Public perception is a peculiar thing. In the annals of ballplayers who came into the NBA as highlight-makers who dunked on everyone in their path and lived in the lane, the inevitable point in their careers when they have to adjust and become jump-shooters is met with varying responses. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were universally praised for it. Dwyane Wade is currently being encouraged to diversify his game and prolong what has been an injury-riddled career, after which he’ll no doubt be praised. And eventually critics will look more toward LeBron James and Josh Smith to change it up from the constant attack mode.
Vince Carter? He gets called “soft” and “fragile” (or worse) and is accused of “settling” for jumpers when all he’s done is make the same adjustment every wildly athletic wing player eventually makes. Personally, I don’t get it. At a time in his career when injuries started to become a problem and he was approaching 30, Vince naturally became less of a slasher and more of a shooter. And it’s not like he didn’t get good results: in the past three seasons he’s shot around 45% from the field (compared to about 46% his first few years in the League), plus he’s still good for at least 21 points per game, several trips to the free throw line, and those occasional 40-point explosions.
Because he was such an amazing dunker in his younger days, it’s like people are mad at Vince because he doesn’t get 75 percent of his points above the rim. But who does that? Look at George Gervin; famous for the finger roll, but his game was really very dependent on his jumper. MJ became the game’s biggest endorser on a foundation of dunking and the whole “Air” persona, but his jumper was the foundation of his game. That’s just how elite two-guards operate.
For someone who’s often called lazy and a one-dimensional scorer, Vince Carter is far from it — he’s actually one of the best all-around players in the sport. This season he put up 21 points, six boards and five assists per game, making him one of only a handful of guys (LeBron, Kobe and T-Mac were the only others) to average 20-5-5 across the board.
The biggest knocks on Vince are that he isn’t aggressive enough, he’s always injured, and that he doesn’t play hard. To address all three:
(1) Vince still dunks on cats regularly and attacks the basket often. You’d have to regularly watch Nets games to see it — which I’ve been able to do living in the NY/NJ area — but you can also look at his 429 free throw attempts this past season, which ranked 22nd in the League. Vince took more free throws (a good indication of attacking the basket) than notoriously aggressive scorers like Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Brandon Roy and Tony Parker, among others. And according to CBS Sportsline’s unofficial “Dunk-O-Meter” ticker, Vince threw down 71 dunks this season, 38th-best in the League and higher than Gerald Wallace, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Tim Duncan and Jason Richardson.
(2) Over the past four seasons, Vince has played in 314 of a possible 328 regular season games. In that same span, Kobe — who no one’s ever accused of being fragile — has played in 305 games. Kevin Garnett, another guy given all the warrior credit in the world, has played in 305.
(3) The perception that Vince consistently doesn’t play hard all stems from the infamous interview where he admitted he didn’t always give it his all in Toronto. If you really think Vince Carter is the only NBA player who has occasionally played at less than 100 percent, you’re kidding yourself. Watch a Clippers/Bobcats game in March and tell me everyone on the court is going all-out. And on a bigger stage — and I hate to keep bringing up Kobe, but he is the game’s most visible player and the standard by which active two-guards are judged — look at the two Game 7 losses Kobe suffered at the hands of the Suns in ’06 and ’07. In fact, in Game 1 of this year’s San Antonio series even Lakers fans were saying Kobe didn’t go all-out in the first half when he scored only two points.
I’m not a huge Vince Carter fan, but I don’t think he deserves all the hate fans seem to have for him. If you’re in that group, what’s your reason for disliking VC so much?