Feb 27, 2014 5:25 PM EST
After signing with the Dallas Mavericks the season after their championship, Vince Carter has spent the last three seasons in relative anonymity. As a 6th man on a team clawing for a spot in the bottom of the playoff picture, Carter is far removed from his days as one of the faces of the NBA. Nevertheless, at 37 and in his 15th season in the league, Carter is still an effective player, a testament to his work ethic and underlying ability.
Only the best of the best can survive 15 seasons in the NBA, a ruthlessly Darwinian league where the average career lasts 4.5 seasons. When Antawn Jamison was traded and waived at the deadline, Carter became one of five players from the 1998 draft - along with Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Al Harrington and Rashard Lewis - still in the NBA. Of those five, only Nowitzki, Carter and Pierce still play big roles on their teams in 2014.
And while Pierce and Nowitzki are locks to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Carter’s legacy is not as clear-cut. Like with Blake Griffin, Carter’s extraordinary dunking ability obscured a far more well-rounded game than critics gave him credit for. His career averages: 20 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block per game on 44 percent shooting. Over 15 seasons, that’s more than 22,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists.
Even in his 15th season, you can see why Carter has been so successful. At 6’6 220 with a nearly 7’0 wingspan, he is bigger, stronger and longer than most SG’s. He no longer has the hops of his youth, but his athleticism is declining from such a peak that he’s still a threat to dunk on people. His size allows him to comfortably swing between the SG and SF positions, giving Rick Carlisle a lot of line-up options with the Mavs' second unit.
Of course, if his game was based solely on dunking on people, there’s no way he could be effective at his age. Carter has always had a fairly complete game, with the ability to shoot from deep, create his own shot off the dribble or in the post, facilitate for others, clean the glass and defend multiple positions on the perimeter. This season, he has per-36 minute averages of 17 points, five rebounds and four assists a game on 41 percent shooting.
The knock has always been that he never lived up to his potential, which is a somewhat odd thing to say about an eight-time All-Star with a career PER of 20.1. And while his popularity made him a shoe-in as a starter for most of the 2000’s, it’s hard to argue that a guard with his statistics didn’t merit a spot on those teams. It says a lot that the biggest knock on a player is that he’s not in the discussion for greatest of all-time at his position.
Carter never put a team on his back and carried them to the NBA Finals, but that was always an unrealistic standard to put on any SG. The reason Michael Jordan is so mythologized is precisely because what he did - dominate the NBA from the SG position - had never been done before. It’s not Mitch “The Rock” Ritchmond’s fault he only had four playoff appearances; at his position, he needed a lot of help to get even that far.
For all the whispers that Carter is a malingerer or that he’s “Half-Man, Half A Season”, he has played in over 1,100 NBA games. Unless you are Andre Miller, you don’t do that by rolling out of bed on the first day of training camp and playing your way into shape. The NBA season is a brutal grind that wrecks the bodies of its players; that goes double for guards, who are constantly flying through the air and landing hard on the ground.
Carter, at 37, is still one of the best perimeter defenders on the Mavericks. To be sure, that’s mostly a reflection of how unathletic the Dallas roster is, but it does speak to Carter’s unique physical attributes as well as his dedication to his craft. He has made over $160 million in the NBA and he’s playing for a team with no shot a championship; love of the game is the only reason to put himself through the grind of the season.
As a free agent at the end of this year, where he goes from here is anyone’s guess. At some point, you would expect the Mavs to stop signing players in their late thirties and end their run as the league’s unofficial retirement home. With a 16.1 PER and the ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball at multiple positions, Carter could fit with almost any team in the league. In the right situation, he could play a role on an elite team.
Winning a ring would be a nice capstone on his career, but it’s hard to see it changing his reputation too much. For the most part, Carter has already done what he will do in the NBA. Whether or not that impresses the Hall of Fame voters is ultimately up to them. Either way, his legacy in basketball won’t be defined by whether or not he has a plaque in a glorified office building in Springfield the vast majority of fans will never visit.
This is what Steve Nash, the most accomplished Canadian basketball player of all-time and the GM of the Canadian national team, had to say about Vince’s time in Toronto:
For six and a half years, much of Canada’s young talent watched an fell in love with a flamboyant, human highlight film named Vince Carter. He inspired them nightly while playing for the home team Raptors. I think Vince’s presence in our country shouldn’t be underestimated. His charisma was incredibly powerful in attracting a Canadian audience to the game of basketball for a memorable period of time. More and more kids play basketball every year in Canada, and I think the NBA’s arrival played a pivotal role in the game’s growth.
It’s easy to forget now that Toronto is an established NBA city, but the league’s survival in Canada was no guarantee. After all, the Vancouver Grizzlies only lasted six seasons before being moved to Memphis, in large part because they never had a transcendent superstar like Vince Carter. He was the perfect ambassador for the game, spreading the gospel of basketball into parts of the world it had never really penetrated before.
In the last 15 years, no one has topped what Carter did in the 1999 dunk contest. Basketball is played in the air in a way the other major sports are not and no player has ever pushed the limits of aerial artistry and creativity more than “Vinsanity”. When Canadian kids watched him, they saw him do things that could never happen in a sport like hockey. Everytime Andrew Wiggins dunks on someone, a part of Vince Carter lives on.
Feb 13, 2014 2:48 PM EST
The name Terrence Ross has become synonymous with one of the most exciting plays in sports. The slam dunk. Ross won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie last season and will once again participate in the event this weekend.
Surely you’ve seen the GIFs and YouTube clips of his best aerial exploits. Chris Bosh, Andray Blatche and Kenneth Faried are just some of the players that have been on the receiving end of a Ross jam this season.
However, he’s much more than a dunker. Ross, who turned 23 earlier this month, has played important minutes for a Toronto Raptors team that leads the Atlantic Division and sits third in the Eastern Conference.
The December trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings paved the way for Ross to take on a bigger role. After logging just under 20 minutes per game in November, he averaged 31.3 minutes in January.
“[Dwane Casey] sat me down and told me that he was putting me in the starting lineup,” Ross told RealGM of how he learned his minutes would increase. “He said it was an opportunity for me to get more playing time and really make the most of helping this team.”
Ross is averaging 12.5 points and 3.8 rebounds as a starter, but just 6.5 points and 2.5 boards off the bench. His shooting percentages are poor in both situations, although he has developed into a threat from deep.
He is shooting just 41.1 percent from the floor, but hits 40 percent of his three-point attempts. His shooting appears to be an indicator of Toronto’s success. Ross is shooting 45.2 percent in victories, while that figure drops to 35.9 percent in defeat.
“His shooting has been there and he’s getting more consistent with it. He knocks them down in practice,” Casey said in Boston last month. “He’s learning to play without the basketball, how to get his shot off. His shot has been there, but understanding as a young player how to get away from physicality. That’s the biggest challenge for most young players, how to deal with physicality. Someone grabbing and hitting you and still being productive with your shot. He’s learning to do that.”
The sample size isn’t huge, but Ross is at 34 percent in February. That comes after a big dip from December to January (43.6 to 40.3). Tyler Hansbrough sees the same thing Casey does in practice and believes shots will eventually start falling for Ross.
“He can really shoot the ball,” Hansbrough told RealGM. “Anytime someone can shoot the ball like he can, you have to come out and guard him. With his athleticism, he’s then able to go around people. He can also get out and run the floor. He’s played great for us.”
Adding more wrinkles to his offensive game is something Ross has been working on. His midrange numbers have been poor -- at home he shoots the same percentage from three as the rest of the floor -- and he is still harnessing his explosiveness on drives to the basket.
“Attacking the basket, I want to improve that,” Ross said. “Everybody has been playing me for my shot, so it would help me to add that to my game.”
Casey is looking for consistency from Ross, who was the eighth pick in 2012 after two seasons at the University of Washington.
Since Jan. 1, he has scored ten or more points in 12 of 22 games. That includes his 51-point outburst against the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 25. He went 16-for-29 and 10-for-17 from deep in a game that also saw him grab a season-high nine rebounds.
“He’s taken advantage of the opportunity. He’s more consistent. I think that’s the key word with him,” Casey said. “I think that has been the main knock on him, like most young players. One good game, one bad game. Two good games, one bad game. Maturity is going to help him a lot. Looking at how players are playing and approaching the game. He’s had a very professional approach and it helps to have a guy like John Salmons around. A very quiet demeanor, he leads by example. He doesn’t say very much, but he gets the job done.”
The Raptors, who entered Wednesday three games up on the Nets in the Atlantic, are 13-9 in 2014 and will need continued improvement from Ross to make any noise down the stretch.
“More than anything else, we are still growing. Two of our starters are year-and-a-half guys in Ross and Jonas Valanciunas,” Casey added. “It’s not like they’ve been around the block fifteen times, so there are going to be a lot of new things they’ll see.”
The playoffs will soon be one of those new experiences.
Jan 01, 2014 1:51 PM EST
"[Suns GM Ryan McDonough] and I, when we talked about players, probably 99 percent of the time we agreed on what we were thinking," Jeff Hornacek said. "All the coaches that I talked to said that the biggest thing is, 'When you get a shot, make sure that you and the GM are on the same page." -- ESPN Los Angeles
Coming into the season, Dwane Casey’s career looked on its last legs. In his second stint as an NBA head coach, he had a 57-91 record with the Toronto Raptors. Bryan Colangelo, the general manager who hired him, had been fired in the offseason. Masai Ujiri didn’t have a prior relationship with Casey; most expected him to bring in his own people. When the Raptors opened with a 6-12 record, Casey’s fate seemed sealed. Few unsuccessful coaches get a third chance.
Some thought Ujiri waived the white flag in December, when he traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons. A year earlier, Colangelo had acquired Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies in a last-ditch effort to save his job. Instead, Toronto missed the playoffs while Memphis made the Western Conference Finals. So far, the Raptors have an 8-3 record without Gay. They look like a much better team.
Casey was criticized for allowing Gay to dominate the ball, but there wasn’t much he could do. In the NBA, salary dictates playing time. Gay was making $17.9 million; he wasn’t coming off the bench. Since he isn’t a great shooter and he likes to hold the ball, it tends to die in his hands. In Toronto, he was taking 18.5 shots a game and making them at a 38% clip. It’s not a huge surprise that redistributing those possessions has made his old team better.
Terrence Ross, the No. 8 pick in 2012, has been the biggest beneficiary. An extremely athletic 6’6 195 shooting guard, he averaged only 17 minutes a game as a rookie. Ross had the reputation of a great shooter and a great dunker coming out of Washington, but limited playing time and touches in his first season made it hard for him to get in a rhythm. In the last 10 games, he is averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist on 45% shooting.
With Gay gone, Kyle Lowry has more offensive responsibility. At 27, Lowry is in his prime, a 6’0 205 bulldog who can score, shoot, defend, rebound and pass. He has never made an All-Star team, but he is a starting-caliber point guard. When Lowry is given space to attack off the dribble, he can create a decent shot for himself or one of his teammates. In the last 10 games, he is averaging 17 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds on 43% shooting.
Upfront, Amir Johnson has flourished in Gay’s absence. Drafted out of high school in 2005, he is only starting to reach his peak in his ninth NBA season. Johnson is a monster on the pick-and-roll, an athletic 6’9 210 power forward who can play above the rim and stretch the floor. In the last 10 games, he is averaging 12 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal on 60% shooting. He is the rare big man who helps his team on both ends of the floor.
Combine those three with Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors have a quality first unit. They start five excellent athletes, all of whom can score. They can get out and run and they have options in the half-court - pick-and-rolls with Valanciunas and Johnson, isolations for DeRozan and Lowry, running Ross off screens. The keys for them will be buckling down on defense and avoiding turnovers, two bugaboos for young teams.
Dealing Gay wasn’t just addition by subtraction. Ujiri turned him into a bench -- a 6’6 point guard (Vasquez), a 6’6 wing (Salmons) and a 6’9 stretch 4 (Patterson) with NBA experience. All three have been productive starters at points in their careers; they can match-up with the vast majority of second units. The combination of the Sacramento refugees and the interior muscle of Tyler Hansbrough means Toronto’s reserves are no longer bleeding points.
All of a sudden, Casey has a rotation he can work with. The Raptors are a versatile team with lineup options on their bench. They can play Lowry and Vasquez together or go big on the perimeter with Vasquez, Ross and Salmons. They can run pick-and-pops with Patterson or use him to open up the floor for pick-and-rolls. Toronto 2.0 puts pressure on the opponent for all 48 minutes. In the regular season, a strong second-unit keeps you in games and picks up wins.
Since the trade, the Raptors have been in almost every game and have not had a bad loss. They lost twice to the San Antonio Spurs and had an OT loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. Five of their eight wins have come on the road, including three out West. In consecutive games, they beat the Mavericks in Dallas and the Thunder in Oklahoma City. They were the first team to get a win in Chesapeake Energy Arena this season. The rebuild may already be over.
The average age of their starting five is 24 -- DeRozan is 24, Ross is 22 and Valanciunas is 21. There’s been speculation about Ujiri selling off assets and tanking for the 2014 draft, but the point of lottery picks is to acquire under-25 starters in the first place. With only $41.4 million in salary committed for next season, Ujiri can be aggressive. Do the Thunder want to pay Reggie Jackson? He could offer the Raptors' first rounder in 2014 and the Knicks' first in 2016.
If they stay healthy, Toronto can make a run at the No. 3 seed, moving Casey from hot seat to Coach of the Year candidate. That’s how thin the line can be in this business. Casey started coaching in 1979 and has been in the NBA since 1994; there’s nothing he can’t figure out on the court. Basketball is basic geometry, not applied calculus. Like any coach, if he has the players, he can win games. After two seasons with Colangelo, one with Ujiri may save his career.
Dec 09, 2013
In trading Rudy Gay, the Raptors get a better look at the young talent that actually matters to their future while gaining more flexibility at a time they can actually use it with the possibility of two more interesting players.
Oct 29, 2013
The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.
Oct 21, 2013
While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.
Aug 01, 2013
The treadmill is somehow both more and less common than some might think. While teams tend to fall within the 30-49 win range, as would be expected in such a competitive league, the dreaded never-ending stream of late lottery picks is uncommon.
Jul 01, 2013
Andrea Bargnani had been on the trade block for months, bridging the tenures of Bryan Colangelo to Masai Ujiri. In the GM seat for less than a month, Ujiri not only traded Bargnani but managed to pick up a few draft assets in the process to a Knicks' team limited in how to improve.
Jun 27, 2013
Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.
Jun 26, 2013
In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.
Jun 23, 2013
Entering draft week in a draft universally labeled as weak preceding the best draft of the decade, few people are talking themselves into falling in love with any specific player as fervently as usual.
Jun 08, 2013
Chris Bosh is the member of the Big 3 who could have the most to lose in a potential Finals collapse: His place as an untouchable on the roster. He had grown up idolizing Duncan, imagining he was hitting jumpers atop Garnett in early workouts in Toronto, and the Heat must believe now that somewhere within Bosh still exists that self-action to match the burden.
Jun 03, 2013
Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.
Apr 18, 2013
A winning record to reach the playoffs wasn't necessary this season in the Eastern Conference, which demonstrates how far the Raptors, Cavaliers, Magic, 76ers, Wizards, Pistons and Bobcats are from becoming contenders without addressing significant issues this offseason.
Mar 24, 2013
As much as Mickael Pietrus acknowledges the transition phase that the Raptors are undergoing, he still hopes that the team trusts his ability to produce on the court when needed. In his mind, a strong push to close out the season will help players enter the offseason with a more positive outlook.
Mar 22, 2013
There are only a few NBA players averaging at least 10 points, seven rebounds and one block per game while also shooting 55% from the field this season. LeBron James, Al Horford, Serge Ibaka and Amir Johnson.
Jan 31, 2013
The reactions to the Rudy Gay trade from the Grizzlies' perspective are as split as could be, which is an interesting element to examine in and of itself beyond how the Raptors and Pistons fared.
Jan 07, 2013
One of the weirder aspects of NBA draft coverage is the groupthink mentality that quickly emerges and downplaying the quality of a draft class seems to be a pastime for many “NBA insiders.” Far too often, teams deal away first round picks thinking the guaranteed contract that comes with it is a burden rather than an asset.
Dec 12, 2012
As we move forward with “Amnesty 2.0,” we will see the fascinating possibilities that the provision brings even as the number of teams and players left dwindles with time.
Nov 13, 2012
There’s no bright line dividing proven NBA rotation players like Landry Fields and free agents playing overseas like Alan Anderson. For the most part, “NBA experience” isn’t worth the extra cost. Just as in tennis, the distribution of talent in basketball is pyramidal. The difference between LeBron James or Novak Djokovic and the #350 player in their respective sports is immense.
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