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Is Vince Carter the Better Fit Within a Closing Lineup?

I was listening to the Ben & Skin Show this Tuesday where Jeff "Skin" Wade mentioned a very interesting statistic from the Mavs recent play. I can't remember the exact quote, but he was basically saying that in late-game situations lineups with Vince Carter have worked exceptionally better than lineups with Shawn Marion. It's an interesting fact, to say the least, because naturally one would think that Marion should make the difference with his defensive presence late in the game. Not to mention he also has established himself as a legitimate closer as a part of the league leading, championship clutch lineup last year. Over the season, Marion has kept his role, getting 163.37 minutes at the small forward spot outside garbage time in the fourth quarter or overtime with five or less minutes remaining. Vince Carter has only played 70.00 minutes in these situations. Against Western Playoff Opponents, Marion has played 66.32 and Carter 36.63 minutes. I like to dodge the "Clutch" measurement here (game within five points or less with five or less minutes remaining in 4th and OT) in favor of "outside garbage time", because this counts in competitive situations in which one team can still very well win the game outside the +/- 5 margin.

Lately, in April, though, Carlisle adjusted his rotation, giving Carter as much floor time in late-game situations as Marion. In fact, Vince played slightly more, 31.63 to 28.37 minutes. Let's look at some numbers after the jump to see if that move is indeed justified.

As said, these are positional stats only counting in lineups in which the players have occupied the small forward spot. This rules out any noise created by the presence (or lack of) Dirk Nowitzki, who in most cases will play the power forward at that time. C_MIN refers to clutch minutes within the sample. It's just a visualization of why I used my garbage time adjusted measurement here. There are much more competitive minutes outside the "Clutch" late in a game. These are team statistics while the player was on the floor despite PER, WS48 and WP48, which are individual metrics.

PlayerName MIN C_MIN OffEff DefEff EffDiff TS% AST_TOV TRB% PER WS48 WP48
Shawn Marion 163.37 104.62 100.14 102.82 -2.68 51.82% 1.06 52.57% 15.54 0.109 0.272
Vince Carter 70.00 35.03 124.61 102.78 21.83 60.06% 2.20 46.49% 14.50 0.099 0.182

PlayerName MIN C_MIN OffEff DefEff EffDiff TS% AST_TOV TRB% PER WS48 WP48
Shawn Marion 66.32 44.72 104.87 105.67 -0.80 55.27% 1.08 52.34% 19.41 0.155 0.349
Vince Carter 36.63 25.23 125.37 101.11 22.92 62.07% 2.14 50.91% 17.48 0.102 0.130

PlayerName MIN C_MIN OffEff DefEff EffDiff TS% AST_TOV TRB% PER WS48 WP48
Shawn Marion 28.37 18.47 84.60 94.44 -9.84 45.67 1.11 52.00% 23.04 0.207 0.423
Vince Carter 31.63 21.63 140.41 115.42 25.09 65.83 4.50 45.83% 15.83 0.158 0.229

These numbers are astonishing. Although Marion posts better individual statistics, the team plays much better with Carter on the floor in late-game situations. As one would expect rebounding takes a hit without the Matrix, but over the season the overall defense hasn't suffered at all. In April, the Mavericks gave up 115.52 points per 100 possessions, but because the Offensive Efficiency went through the roof they ended up outscoring their opponents by 25.09 PP100. TS% and the assist/turnover-ratio suggest a better ball movement and crisp shooting.

So while one would still consider Marion the better overall player, it's a legitimate question whether Carter is a better fit. Shawn is basically forced to stretch the floor at the small forward spot in the Mavs system, plant himself beyond the arc, wait for the kickout or crush the boards whenever a shot goes up. Whenever he receives the ball in the Mavericks flow offense, he is pretty much a ball stopper. His hesitance to take the open three messes with the ball movement while Carter takes these shots. Also the opposing defense doesn't honor Shawn's ability to constantly hit a jumper and therefore more space is created for the guards to penetrate with Carter on the floor. In April an AST% of 66.67% (18 on 27 made field goals), 65.24 points in the paint and off free throws (compared to 43.29 with Marion) and 0.346 made free throws per field goal attempt (0.136 with Marion, team average for the season is 0.187) tells the whole story. The players are able to penetrate, get to the line and on the kickout, take more and make more threes with Vince. That's basically how they won the Championship last year: Good ball movement, find the open man, hit your long shots.

Another tidbit is that Marion posts varying numbers with different backcourts while the numbers suggest that Carter allows you to shuffle the backcourt according to matchups when needed. His numbers within the three most-used combinations are stable: Jasons (+28.63), Terrois (+36.12) and West/Terry (+30.59). Expectingly, the defense gets a nice bump with Rodrigue Beaubois or Delonte West on the floor, the offense is at its best with the Jasons.

This leads to interesting decisions Rick Carlisle will have to make come playoff time. Marion still seems to have the edge over Carter on an individual basis, but numbers suggest Vinsanity might be the better overall fit at the small forward spot late in the game. Remember that the coach chose to sit Marion in favor of Peja Stojakovic in some games of the second round series against the Lakers last playoffs to stretch the floor more effectively.

We shouldn't be surprised to see it again this year.