Vince Carter’s Resurrection
USA Today Sports
Tonight marks the return of Dallas Mavericks guard Vince Carter to his old stomping grounds, his old kingdom, the Air Canada Center and a battle against the team he’s most synonymous with and the franchise most synonymous with him — the Toronto Raptors.
This matchup has happened before, 13 times in fact, so there’s no intrigue as to how the Toronto fans will react to their former hero, we already know. They will react with boos and vitriol as they have in the past. It’s justified given how Carter exited Toronto. I won’t get into the specifics, most of you probably know how that played out out but if you need a primer RaptorsRepublic.com’s Blake Murphy put together a great piece on the relationship between Raptor fans and Vince Carter. I highly suggest you read it.
Tonight, the king returns to his once owned-land, a much different person, a different man and more important than all, a different player.
The former eight-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA selection has changed much over the past few years. The man who was top 10 in field-goals attempted in seven of his first 12 years in the league and top 10 in Usage Percentage his first seven years comes to Toronto in a unique role.
Gone are the days of “Vinsanity” and rim-rattling dunks (gratuitous posting of his Top 100 Dunks, seriously, stop reading this and go watch that, please come back though).
We still see some of the “old dunking Vince” from time-to-time but we know it’s just a mirage, it’s just for fun during warmups. It’s not who he is now.
Carter returns to Toronto on what you could call his second career. The career not of an NBA journeyman (although he’s played for four teams in his last six years), but that of the superstar turned reserve.
It’s remarkable for a number of reasons. Not many former stars are willing to make that sacrifice. Carter is not only accepting it:
“I’ve played a lot of minutes over my career, but I’ve learned how to kind of get it done in a shorter period of time,” Carter said. “So it’s all good…. I do what I need to do off the court to take care of my body and make sure that I’ve effective. And I just know I’ve found my way of just coming in and being productive in that time.”
Carter’s also embracing it:
“I’m in a great situation here as far as utilizing my talent and my ability to make plays, be a playmaker. It doesn’t have to be scoring. We have so many guys that can do so many things that you trust them with the ball. And they trust me to knock down shots and make plays. It’s a perfect match.”
The move to the bench started when Carter was a member of the downtrodden 2010-11 Phoenix Suns. After struggling two nights prior to the tune of zero points on 0-of-3 shooting, Carter was relegated to the bench, where he only played a handful of minutes.
Most former stars would have sulked, demanded a trade, lashed out in the media but Carter took it in stride. Towards the end of that season, he was performing far better off the bench than he had as a starter.
The following season, Carter moved to the Dallas Mavericks, a team fresh off their shocking NBA Finals victory against the Miami Heat.
Carter was brought in as a mercenary but more than anything as a cheap, affordable wing option after the Mavericks made the decision to move on from a number of their title-winning rotation players.
The plan was to equip Dallas with cap-space when Dwight Howard and Deron Williams would hit free agency. Carter, at this point in his career, was seen less as “Vince Carter” to the Mavericks and more as a cheap guard/forward option to buy them some time, times were definitely changing.
Again, Carter took it in stride. He flip-flopped between the bench and a starting nod through much of the season but by the end of the 11-12 campaign, he was solidly a bench player. It wasn’t a great year for Carter, the transition was still rocky, he wasn’t shooting well from the field and the comfort level still wasn’t there.
In the final six games of the 11-12 season, Carter averaged 14.7 points-per-game and 10.8 FGA. Certainly not superstar numbers but not bad for a bench wing. Was Carter finally embracing the role?
Carter continued coming off the bench for the 2012-13 Mavericks, save for a three-game fling in the middle of the season. He had found his new role. This season, it is much of the same for the former Vinsanity — 42 games played, zero games started.
The transformation of Carter’s game is remarkable. Hal Brown of MavsMoneyBall.com put it best in his piece today entitled “The Re-Reinvention of Vince Carter”:
“To Mavericks fans, Vince Carter is no longer the über-talented but whiney and selfish superstar, but the old, wizened teacher; there to impart experience, and lead when necessary.”
During his first 12 years in the league, Carter’s Per-36 PPG was 21.6 with 17.8 FGA. In his two years since becoming an exclusively off-the-bench player, his Per-36 scoring is 18.1 PPG with 14.6 FGA.
He hasn’t become a shell of his former self or a battered veteran tagging onto a top team to win that elusive ring, he’s contributing what the old Vince Carter did, just doing it in far less quantity.
Carter has also changed his approach to offense, during his first 12 years in the league only 25.8% of his field goal attempts came from 3PT, in his two years off the bench that number has skyrocketed to 45.35%.
In Carter, we have a player who was able to adapt his game not only to the switch from superstar to role player but also adapt his game to an evolving NBA.
Contrast Carter’s evolution to a few of his contemporaries. Allen Iverson came off the bench a mere 13 times in his career and clearly was never comfortable with it during his three game tenure with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2009-10. By age 34, Iverson was completely out of the league, turning down offers to come off the bench for a number of teams.
Stephon Marbury took to the bench for 30 games over the course of his career, a majority of which came in 2008-09 with the Boston Celtics. He couldn’t adjust and was awful off the bench shooting 34% from the field. He was out of the league the next year but has resurrected himself in China, but has done so as a foreign-born superstar. That’s more comfortable with Marbury, not taking a backseat like Carter has.
The much-maligned Steve Francis had 33 games off the bench most of which were his final two seasons (2006-07 New York Knicks and 2007-08 Houston Rockets). The former “Franchise” struggled mightily in both seasons and his final run with the Rockets only lasted 10 games before he was out of the league.
Carter’s cousin Tracy McGrady accepted the bench role starting in 2010-11 with the Detroit Pistons and 2011-12 with the Atlanta Hawks but he wasn’t very effective in the role (12.1 PPG per-36) and was a total non-factor on last year’s Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs.
Carter, at age 37, is still hanging around in the NBA and more than that, is still seen a key piece to a contender in the Western Conference. There’s even talk of where he’ll go as a free agent next year, compare that to the four former superstars mentioned above, you need a search party to find two of them and the other two have long outlasted their worth in the NBA.
Thanks to his dedication and willingness to accept a new role, Carter has resurrected his career when he could have went down the path of so many former superstars.
There will come a day when his number is hanging from the Air Canada Center rafters and perhaps his greatest achievement will not be his battles with Allen Iverson, or how close the Raptors came to the Eastern Conference Finals but how Carter carried himself in his post-Toronto career. It seems odd, but Carter resurrecting himself from the selfish, prima-donna superstar he was earlier in his career to the accepting, thoughtful reserve mercenary he’s become, may be Vinsanity’s greatest legacy.