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 21, 2014 8:56 PM EST
Of the hundred different storylines from the two games between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat this season, one of the most interesting is the play of Perry Jones III. The No. 28 pick in the 2012 draft, Jones has carved out a spot in the Thunder rotation, swinging between several positions on their second unit. And while he is averaging 12 minutes a game, he played 51 in the two games against the Heat.
At 6’11 235 with a 7’2 wingspan, Jones has a very unusual combination of size, speed and athleticism. At various points in the games against Miami, he defended LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. You can count the number of players in the NBA who can do that on one hand. Jones is a defensive prototype: he can get down in a stance 25+ feet from the basket and move his feet while also holding ground on the block.
That’s what makes him so useful against a team like the Heat, who like to play in transition and slide their best players up and down the line-up. Miami can go big or small with the drop of the hat; Jones allows Scott Brooks to match Erik Spoelstra’s machinations without making a lot of substitutions. Jones fits into almost any lineup - he can play as a small forward in a big line-up and he can play as a center in small one.
On the offensive end of the floor, Jones’ shooting ability means he doesn’t get in the way of OKC’s stars. He is a very efficient player, shooting 49 percent from the field and 37 percent from the three-point line this season. The defense has to respect his outside shot and he has the ability to put the ball on the ground and attack a close-out. Against Miami on Thursday, Jones had four points dribbling into floaters after being run off the three-point line.
He didn’t have a huge statistical outing against the Heat, but he was his usually efficient self. In 21 minutes, Jones had eight points, five rebounds and one assist on 3-5 shooting. In a game the Thunder lost by 22 points, Jones had a +/- of -6. It was the same story in their win over Miami in January, where he had three points, two rebounds, two assists and one block in 30 minutes. More importantly, he was +13 in his 30 minutes on the floor.
Jones is a force multiplier, with an impact that goes beyond the box score. When he’s on the floor, every line-up he is in is bigger, faster and longer than it otherwise would be. When Oklahoma City plays him with Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant, they have three athletic 6’11+ players who can stretch the floor and protect the rim. He’s the ultimate role player; he doesn’t demand the ball or interfere with the flow of the offense.
Coming out of Baylor, that was the big knock on Jones. While he was as talented as any player in the 2012 NBA Draft, he wasn’t able to impose his will on the game at the college level. Jones was blasted for being too deferential and not being aggressive enough, even though he averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds on 50% shooting as a sophomore. The pundits focused too much on what he didn’t do and not on what he could do.
The reality is that a 6’11+ player shouldn’t have to impose his will on the offensive end of the floor; he should have guards with the ability to utilize him and get him easy shots. The problem at Baylor was Scott Drew’s offense, which didn’t space the floor or move the ball properly. Drew allowed Pierre Jackson and AJ Walton to go 2-on-5 instead of using their three NBA big men upfront - Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy.
Like Jones, Miller slipped in the draft because he wasn’t used correctly in Baylor’s poorly designed offense. The good news for both players is they ended up in NBA situations where they weren’t asked to do too much, with Jones going to Oklahoma City and Miller winding up in Denver. They’ve both shown flashes of greatness in their first two seasons while still being incredibly young. Jones should be a senior in college, Miller a junior.
That’s the part many people don’t understand when it comes to evaluating 6’10+ players. It can take guys like that longer to get comfortable and grow into their super-sized bodies. Jones is 22 years old, the same age as Doug McDermott. Instead of wasting his time bullying teenagers on mediocre Big East teams, Jones has spent the last two seasons practicing every day against Kevin Durant. He would be a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Most NBA franchises live in the moment; Oklahoma City has been thinking long. Rather than spending big money on win-now veterans to put around Durant and Russell Westbrook, they have been patiently building a young core who can grow with them. They have four first-round picks on their second unit - Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Jones. Jackson is 23, Jones is 22, Lamb is 21 and Adams is 20.
All four are still learning how to be professionals and how to utilize their tremendous physical gifts within a team concept and there’s no better place in the NBA for a young guy to learn the game than at the feet of Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook. Even guys like Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher, widely maligned for their declining games, are well respected across the league for the way they carry themselves off-the-court.
If Jones had landed on the wrong team, there’s no telling where his career would have gone. In Oklahoma City, he’s being carefully groomed before being put into a featured role. The average NBA fan probably doesn’t realize how much talent Perry Jones has. Coming out of high school, he was a five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American, mentioned in the same breath as Harrison Barnes, Kyrie Irving and Terrence Jones.
Jones played high school ball in Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas. Over the last decade, the DFW metroplex has produced as many elite NBA players as any city in the country. I saw Chris Bosh at Lincoln, LaMarcus Aldridge at Seagoville and Julius Randle at Prestonwood Christian; Jones has as much talent as any of them. He’s as long, as fast and as skilled as Bosh, Aldridge and Randle and he’s more versatile than all three.
The difference is that he’s never been in a situation, in either college or the pros, where his skills were fully utilized on the offensive end of the floor. Jones is an unselfish player who moves the ball and doesn’t force the action. At 6’11 235 with the ability to shoot, pass, dribble and defend all five positions, he is the ideal fifth option. When he starts playing 30-35 minutes a night, Oklahoma City is going to be very hard to beat.
Jan 24, 2014 12:15 PM EST
There are two bulls standing on a hill overlooking a pasture full of cows. The younger bull, eager, but lacking experience, says to the old bull “I’m going to run down there and f*** myself a cow.” The old bull, who has spent season after season in the pasture, turns to the younger bull and chuckles, “I’m going to walk down and f*** all of them.”
-- An old wives' tale
The night after losing Chris Paul to a separated shoulder, the Los Angeles Clippers were run off the court at the San Antonio Spurs. In the two weeks since, they have managed to stabilize themselves, compiling a 6-3 record without their All-NBA point guard. With seven games against the East and four against the West before the All-Star Break, the Clippers may not lose any ground in the standings before Paul returns in February. Most of the credit should go to Blake Griffin.
With Paul out, Blake has been given the chance to run the team. He is getting more touches and more shots than ever before and he is responding. In the last 10 games, Blake is averaging 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 52 percent shooting. His season averages, in contrast, are 23 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 52 percent shooting. Chris Paul wasn’t making Blake better; he was making him worse. CP3 is a pair of training wheels Blake no longer needs.
What makes Paul great is his ability to create easy shots for his teammates, but there’s no player in the NBA who has an easier time creating shots than Blake Griffin. Blake is a 6’10 250 ball of muscle who is one of the best leapers and most explosive athletes in the history of the sport. And while everyone focuses on his athleticism, it’s his skill and feel for the game that makes him an elite player. If Blake couldn’t pass or dribble, he would be Thomas Robinson.
After missing his rookie season with a knee injury, Blake wasted no time in the NBA. He has never missed an All-Star Game - he was an All-Star at 21, 22 and 23. As a rookie, he averaged 22.5 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists on 51 percent shooting. He has been criticized for stagnating as a player, but he came in at such a high level, there was much less room for him to grow. The others who were All-Stars from 21-23: LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard.
When Blake gets the ball at 18-20 feet, there is very little the defense can do to stop him. He is way too fast, way too big and way too good of a ball-handler. He can cross people up, he can take the ball between the legs and he can get to the rim in 1-2 steps. If he gets by his man, he has the vision to beat the help defenders with the pass. For the most part, defenders are conceding everything and hoping for the miss. The strategy against Blake has always been “hope he misses.”
What has changed this year is that he’s not missing as often. For the jumper of a big man, his free-throw shooting percentage is the canary in the coal mine. A free-throw is isolated shooting motion in its purest form; it’s just bend the knees, flick the wrists and get the point. What a power forward or center does on the line lets you know what he will do in the pick-and-pop with an NBA PG who knows what he is doing. Blake is shooting 71.5 percent from the line this season.
That is a huge step up from 61 percent, 52 percent and 66 percent in his first three seasons. He still has aways to go, but hack-a-Blake is no longer an option. Most importantly, you can see the upward trajectory. With or without Paul, the key to any Clippers game is whether Blake makes his first 2-3 jumpers. If that shot is going in, it is going to be a long night for the opponent. When Blake shoots 55 percent or higher, the Clippers have a 13-4 record, including wins over the Spurs and Thunder.
Blake’s points lead to points for everyone else. Not only does he demand so much attention in the paint that he creates perimeter shots for his teammates, he can read the floor and get them open shots when he has the ball in his hands. In January, he is averaging 4.7 assists on 2.7 turnovers. That’s an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.74. At 24, Boris Diaw averaged 4.8 assists on 2.1 turnovers. Blake is Diaw in a big market with a 40’ vertical and a few good TV commercials.
In the court of public opinion, Blake has been a victim of timing. After his rookie season, the Clippers tried to accelerate their development when they traded Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu for Paul. On a conventional timeframe, with Blake, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan as their three best players, the Clippers would have made their first playoff appearance last season. Instead of stagnating on a first-round loser, Blake would have been the captain of a rising team.
By himself, Paul can win a lot of regular season games, but he can’t lead a team deep into the playoffs. With New Orleans, his teams won 56, 49, 37 and 46 games. They lost in the first round twice and lost a second round Game 7 to San Antonio. In two seasons with the Clippers, “Lob City” was swept in the second round and lost in the first. This is what happens when The Point God is your best player. If Dwight Howard was judged by Paul’s standards, he would be a HOF'er already.
For Blake, the next two seasons are about cleaning up minor things. He needs to get the J even better and he needs to play better positional defense. He only has a 6’11 wingspan, so he will never be a great shot-blocker, but he only needs to be so good at protecting the rim with DeAndre Jordan behind him. Blake and DeAndre are still learning to play together. Doc Rivers had an All-Star PG (Rajon Rondo) with the Boston Celtics; he came to Los Angeles for the frontcourt.
If Paul isn’t ready on Blake’s timetable, he will have to be replaced. The good news is there’s no shortage of good PG’s in the NBA. Every year, there are 4-5 good ones in the draft. There are a lot of old guys in the league who resent Blake for dunking on them and being in a lot of commercials. Soon enough, the NBA will be full of young guys who watched Blake in those commercials and want to dunk on him. When he becomes the old bull, it’s going to be a serious problem.
Jan 19, 2014
In the court of public perception, the Knicks have been the victim of the mob mentality and groupthink that so commonly afflicts Basketball Twitter. If Carmelo and J.R. move the ball and play defense, they have a chance against anyone, especially if they get healthy up front.
Jan 01, 2014
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. Toronto 2.0 puts pressure on the opponent for all 48 minutes.
Dec 23, 2013
When you evaluate under-25 players, skill-set is more important than statistics. And when you look at Lance Stephensonís game in total, itís scary how good he could be. Still only 23, heís already a better shooter than Wade, a better defender than Harden and a better passer than George.
Dec 09, 2013
Julius Randle and Isaiah Austin are still 7-8 years away from the prime of their careers. Randle is better equipped to physically dominate undermanned opponents, but there arenít many of those guys at the next level. And while he is the safer bet right now, that doesnít mean itís a guarantee. Young big men donít necessarily develop on a straight line.
Dec 04, 2013
After a slow start where they experimented with an ill-fitting Twin Towers lineup, the Rockets have found themselves over the last few weeks. They are 9-3 in their last 12 games, a streak that coincides with second-year power forward Terrence Jones moving into the starting line-up.
Nov 27, 2013
Itís hard to beat the recruiting package Miami can put together. Come to South Beach and play for the champs, where you get to be in an uptempo system next to one of the greatest players of all-time in the prime of his career. At this point, it really is like going on the tour with the Beatles.
Nov 20, 2013
The NBA is like the NFL -- people focus too much on the guy with the ball in his hands. As the Knicks are finding out, the irreplaceable guy was the seven-footer anchoring the defense and finishing on the pick-and-roll.
Nov 11, 2013
If this is it, Lamar Odom leaves behind a complicated legacy in the sport. However, the player he could have been shouldnít detract from the incredible player that he was.
Nov 03, 2013
Perry Jones, Jeffery Taylor, Terrence Jones, Will Barton and Quincy Miller are five players from the 2012 NBA Draft taken outside the lottery poised to have a breakout second season.
Oct 10, 2013
Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love are too good to be annually missing the playoffs. Of course, even if they make the playoffs, there is no guarantee that the Wolves, Blazers and Mavs keep their franchise player. If any of them move to the right team, the balance of power could shift.
Oct 04, 2013
The days of the $6 million per year role player may be all but over. Mo Williams, Mike Miller, Beno Udrih and Wayne Ellington are at the forefront of the new market inefficiency in the NBA -- veteran role players from the free agency bargain bin.
Sep 30, 2013
Health is why every deep playoff run is precious; it can be taken away at any time. To figure out which teams will reach The Finals, one question stands out above all the rest: who will keep their stars healthy?
Sep 25, 2013
At an age where most smaller guards are slowing down, Tony Parker is as good as ever. Thereís no real secret to what he does: he takes what the defense gives him and doesnít make the game hard on himself. Thatís how a slight 6í2 31-year-old dominates a sport designed for giants.
Sep 17, 2013
Through the first two rounds of EuroBasket 2013, thereís been no country more impressive than Serbia. Despite having the youngest team in Slovenia, with an average age of 24, they are tied for the second-best record.
Sep 12, 2013
The James Harden trade before last season hangs over every decision the Thunder make. Itís easy to forget that during the regular season, when they had both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder barely missed Harden. They had a 60-22 record, second-best in the NBA, and a +9.4 point differential, the highest mark in the league.
Sep 04, 2013
By any reasonable measure of success, Tracy McGrady had an incredible career in pro basketball. At the end of the day, ďT-MacĒ is not his real life. Itís a character he plays on TV. Thereís nothing wrong with a good TV show; it just becomes a problem when we start to think reality operates by the same rules as one.
Aug 30, 2013
Because there is no professional structure to youth basketball in the United States, a poorly organized and often self-defeating culture has developed in its place. If AAU basketball is bad for business, the NBA has the power to fix it and instead look to the models of Europe.
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