Monday, March 14, 2011

Vince Carter: Love Him or Hate Him, Get Your Facts Straight

Vince Carter was one of the biggest stars in all of basketball. He burst onto the scene, winning Rookie of the year by a landslide in 1999. He filled a void of excitement in the post-Jordan era. He was one of the unlucky few to be dubbed the next Michael Jordan – talk about setting the bar high. Here is a label that no player can live up to. Any, and all accomplishments made throughout his career would just pale in comparison.

This comparison was mainly given out because of his dunking ability. Michael Jordan is and will always be the greatest player of all time, but Vince took dunking to a whole new level. He could dunk in the open court with his one of a kind style and flair. He dunked on people, as many defenders who appeared in his posters could attest too. Lastly, he could straight up dunk over people.

In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Carter literally jumped over Frederic Weis, all 7 foot 2 inches of him. He was the center for the France national team. After the game, The French media called it “Le Dunk de la Mort”, which translates to the Dunk of Death. Now I don’t think Frederic Weis died that night, but I am quite sure part of his ego did.

This play will go down in history, not just as the greatest dunk of all time, but as the greatest highlight of all time. If you haven’t seen it, shame on you, and where have you been.  Enjoy pure Vinsanity

During All-Star Weekend, in 2000, Vince… well he was the dunk contest, no props needed (sorry Blake Griffin). He even had great competition from his cousin, Tracy McGrady, and Steve Francis. Both could have won in most other years, but the shows they put on that night have been long forgotten. Vince’s show, on the other hand, immortalized him.

To put his popularity into perspective on a global level, all we have to do is look at the all-star voting process. Fans choose their favorites to start and they make it clear who their favorites are. Vince was the leading vote getter four times, and joined Dr. J and Michael Jordan as the only players to lead the league in votes three or more times. Vince shares some legendary company.

All of the hype and popularity surrounding Vince came crashing down in the 2001 playoffs. Vince had a great playoff run. He led the Raptors to the second round for the first time in franchise history. In that second round, they ran into Allen Iverson, at the peak of his greatness.

Carter and Iverson had one of the most memorable duels in post-season history. They exchanged 50-point games, which is an extreme rarity in the NBA playoffs. Carter’s fifty point outburst included a record setting, eight consecutive three-pointers made in one half.

Only 18 players dead or alive have ever scored fifty points in a playoff game. Kobe Bryant has done it, although he needed an overtime to accomplish that feat. Ray Allen has done it, in a triple overtime game. Dirk Nowitzki is the only other current NBA player to reach fifty points in a playoff game.

All of this was forgotten, because of a missed shot in game 7 that would have propelled them to the Eastern conference finals. Carter was scrutinized even more after that missed shot, because he decided to attend his UNC graduation, the morning of game seven.

Vince is a great role-model, who valued his education. Your typical NBA star would never dream of going back to finish up their degree. Instead of being commended for his work ethic, he was told that he lacked focus for the game. In reality, although Vince struggled with his shot in that game, he put up great numbers and fell just short of a triple double.

In the league there are players who step up, and there are players who fail under pressure. Vince has more career game-winners than any current player not named Kobe Bryant. Vince has never shied away from pressure. Take a look at some of his best late game moments.

In order to see a player’s true value, you can look at how his team fared without him. The Raptors made the playoffs just three times since his departure, in 2004. They lost in the first round every time. One of those first round losses came at the hands of Vince Carter, and his New Jersey Nets. When Vince was dealt to the Orlando Magic, the Nets went on to have one of the worst seasons in NBA history, winning just twelve games.

Few players in the league, when feeling it, can get as hot as Vince. Carter averaged a career low in points last season at 16.6 per game, with the Orlando Magic. He went through one of the worst shooting months of his entire career in January of 2010. On February 8th, 2010, Carter broke out of this slump, and dropped 48 points on the New Orleans Hornets, showing he still has a lot left in the tank.

On March 6th, 2011, Carter had one of his best games as a member of the Phoenix Suns. He scored 29 points, made six three pointers; one of which, forced overtime. However, in overtime, Carter was fouled taking a three pointer. He had an opportunity to help the Suns take the lead if he could knock down his free throws. Carter is an 80% career free throw shooter, which is a very respectable number.

Throughout his career, he has been very dependable in crunch time situations. On this occasion, he only hit one of his three free throws, and the Suns went on to lose this game. Carter walked off the floor, jersey in his mouth, knowing he blew a big opportunity. The Suns are just a couple of games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the western conference, so every game is crucial.

Vince responded, just two days later against the Houston Rockets, by having his best shooting day, maybe of his entire career. Vince scored 32 points, shooting 13 of 17 from the field. These were Dwight Howard-like percentages. While Howard takes all of his shots from point blank range, Vince lit it up from all over the court on this day.

Vince has averaged 22.4 points per game for his career, which is good enough for 25th on the all time list. This year, he quietly surpassed the 20,000 point plateau, which few will ever see. He is now 36th all time in points and slowly creeping up on a bunch of other hall-of-famers.

He averaged 20 plus points for ten straight seasons. Try and find the other current stars that have achieved such consistent greatness. The list is quite short (Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Shaq, that is all). Lebron, Wade , and Melo will join them soon. Interestingly enough, the big three of the Celtics all missed this prestigious list, by just one year.

No, Vince didn’t turn out to be the next Michael Jordan. He didn’t lead his team to a title. He may not have ever reached his true potential. He probably settled for too many jump-shots. He may not have that killer instinct, although in late game situations, I beg to differ.

What he did accomplish, is lead a bunch of mediocre teams to the playoffs. He made basketball popular and relevant in Canada. He is the greatest dunker of all time. When the game is on the line, he would consistently step up in the clutch, no matter what uniform he was wearing.

To be honest, he has only played on one true contender (that being the Magic of last season). At the end of the season, the Suns will buy out the remainder of his contract, which will leave Vince free to sign with any other team. Hopefully, he will get a second chance on a contender, and get another real shot at that NBA title which has eluded him.

Vince is not the center piece to win an NBA title, but he may just be that missing piece to push a contender over the edge. I hear the Chicago Bulls are looking for a shooting guard. Any thoughts?