Despite the fact that Lamar Odom clearly ranks as the offseason’s biggest pickup for the Mavericks, Vince Carter will always have a place in our sports memory that L’Odom never could. VC, believe it or not, is just two years older than the 32-year old Odom. He scored as many points as Odom did last year, and had a very respectable 14.89 PER (to Odom’s, as we’ve discussed unusual for him, 19.5).
Especially given the price, all indications point to Carter being a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the Mavs.
Carter is a 6’6" shooting guard who not too long ago was a basketball must-see. In his Half-Man, Half-Amazing days, he did things in mid-air that you and I have a hard time doing standing in a pool. When he recently said that all that dunking stuff was "overrated", it broke my heart a little bit, not because I imagined for a minute that the dude was going to be doing any of it in Dallas, but if he didn’t ENJOY it, what was the dang point?
But I digress. The Mavs are certainly not getting that Vince Carter. It is in fact, not clear what they’re getting. After he was traded to Phoenix last year, he shot a terrible 42.2% and started fouling every one as a defender. Because it’s Vince on the one hand, and because he’s approaching his mid-30s on the other hand, it is impossible to know what part of that is decline, and what part of that is having been traded from a contender to a never-was.
Here’s the thing, though. Steve Novak and Peja Stojakovic may shoot a basketball from distance at about equal levels of ability—but Peja, because he’s Peja, has done it against the best defenses, in the toughest atmosphere, as the focal point of the offense and as a devastating secondary weapon. For years.
Being an All-Star is not just about what you can do, physically. Other than VC’s strength, it’s not clear that Gerald Green, for example, couldn’t physically perform all the high-flying stunts that Carter performed. Carter, like Peja, is smart. He’s been there before, a lot of times before. He knows where to be with the ball, and where to pass the ball.
Carter, unlike many older players, has not had to develop a three-point shot as he got older, because he already had it. He’s a lifetime .374 shooter, and shot .366 with Phoenix last year, .367 with Orlando the year before and .385 with the Nets the year before. Given the set-up of the Mavs offense that, more than anything, is probably what inspired this pickup.
I expect for him a more productive version of what I expect from his cousin, Tracy McGrady, with the Hawks, an even greater player who has fallen on ever harder times. I expect him to play a big role in making the right offensive plays and taking advantage of the opportunities afforded him by the fact that he has never played with this much talent before.
When swinging it around the perimeter, Carter adds to the Mavs coterie of wing players with a three-point shot, an essential part of the Mavericks offense. He’s still capable of taking the ball inside, and what he can’t achieve by lift and power, he can still achieve to a certain degree by a lot of experience finding a way to take his guy to the hoop. He’s never scored lower than the 14 points he scored last year, and never had a lower TS% than last year’s 52.8%. But he’s still an effective scorer, and if he chooses his spots wisely (a luxury perhaps never afforded him before in his career), he could fit right in, on a team that doesn’t need him to do too much.
Carter is likely to see nearly all of his minutes at the two, and it’s possible that they’ll be limited minutes. He’s already sat out a practice or two with knee tendinitis, he is 34, and he is not a great defender. The Odom signing is also likely to cut in to his minutes, as the Mavs have Roddy Beaubois and Jason Terry as guards that should not often be playing the one, and Delonte West who will play both. It’s unclear, as yet, whether Dominique Jones will be able to work his way into minutes, though these would also likely come at the two.
Having said that, Carter may see some minutes at the three, when the Mavericks go small. If they decide to stick with their occasional three-guard lineup, without Barea, Carter is very likely to be the third guard, given his size. Also, with only one true SF on the roster (Marion) and one who’s likely to see most of his minutes there (Odom) but who is technically a PF, in smaller lineups in general VC may slot over to the three. These lineups might look something like Dirk, Odom, Carter, Terry, Kidd or Dirk, Odom, Marion, Terry, Kidd (or with either of the guards replaced by West and Beaubois).
Ultimately, the Mavs probably picked Carter up because of his intelligence and three-point shooting, but also the fact that they’ve had a lot of success with late-career veterans who have everything but a ring. With Vince, it’s all going to be about whether he’s willing to do what the Mavericks ask of him and not more. He’s never been this far down on the scoring totem pole and like Shawn Marion before him, it may require some discussion.
Count on the Mavericks culture, as well as their recent obvious success (championships help a lot of arguments) to convince Carter that if everybody toes the line, everybody can get what they deserve. If Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic and Caron Butler could learn to become role players (although obviously, three of them especially with very LARGE roles), count on Carter to be able to, too. If he buys into the Mavs culture enough to pick his spots, and learns the system, it’s reasonable to expect a Caron-like contribution from Carter this year, at least on offense.