It's impossible to ignore how well Orlando Magic guard Vince Carter has performed this preseason. Through 6 games, Carter's leading the team in scoring at 17.2 per night, in just 24.2 minutes, with unreal efficiency to the tune of 76.2 percent True Shooting. And he's making it look effortless, really. Watch these highlights from Orlando's big wins against the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Dallas Mavericks and try not to come away impressed with his confidence, shooting stroke, and approach. It's hard to believe he's the same player who posted a disappointing 16.6 per-game scoring average last season, on 42.8 percent shooting.
Citing unnamed Magic teammates, Steve Kyler of HOOPSWORLD says Carter is eager to win an NBA championship, which explains his stellar play so far:
An informal survey of Carter's teammates revealed that money is not Vince's motivation this year, it's the reality that the window for Orlando is getting tighter and tighter and for Carter who may not be with this squad next year, it's an all or nothing proposition.
Several Magic teammates commented that Vince has shown more desire this year than they can ever recall him having, and he's been driven since early September to really push and be aggressive.
Regardless of what's motivating Carter, one thing is clear: it's working. To great effect.
Yet Carter's attitude adjustment isn't the only factor that appears to have contributed to is success. Indeed, the Magic are deploying him differently than they did last season, using him less as a facilitator and more as a jump-shooter. More specifically, data from Synergy Sports Technology show that Carter's pick-and-roll involvement has dropped from 48.7 percent of his overall plays in 2009/10 to 34.4 percent this preseason. As a result of playing off the ball, he's able to take more in-rhythm shots off the catch (33.9 percent), and fewer contested ones off the bounce (21 percent). On the downside, his assist numbers have taken a dive, which his incredible efficiency mitigates.
These developments in Carter's game are inextricably tied to Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson. With Carter's role shifting slightly, Nelson has picked up Carter's spare pick-and-roll possessions: those plays, which accounted for 58.3 percent of Nelson's possession usage last season, have accounted for two-thirds of his possessions this preseason. What's more, Nelson's shooting less and passing more often, dishing the ball on 57.8 percent of his pick-and-roll plays compared to 52.6 percent last season. Thus, he's posted impressive passing stats: 41 assists to just 8 turnovers in 167 minutes.
Also worth noting is that Carter has yet to come up empty on a post-up this preseason, shooting 6-of-6 from the floor. Again, he won't keep that up the whole year, but that figure speaks to Carter's renewed commitment to taking what the defense will yield to him. Why settle for a jumper over Kyle Korver, for example, when you can simply back him down and shoot a layup instead?
Of course, it's only the preseason, and we've yet to see how Carter responds when his jumper is off the mark, or when opposing defenses chase him off the three-point line. He can't possibly shoot 60 percent over the course of an entire season. Thus, for the Magic, it's quite important for him to keep taking these same types of shots when the games start to count. If he can do it consistently over the course of an entire season, Orlando's in great shape, even when his percentages come back down to Earth.