Evaluating Vince Carter

Orlando Pinstriped Post Photo / Bruce Maddox

If someone finally gets around to writing a comprehensive book about the 2010 Orlando Magic, it'll focus primarily on shooting guard Vince Carter, whom the organization saw as a missing piece when it acquired him from the New Jersey Nets for two expiring contracts and a young prospect. As an eight-time All-Star and someone on the Hall-of-Fame bubble, he was supposed to put Orlando over the hump. Better, more expensive, and more reliable than Hedo Turkoglu, the playmaking wing whose role he assumed in theory, Carter's arrival led to high hopes in Orlando. Championship hopes. With the best supporting cast and coaching of his career, he should have thrived. In reality, he came up a bit short, and only gave his detractors more ammunition.

Vince Carter
No. 15
Shooting Guard
Points Per Game Rebounds Per Game Assists per game
16.6 3.9 3.1
Points Per 36 Rebounds Per 36 Assists per 36
19.4 4.6 3.7
PER Rebound Rate Assist rate
17.1 7.3 17.8
FG% 3FG% FT%
.428 .367 .840
eFG% TS%
.486 .541

All statistics in this table from Carter's player page at basketball-reference. Career-high statistics highlighted in gold.

I believe one of the biggest reasons anyone argued that Carter would thrive in Orlando is the presence of Dwight Howard. Carter's never played with a big man even approaching Howard's caliber, and he'd benefit from having Howard as a pick-and-roll partner. But that relationship never materialized. Sure, Howard set screens for Carter, and Carter used them, but the two never developed that lethal sort of chemistry with one another that could have led to a championship.

That's not to say that Carter stunk in the pick-and-roll. In fact, by any standard, he was among the best players in the league in running it. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Carter ranked 8th in points per possession (1.029) and 8th in percentage of plays that produced scores (47.5%) this season, with a minimum threshold of 500 pick-and-roll possessions. And he indeed dished to the roll-man far more often than Turkoglu did, which doesn't even account for the times he had a clear passing lane to Howard, but failed to use it. Turkoglu had the benefit of playing alongside Howard for 5 seasons, and with Tim Duncan for one season before that. He knew how to use a top-notch center, in other words. Carter struggled, to an extent. Perhaps another year with Howard will improve their ability to work together on the court.

Carter's struggle to mesh with Howard was part of a larger trend. For most of his career, he's been his team's go-to guy. And for the first two months of this season, he played like that was still his role, shooting at a high volume while not always looking to make plays for others. He figured out his role as the season progressed, though, but not before the worst slump of his career in January, during which he averaged 8.7 points per game on 38.7% True Shooting, which I speculate came as a result of nagging injuries to both ankles and his left shoulder, through which he played without complaint, but perhaps at the detriment of the team. At one point that month, Orlando lost 7 straight games in which Carter played.

Given the way he flamed out of the playoffs--which included a 3-point performance on 1-of-9 shooting in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, with Orlando facing elimination--and his general reputation for not showing up when it counts, it's easy to think of Carter's season as an abject failure, and his two missed free throws late in Game 2 of the Conference Finals, with the Magic trailing Boston by 2 may indeed define Orlando's season, and could prove to be among the most critical moments of his career, as Zach Lowe has argued. Yet he had some high points, most notably his 48-point performance in a come-from-behind win against the New Orleans Hornets in February; you can watch his Top 10 plays of the season here.

Overall, I think it's fair to say that Carter showed glimpses of what Orlando thought it was getting back on draft night, but that more often than not, he was simply ordinary. A few probing dribbles here, a fadeaway jumper settled for there, a driving lane left unused... whoop-de-doo. But with that said, there are few available players in this league who would fit better with the Magic than Carter does already, which is why although GM Otis Smith will likely field calls asking about Carter, he won't get anything that represents a fair return. Which draws me to this conclusion: Carter could have been better this year, but based on how he played during the first three months, he also could have been a lot worse. His shooting stats don't show many outliers, so it's unrealistic to expect him to become more efficient next year. The best chance for improvement in his second year in Magic blue is as a playmaker. More familiarity with Howard, and with coach Stan Van Gundy's system in general, should bring out the best of his set-up skills. But if that doesn't work, and if he doesn't assert himself more in the pinch-post? We'll have this discussion again a year from now, I'm afraid.

Grade: B-
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