After reaching the 2009 NBA Finals with Hedo Turkoglu as the primary wing scorer, the Magic went down a notch, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics. Obviously, there’s more to it than the fact that Hedo was there and Vince was, but Carter’s play during that series didn’t make matters much better.
That being said, Carter’s numbers weren’t that far off from what Hedo did during the 2009 post-season. Vince averaged 15.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 40% from the field and 24% from three and Turkoglu averaged 15.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game and shot shot just 43% from the field and 39% from three. Hedo has the advantage, but the difference isn’t as monumental as most would assume.
The fact is, Vince actually had a good season last year. After watching him flail out in the post-season, that may be hard to believe but the numbers prove that Carter was actually a valuable addition to the Orlando Magic. They may not have gotten to the Finals like they did in 2009, but that had more to do with Kevin Garnett being back and healthy and the emergence of other Celtics key role player than it did with Carter.
Carter’s role with Orlando was to be a playmaking two guard, something that they needed to go along with their bevy of shooters on the wing. Having those wing shooters is an invaluable asset and they are even more important within Stan Van Gundy’s offense. But their value isn’t at its highest without a guard that can drive and kick. Jameer Nelson is talented. He’s one of the better shooters in the league at the point guard spot and he has excellent chemistry with Dwight Howard. That being said, having the luxury of a six-foot-six guard that can attack the paint more consistently only furthers the extreme depth that the Magic have.
Based on his play in the post-season and his horrific drought in January of last season (when he averaged 8.7 points per game in 14 games on 28% shooting), most people would say he did not fulfill that role. But, over the course of a season, Vince was productive and he filled his role pretty darn well.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Carter was the 11th best isolation player in the league last season, scoring 1.02 points per possession. That’s a better mark than LeBron James, the game’s most dominant isolation player, had. Of course, LeBron was in those situations about 600 more times than Vince was, but the fact remains that Vince was able to give the Magic exactly what they needed from him on the wing. Hedo was an isolation player during crunch time for Orlando and Carter added that element back.
Carter also added a new dimension to the Magic offense: the 2/5 pick and roll. Vince didn’t exactly have great chemistry with Dwight Howard. Distributing touches to him wasn’t a strong suit for him last season unless they were in a pick and roll together. That’s something you hope would be different after one go around. After Carter has acclimated himself to the 4-out, 1-in system a little better and after he’s decided not to take the occasional fadeaway from 22-feet. But when Carter and Howard were on the move together, they were excellent.
As the ball handler in the pick and roll, Carter accounted for .96 points per possession (on an assist or a bucket), the 19th best average in the league. This was easily the popular play for Vince, as it accounted for nearly 39% of his total offense. The pick and roll with Carter was even more frequented than the pick and roll with Jameer Nelson. Carter was involved in 567 pick and rolls last season compared to 511 for Nelson.
Having a shooter that could also step in and hit the mid-range jumper was also something Orlando seemed to lack two seasons ago. Their shooters may have been capable of hitting those shots, but the more common occurrence was a three-point shots. Carter brought this element along, too. As I mentioned before, the does take a number of misguided shots that are most likely hoisted up because its easier to shoot than to hit the hole, but he did shoot 42% from the 16-23 foot range last season, according to Hoopdata, which is a slightly better percentage than Kobe Bryant and LeBron James finished with.
Carter was not a great fit for the Magic last season, but he was a good one. He did have a relapse or so a game when he thought he was back in 2004 when he was throwing up 20 shots a game and took a few too many long two’s and his understanding of the Magic offense was never picture perfect but he did move well with Superman in the pick and roll and was equally effective when moving off the ball (he ranked 12th, 32nd, and 33rd on cuts, off-screen plays and hand offs respectively). He did have that poor stretch in January and he wasn’t a superstar in the post-season but he did show us a bit of Vincesanity in that 48-point performance against New Orleans and when he dunked on Delonte West and Anderson Varejao.
So long as Vince can take advantage of his gifts more efficiently this season. He has already added so much in the 2/5 pick and roll but he can do so much more offensively. In the pinch post, with those shooters around him and Dwight clogging up the paint? Stan Van Gundy needs to make this a more common occurrence this upcoming season. It will be up to Carter to make smart decisions when he is put in those situations and I am confident that he will.
Gone are the days of Vince being the top scorer on his team, and he knows that. He knows that he had a good season with the Magic last season, despite what most think, but he also knows there is a lot of room for growth. And as he grows within Orlando’s team concept, so do the Magic’s championship aspirations.
This also ties into a recent debate: whether or not the Magic are still title contenders.
There are valid points on either side of the argument. On one hand, the Magic haven’t made any massive upgrades this summer. Daniel Orton, their first round draft choice, will not be a major contributor any time soon and Quentin Richardson, though a solid addition, isn’t that much better than Matt Barnes, who’s role he will be assuming.
That being said, did they really need to make any big time additions? I think everybody assumes you had to have made a move this summer to stay in contention simply because of what Miami did. But that’s not the case. The Magic have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the last two season and they were in the NBA Finals in 2009. Last season, they got off to a poor start against Boston and weren’t able to overcome their early 0-2 deficit.
But they didn’t fall off. They still swept their way through the first two rounds and if it wasn’t for a slight slump from Vince Carter and a huge slump from Rashard Lewis, we may have had a rematch of the 2009 Finals instead of the ’08 Finals this June.
This team can still compete for a championship this season. I even think they are the best team in Florida right now. They have the best big man in the league, a coach with a terrific system that he believes in, and a playmaking two guard that should be better than ever next season. That may seem like a bold prediction, because Vince was so, so good when he was scoring 28 a game with the Raptors but his skillset is at its best when its used in doses and in the right situations.
I think that’s what’s going to happen this upcoming season. I think Vince will settle in and become even more comfortable with the Magic. I think he’ll start to use that monster in the paint that Orlando is blessed to have, and I think he’ll take advantage of his talents by scoring when his team needs him to rather than scoring when he wants to. And if he does that, there’s no reason to think the Magic can’t compete for a title next season.