Posted by Neil Paine on July 27, 2009
As we all know, the Champs added Ron Artest this offseason, which (in the short term, at least) only makes them more of a threat to repeat next June. In addition, arguably the Lakers' three biggest challengers to the crown also made key moves for veteran stars this offseason in an attempt to keep pace with not only L.A., but one another as well. In Part 1 of a 3-part series, we'll look at the career path of Orlando's Vince Carter, and try to determine what the 33-year-old can offer to the defending Eastern Conference champions.
On draft night, the Magic traded traded Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Courtney Lee to the Nets for Vince Carter & Ryan Anderson. Years ago, a Carter trade would have sent shock waves across the league, but this deal was met with as much talk about New Jersey's financial situation as Carter's merits as a player, highlighting how much things have changed for Half-Man/Half-Amazing. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that VC was one of the league's biggest superstars -- after winning the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest in spectacular form and leading the Raptors into the playoffs, the inevitable Michael Jordan comps even started flowing for the fellow UNC alum. But from the moment Carter missed a would-be game-winner in Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference
Finals Semis (on the heels of his much-criticized decision to attend his UNC graduation the morning of the game), Carter's career has been largely directionless. Injuries and openly apathetic play characterized his finals days in Toronto, and aside from a few jaw-dropping plays every night (as if to remind us the talent was still in there), Carter's time in Jersey was marked more by constant trade rumors than any notable on-court activity.
So that's where VC stands this summer, at a career crossroads. The man who was supposedly going to climb even higher than Kobe Bryant at the start of the decade has seen his career essentially stall out while Bryant's has taken off into the stratosphere. Is there redemption left for VC in central Florida?
Here are VC's career advanced stats:
(Translated stats are explained here.)
There's no question that Carter can still play a mean game of ball when healthy and/or motivated. Despite concerns about chronic injuries to his knees and ankles, Carter has missed just 16 games combined over the past five seasons and sat out only twice last year. Offensively, he's settled into a level of usage below what we were accustomed to seeing from him in his prime, but he's still a star capable of maintaining a well above-average efficiency level even at 26-27% usage rates. He relies more on the 3-pointer than ever, so it's nice that he made 38.5% of his shots from deep last season, his best mark since joining the Nets in 2005. Carter's gradual shift away from attacking the basket with frequency is troubling for a player known as a creative, super-athletic finisher, but he still has the ability to close the deal inside when necessary, and his offensive talents are diverse enough to handle the transition from explosive youngster to a more earth-bound 33-year-old.
So Vince's offense isn't going to cause Orlando any problems; he was actually much more effective at that end than Hedo Turkoglu, the man whose production he'll theoretically be replacing, a season ago. The main question, though, is how Orlando's top-ranked defense will be able to integrate Carter, a guy whose effort on D has never been great and was downright terrible last season. You can chalk some of VC's defensive struggles a year ago to the lack of defensive ability shown by New Jersey's entire roster, but Carter has a long history of playing bad and/or indifferent defense. Turkoglu was a surprisingly decent defender last year and Courtney Lee, whose minutes at SG Carter will be filling, was rapidly improving on D by the time the playoffs rolled around (he typically defended the other team's top perimeter scorer every night, and even did a semi-credible job on Kobe at times during the Finals), so it's likely the Carter/Mickael Pietrus pairing on the wings will knock Orlando down a notch or two defensively.
That said, Carter still appears to have plenty left in the proverbial tank. He's no longer the beast he was during his Toronto peak, but he'll be a definite offensive upgrade for the Magic and projects to contribute more to Orlando's net efficiency differential than either Turkoglu or Lee would have. Though Carter sort of dropped off the radar in New Jersey for a few years, he's far from finished as a player.