The NBA’s 30 best go-to players (#11: Vince Carter)

By: 10.14.09  •  29 Comments

Vince Carter

Who do you want your offense to run through with everything on the line? Counting down 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…

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#11: VINCE CARTER, Orlando Magic

Back in July, when he was introduced as a member of the Magic, Carter said he doesn’t desire to be the face nor the focal point of his new team.

“I just want to help make (Orlando) better. (Dwight Howard) can be the face all he wants,” VC said. “My concern is more so just getting wins. I kind of leave that for people to say or debate on. I think for me, it’s ‘Can Vince come in and do his part for the Orlando Magic?’ That’s more so my goal.”

He’s right. Then in September, coach Stan Van Gundy clarified VC’s role.

“My guess going into the season is that at the end of the game, he’s the guy you go to most of the time because of his ability to create a shot either for himself or for the team,” Van Gundy said.

He’s also right. Carter is in a unique position where he’s not the centerpiece of his franchise or its best player — that would of course be Dwight Howard — but he fits the definition of the classic go-to guy. And that’s as much due to Dwight’s unreliable free-throw shooting and limited scoring skills as it is a credit to Vince’s abilities as one of the best scorers and clutch performers in the NBA.

Two months before the Magic were ousted from the ’09 Finals, I said Carter was the player who could get them over the hump as a real championship team:

One glaring reason is the lack of a go-to perimeter scorer to take over at the end of a game. Dwight’s immature post game and poor free-throw shooting means Orlando’s best player isn’t their best crunch-time option, hence the trickle-down effect: Hedo is a second option play-acting as an alpha dog, Jameer and Rashard are third options pretending to be second options, etc. Sometimes it works, but it’s not a championship recipe; imagine Portland having Travis Outlaw as their go-to clutch scorer instead of Brandon Roy and you get the idea.

Last season, Carter averaged 20.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists, falling just short of the 20-5-5 benchmark he reached in ’07-08 and putting himself in a small class of players who put up those kind of all-around numbers. In Orlando’s three-happy system, his rebounding could drop and his scoring could rise, but his most important addition to this roster is that — when all else fails — he’s the guy you can run a clear-out for and get something out of it, whether it’s a trip to the line, a dunk for Dwight, an open jumper for Rashard or Jameer, or a bucket for Vince. When things slow down as the game becomes nip-and-tuck, you need those kinds of creators.

Perhaps the most standout clutch stat for Carter is that he shot 50% from the field in “clutch time” last year, 50% on threes, and 85% at the line; by definition, he raises his game when it matters most. He’s one of those players who can score 12 points all night on 4-of-16 shooting, but turns it on and gets the most important bucket or makes the most important play at the end of the day.

You can replay the 30-foot game-winner on Atlanta (forget the shot, check the calmness from VC), but I have to go back to last year’s assassin’s display in Toronto. On his way to putting up 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists and just one turnover, VC forced overtime with a last-second three and won the game with a backwards dunk off an alley-oop. And this was in front of a crowd that was viciously booing him whenever he blinked. It was right up there with Kobe‘s 61 and B-Roy’s 52 as one of the coldest single-game efforts of the season. In fact, if one of those two had done it in that fashion in that kind of atmosphere, they’d have a holiday named after them.

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12. Joe Johnson
13. Danny Granger
14. Steve Nash
15. Kevin Durant
16. Gilbert Arenas
17. Derrick Rose
18. Chris Bosh
19. Andre Iguodala
20. Tracy McGrady
21. Baron Davis
22. Michael Redd
23. Devin Harris
24. Kevin Martin
25. Al Jefferson
26. O.J. Mayo
27. Stephen Jackson
28. Nate Robinson
29. Boris Diaw
30. Rip Hamilton

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