The Case for Vince Carter
When people think of Vincent Lamar Carter, they tend to think of one thing: dunking. This is justifiably so. Carter is widely regarded as one of the best in-game dunkers of all time. His performance in the 2000 NBA All-Star Dunk Contest is the stuff of legend and his monstrous slam over 7’2" French center Frederic Weis in the 2000 Summer Olympics is remembered as "le dunk de la mort", the dunk of death, by the French media. But Carter does not deserved to be remembered solely as a dunker. That is a legacy better reserved for high-flying specialists like the Sun’s Gerald Green. Vince Carter deserves to be remembered in a way befitting someone as accomplished as he is. Vince Carter deserves to be remembered as a Hall of Fame player.
Carter’s NBA career began in 1998 with a draft day trade that sent him from the Golden State Warriors to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for college teammate and close friend Antawn Jamison. The Raptors were a fledgling franchise and as with most expansion teams, they struggled in their first few years. Carter, along with cousin Tracy McGrady, instantly changed this. Carter followed up his 1999 Rookie of the Year campaign by making the All-Star team in 2000 and leading the Raptors to their first ever playoff berth. Though Carter and McGrady were the stars of that team, the backbone was veteran big man Charles Oakley. Though his level of play had slipped as he aged, Oakley’s presence provided vital emotional leadership for a young Raptors team. Both Carter and McGrady have stated that Oakley’s mature veteran guidance had a huge impact on their developments in the league. After suffering a 3-0 sweep at the hands of the Knicks in the first round of the 2000 playoffs, the Raptors conducted a sign-and-trade deal that sent McGrady to Orlando, separating the talented pair of wing scorers. Despite this, the ensuing 2001 season was seen as a success for the Raptors, as they won the Atlantic Division with a franchise record 47 wins. After beating the Knicks in the first round of the 2001 playoffs –revenging their loss from the prior season—the Raptors faced off against the eventual Finals runners-up Philadelphia 76ers. Carter starred in the series, a seven game gem, taking center stage against Sixers point guard Allen Iverson. Carter performed impressively in his first trip to the Conference Semi’s, averaging over 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists per contest, including a 50 point effort in Game 3. Unfortunately, Iverson dropped two 50 point games of his own in the series and the Sixers ended up escaping from Game 7 with a victory after Carter missed a go-ahead jumper with 2 seconds remaining. Despite the loss, the season was not a disappointment for the Raptors organization, who saw a bright future ahead.
Carter is now booed whenever he returns to the Air Canada Center and this is almost entirely due to his behavior and performance in the seasons following that Game 7 loss to the Sixers. When Charles Oakley left in the 2001 offseason, Carter lost his mentor and the Raptors lost a veteran presence capable of keeping their young star grounded. Frustrated by a perceived (and perhaps real) lack of ambition in the Raptors front office, Carter’s production suffered over the coming years. Carter’s camp will point out that much of the dip in production can be attributed to injuries, and to an extent they are correct. But many of Carter’s ailments were fictitious and even the legitimate ones were often drawn out. Carter’s milking of small injuries is reminiscent of the way Manny Ramirez used to remove himself from lineups for phantom infirmities during his days with the Red Sox. Carter’s lack of effort is not justifiable, but his frustration is certainly explainable. After a few consecutive terrible seasons, team president Richard Peddie cleaned house and hired Sam Mitchell as the Raptors’ new head coach and Rob Babcock as the new GM. Babcock quickly expressed his interest in rebuilding the team, slowly. He publicly stated that the team was "not worried about how many wins we get right away, or whether we make the playoffs within the first year or two". For someone accustomed to winning like Carter, this was bad news. He had already endured multiple seasons in the basement of the Eastern Conference and was not interested in remaining there much longer. Carter’s negative attitude put a stink on the whole team, resulting in him frequently being benched during the fourth quarter of games. With his discontentment abundantly clear to team management, Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets.
Carter had an instant impact for his new team and returned to his All-Star level of play as he entered the prime of his career. In his five seasons in New Jersey, Carter averaged just under 24, 6, and 5 per game. These Nets teams starred the memorable trio of Carter, Jason Kidd, and Richard Jefferson and made the playoffs each of the first three years Carter played there. After getting knocked out of the 2007 playoffs by the eventual runners-up Cavaliers, the Nets finished under .500 the next two seasons, prompting the management to deal Carter to the Orlando Magic. Carter had a few forgettable seasons in Orlando and then Phoenix before finally settling in Dallas, missing a title by one year. It is Dallas where he has reinvented himself as a role player, making use of his still excellent three point range. In many ways, Carter has had a prototypical Hall of Fame level career. Following impressive high school and college years, he immediately proved his worth in the pros. From there he quickly grew to become a franchise player, earning several All-Star nods and making a pair of All-NBA squads. Towards the tail end of his career he morphed from a star into a quality role player where he has served as a valuable veteran scorer and contributed some big playoff moments (such as his game winning three against San Antonio in the first round this year). Carter has had a definitive career arc filled with enough substance to earn him a Hall of Fame nod.
Some of you might be asking me to pump the breaks here, but if you look at the full body of Carter’s career, you might be surprised by how impressive it is. For instance, did you know that Carter is 25th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list? He has scored more points than several legendary Hall of Fame scorers like Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Bernard King and Elgin Baylor. Assuming he plays two more seasons, it is conceivable that Carter could finish his career as high as 23rd on the list, just ahead of Charles Barkley. Realistically, he’ll end up 24th because it’s a safe bet that LeBron James will pass by him during the course of this coming season. Carter was the 27th player in league history to reach 23,000 points. Every other player that has accomplished that feat is either already in the Hall or is a lock to get in once eligible. 23,000 points?! That’s a lot of dunks! Well, yes and no. While it’s true that Carter is known primarily for his action above the rim, he is also one of the league’s most prolific long distance shooters, ranking 7th all-time in three pointers made. By now it should be pretty clear that Vince Carter scored a lot. I mean, A LOT.
Carter’s first ten years in the league compare favorably with other Hall of Fame greats’ first decades. Here are the stat lines for four players through their first ten seasons in the league:
Player A: 751 games played, 23.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.6 stocks, .463/.399/.845 shooting splits
Player B: 758 games played, 20.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 5.8 apg, 2.8 stocks, .485/.285/.787 shooting splits
Player C: 697 games played, 23.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.1 stocks, .447/.375/.794 shooting splits
Player D: 707 games played, 23.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.1 stocks*, .451/.336/.834 shooting splits
*stocks = steals per game + blocks per game
The numbers look pretty similar don’t they? Player A is Mitch Richmond, the high scoring shooting guard who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame. Player B is Clyde Drexler, another Hall of Fame wing scorer and notable member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. Player C is Vince Carter. Notice how similar his numbers are to the others listed here, Player D in particular. Much like Carter, Player D was also renowned as an explosive offensive force gifted with incredible dunking ability. Likewise, Player D also contributed to the souring of a locker room environment and essentially forced a trade to another team towards the end of his first decade in the league.ᶟ Player D also milked injuries during times when his team had a down year. Player D, believe it or not, is Kobe Bryant. Though Kobe’s career has certainly been more successful than Carter’s overall, their careers after one decade in the league are nearly identical statistically. In the second half of their careers, Kobe has vastly outperformed Carter, but so what? A poor man’s Kobe Bryant is still a Hall worthy player. And that’s exactly what Vince is. A little less hard working, a little less competitive, and a little less talented (arguably a little less moody as well). I’m going to remember Vinsanity’s dunking for the rest of my life. One transcendent skill does not a Hall of Famer make (see: Gerald Green) but when that skill is complemented by a worthy career, the player’s chances of entry to the Hall should be high. If Ray Allen were merely a three point shooter, would he be in the discussion? Probably not. If Dirk only had his midrange game, would he be? Unlikely. The same applies to Vince. Were he only a dunker, he would not be worth discussing. But Vince was not only a dunker. Vince was a star. A star that just happened to shine brightest above the rim.
All stats courtesy of BasketballReference