There are players in this league for whom there is some sort of general consensus. LeBron James is the MVP, Tim Duncan is awesome (but not as awesome as he used to be), Tracy McGrady is not very good. We may not agree on the specifics of those general classifications, but I would say that for the most part, a vast majority of NBA fans have ended up at the same, basic conclusions.
That’s clearly not the case with Vince Carter. VC has never been as polarizing as, say, Kobe Bryant, but he remains a figure whose value and significance are certainly debatable. His place in today’s game can be argued just as his place in history can be.
However, in terms of his unique value to the Orlando Magic this season, there seems to be little room for argument: Vince Carter is the second most important player on Orlando’s roster. When producing at a high level, Carter is the difference between a solid but very beatable Orlando team and the titan we’ll see play tonight. The Magic are a completely different team when Vince is effective (and selective; his shot selection is typically paramount for this team), but as we learned on Sunday night, they’re still capable of winning against lesser playoff opponents on one of his off-nights.
Carter’s line from Sunday reads 14 points on 4-of-19 shooting, which is pretty awful. He attempted more shots than anyone on the team, and almost five times more shots than Dwight Howard, who was being smothered in the post by the Bobcats’ defense. Not exactly Vince’s finest hour, especially when his performance is held up for comparison against that of Rashard Lewis (19 points, 8-of-11 shooting, five rebounds) or Jameer Nelson (32 points, 10-of-18 shooting, six assists, four rebounds).
The easy thing to do on nights such as these are to look at Carter’s stat line and mumble something about Vince being Vince. Some nights you’d be right, and the tape would show Carter chucking up contested jumper after contested jumper. Not on this one, though, as Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball broke down Carter’s Sunday evening and offers a convenient video featuring each of Vince’s 19 shot attempts (click over to MB to watch):
A vast majority of Carter’s shots were quality looks. Granted, there
were some possessions when Carter should have attacked the basket (as
he did a few times in the game, looking to draw contact and get to the
free-throw line) when he was matched up against Boris Diaw on a switch
instead of settling for jumpers and making life more difficult for
himself but those situations were, surprisingly, few and far between.
Also, it should be taken into account that there were a couple of times
when Carter was given the basketball with the shot clock winding down
and forced to put up some high degree of difficulty shots, which did
nothing but exacerbate his inability to make a shot and further hurt
It’s so easy to paint players into little boxes, and to say that whenever Kobe’s field goal attempts run high he was being selfish, whenever LeBron’s shooting percentage sags he’s taking too many jumpers, or whenever Dwyane Wade racks up six turnovers he’s just not taking care of the ball.
Rarely in basketball is it ever so simple, and when players do step outside those lines — like when Vince had a miserable shooting night in Game 1 against Charlotte — the most predictable explanation isn’t always (or even usually) the best one. The problem wasn’t Vince being Vince, it was that on this particular night, VC couldn’t buy a bucket with a check made out to “CASH.” This is a case where Carter’s overall line was misleading (and as Rivera pointed out, the shot chart equally so), not because he had some added value in an incalculable aspect of the game, but because the most predictable culprit (Carter’s shot selection) was a red herring.