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Vince Carter To The SF Spot Is A Necessity, But Could Prove To Be A Dangerous Weapon

Because LamLam went back to LaLaLand, which sounds like a dream but thank god isn't, Vince Carter has to step into the forward rotation. At the power forward, backing up Dirk, Rick Carlisle seems to have multiple tryouts with Yi Jianlian and Brandan Wright, but the most common solution is to move Shawn Marion to the backup spot and make Carter a full-time small forward. That, in fact, already happened the last two games regardless of the situation at the four. Vinsanity played all of his 52.70 minutes at that spot, shot 50.00% (42.86% from three) while also contributing a solid rebounding rate (8.08%, which is not bad for him, but actually still slightly worse than the average SF).

We surely don't want to get too high on two outings especially since Carter has declined since the All-Star Break and has been on and off with some cruel performances, but moving him to the bench and the small forward spot, although out of necessity, could prove to be a good move. He seems to flourish within a rejuvenated, odomless bench core. Let's compare some stats from him at that spot coming off the bench and starting:

Starter SF 25.56 44.04% 51.90% 1.64 4.92 2.62 1.15 1.67 11.64 4.18 11.23 0.082 0.085
Off Bench SF 22.83 77.34% 55.87% 3.13 5.44 3.13 0.95 1.63 14.27 7.61 14.95 0.145 0.141

I like to go straight with the positional stats here, because even if he started at SG, he would still need to play a good bunch of minutes for the relocated Marion. Please note that MinPG refers to the total minutes played per game when starting or coming off the bench, not only the minutes at the SF spot. The boxscore stats (FTA, TRB and such) are per 36 minutes, PTSiP refers to my "Points in the Paint"-stat, which includes all points in the paint and points off free throws.

As you can see, Carter has played better at that vacant spot when coming off the bench. He has shot a higher percentage (TS% adjusts for three-pointers and free throws), averaged more free throw attempts, grabbed more rebounds, dished out more assists. This all leads to a considerably higher rating in the advanced metrics.

Why is that so? Carter is one of the old dogs and needs a manageable amount of minutes to be effective. He has played about three fewer minutes per game coming off the bench and it showed. He also doesn't have to compete with the starting backcourt of the opposing team, chasing around and staying in front of most likely younger and quicker guards all the time, which conserves energy as well. Energy that he then doesn't have when playing the small forward later in the game.

There's one big downside though: You're giving up the best starting lineup throughout the whole league. Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood have outscored opponents by 22.93 PP100 (Points Per 100 Possessions) while holding them to only 88.58. The differential ranks 1st among starting units that have played at least 300 possessions together, the defense 2nd. Kevin Arnovitz wrote about it. I acknowledge that's hard to overcome. The same lineup with Delonte West has only outscored opponents by 3.20 PP100, but has played stingy defense as well (93.92). The main difference between the two units is the offensive end, but the vast majority of the sample from the starting lineup with West comes from the start of the season, when the Mavs where a total mess on offense no matter what. Since then, they've recovered (as the whole league has), so it might be more a thing of figuring it out than being worse by design.

It also wouldn't hurt that much if Carter could boost the bench lineups in a way he has upgraded the starting unit. We already know that he personally plays much better at the small forward coming off the bench. And that in fact counts for the team performance as well. Outside the starting unit (which essentially means that there is at least one bench player on the floor), the Mavericks have outscored opponents by 6.84 PP100 on 99.59 Def, the best point differential and defense for any player that has played at least 150 Possessions as a SF within these lineups (Marion: -6.81 PP100). You read that right, that's a 13.65-point swing from Marion to Carter, who presents much more of a threat beyond the arc and has shown his ability to be a playmaker out of the post (where Marion's TOV-rate feels like 80% right now). When Carter comes off the bench, these lineups get another uptick, now outscoring opponents by 7.39 on 98.43 Def.

Really fascinating things have happened when Carter has been paired up with the backup backcourt (Terrois or Terry/West): The Mavericks have outscored opponents by +12.30 (107.42 Off & 95.12 Def) in that case. The combination of Jason Terry/Rodrigue Beaubois and Carter has led to the team shooting 57.48 TS%, the most by any backup backcourt + small forward combination. Carter is a good complement player to Roddy (or vice versa, whatever you want). I said it here before, Roddy's drive and kicks (and don't forget Terry) will end up being an open shot with Carter spacing the floor, not necessarily with Marion, who still is reluctant to take these. Also the defense will honor Vinsanity more than the Matrix, creating more space for the guards to penetrate. That's not bashing Marion in general, he is just not a natural fit, but needed (irreplaceable) elsewhere.
Please note that the presence of Dirk has had no effect on these lineups. They've worked with him (+17.51), Marion (+20.19) and even Lamar Odom (+15.56). Brian Cardinal (-6.19), Yi (-23.06) and Wright (-11.37) even bring the numbers down a bit.

Currently Roddy, Terry and Carter are all coming off the bench, forming a triple punch and especially this combination has caused havoc throughout the season. In 64.07 minutes together off the bench, they've outscored the opponents by 19.65 PP100 (106.94 Off & 87.29 Def). How has Vince Carter fared within these lineups? See for yourself:

64.07 56.54% 1.93 6.77 2.90 2.42 0.48 13.54 8.71 20.27 0.268 0.341

Carter has shot a decent percentage, scored a huge amount of his points in the paint while getting rebounds, assists, steals and virtually not turning it over. That leads to his best values in the advanced metrics.

Although that lineup lacks a reliable sample size, it has been used against Western Conference Teams like the Thunder, Spurs, Suns or Jazz and could prove to be a dangerous weapon going forward, just like moving Vince Carter to a full-time small forward in general.

Although out of necessity.