No off-season move was given a more apathetic glare from Dallas fans than the Mavericks acquiring of Vince Carter. The former All-Star and somewhat poster boy for not making most of his physical gifts, Carter arrived in Dallas with a collective sigh and a shrug of the shoulders. The Mavericks two-guard problems have been well documented and Carter, on the surface, appeared to be nothing more than a flashy stopgap providing more headaches than productive minutes.
Even with that reputation, Zach Lowe wrote before the season on how Carter could potentially surprise some fans if placed on a good team:
But there are plenty of teams with something at stake, and a few of those teams could use a player with Good Vince Carter's skill set. Carter can shoot, for one. He's an above-average three-point shooter for his career (37.4 percent), and his accuracy should shoot up near 40 percent as he takes cleaner spot-up attempts.
Paired with a threatening big man, Carter can work as a serviceable secondary pick-and-roll ball-handler. In 22 games with the Magic last season, Carter ranked as the league’s most efficient pick-and-roll handler, considering only such plays he finished with a shot, drawn foul or turnover, according to Synergy Sports. His efficiency on pick-and-rolls fell off a bit on Phoenix, where he didn’t have Dwight Howard rolling down the lane to draw everyone’s attention, but he still ranked well above-average. Carter is a clever passer when he feels like sharing, and on a good team, with good big men, you could do a lot worse than having him work a pick-and-roll as an emergency option when the shot clock is running down.
Sound familiar? Carter has been marvelous so far this season, posting a career-high effective field-goal percentage of 54.1 percent. Most of that has to do with Carter's also career-high 45 percent three-point shooting but he's still living up and to his efficiency in the pick and roll. Right now, pick and roll plays with Carter as the ball handler score 45.1 percent of the time according to Synergy Sports, and should only increase as pick and roll partner Dirk Nowitzki continues to round into his All-Star form.
The reason Carter seemed to fade in Orlando and Phoenix last year was mainly usage. Carter's combination of size, handles, shooting and passing abilities makes him a perfect fit for the post – except Orlando regulated him to pick and rolls and spot up attempts for the most part. Last year in Orlando, Carter only posted up 8.9 percent of his plays that ended in a shot, drawn foul or turnover. What's even more mind-boggling is those plays scored 62.1 percent of the time. Carter was absolutely deadly in his limited opportunities in the post, yet Orlando deemed him not productive enough to win a championship and shipped him away. With the abundance of three-point shooters Orlando had, it's amazing to think of how much productive offense the Magic wasted away with Carter hanging out watching Dwight Howard or just running pick and rolls.
Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks clearly had it in their plans all along for Carter to work in the post and he fits in wonderfully. Dallas has plenty of isolation sets, so it's easy to assume Carter didn't have to take too much time to get a grasp of the offense as he slide right into isolation sets in the post that normally were occupied with Dirk or Shawn Marion. The Mavericks have bumped up Carter's post time to 16.6 percent of his plays ending in a shot, foul or turnover. And Carter is still delivering, with those plays scoring an even 50 percent of the time, a fantastic number for a higher usage in the post compared to Orlando last season.
What's great about putting Carter in the post is it allows Dirk to be a spot-up shooter, which only helps him as he slowly gets back into shape. Dirk isn't being thrown back into the fray from his time off expecting to isolate and drive every single time – now he can get his offense playing off of Carter, freeing him up to attack the basket later on.
What's so odd is that a would be title-contending team like Orlando couldn't adjust to Carter's skills, despite floundering success in the playoffs since the 2009 run. Here's a tell-tale quote from Carter from ESPNDallas writer Tim MacMahon:
Carter has taken pride in his post-up game since his college days at North Carolina, where, he points out, he actually played a little power forward and regularly practiced against the Tar Heels' big men. If anything, it's been an underutilized facet of his game in the NBA.
Until now. It's become a valuable piece of the Mavs' offensive puzzle, something we could see much more often as the season progresses.
"I've always felt comfortable down there," said Carter, who is averaging 11 points on .462 shooting for the Mavericks. "I've always felt like I could use it to my advantage. I'm just glad they're allowing me to do it."
Carter definitely isn't completely guilt-free from some of the negatives that has been hurled his way throughout his career. But some of the stereotypes of his game haven't been completely accurate. Carter is still a very, very productive player. It just took some smart and alert coaching to guide him through the twilight of his career.