make of Kevin Durant going to the Warriors this off-season?
I think it’s definitely interesting. It’s going to be interesting to see how they work together. Of course they have a crazy amount of talent over there, but like I said, it’ll be interesting. Who knows how they’re going to play together? They’re obviously going to be pretty good, but I think it’s interesting to see how the league is going to be this year.
Yeah, and obviously the Warriors were already a terrific team, but with KD going there, now they have four stars and a lot of people consider them to be a “superteam.” Would you say that superteams are good for the NBA? Bad for the NBA?
I don’t know. This is like the first time that’s really happened, so I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the NBA. I guess we’ll just have to see how it plays out. Again, I don’t think that just because they have a lot of talent on that team, there aren’t other teams in this league that don’t have talent. They might not have the big names like the Warriors do, but everybody’s good in this league. You can get beat on every given night.
This is going back in the day a little bit, but I heard that you played Aladdin in a high school play. First of all, is that true?
Yeah, it’s true.
That’s awesome. Second of all, did you nail the “A Whole New World” duet?
[Laughs.] Oh man. Yeah, I mean there’s definitely more to the story. It wasn’t like one day I was like, “Okay, I want to be Aladdin.” My music teacher who I was really close with, she helped me out a lot being away from home and going to school in Rhode Island. She was like a mother to me on campus. But she was the theater teacher and she didn’t have anyone to play Aladdin, so she asked me if I would. So of course, being the person that she was to me, I was only going to do that for her. The rest of the basketball team joined me in the play. It was hard cause I was really nervous. I’m definitely not a singer, you know what I mean? I didn’t even realize how much pressure being on stage really was, so I definitely had a newfound respect for people who do that. But it was a good experience. We had a lot of fun.
Sounds like the real high school musical. When your career is over, could you see yourself pursuing acting?
I don’t know. Maybe that’s something I would want to do. Like I said, it was really fun doing the play.