Mavs 103, Cavs 95: The Vince Carter Dilemma

As of Tuesday, only 35 players had taken more shots this season than Vince Carter. All 35 of them had a higher scoring average than Carter. All 35 of them are starters. Only six of them were shooting a lower percentage. Thus, accentuated in Saturday's 103-95 Mavs win at Cleveland, 'The Vince Carter Dilemma':



With Dirk Nowitzki recovering from surgery, and more recently Shawn Marion nursing a hamstring issue, there have certainly been unique circumstances for the Dallas Mavericks early in the season.

Someone needs to pick up the scoring in Nowitzki's absence and a man who has scored over 20,000 points seems a pretty good candidate. Yet from the looks of things early on, Vince Carter seems to be a player that the Mavericks will rely on all season long. Nowitzki's return may not affect Carter's burn, which hover around 25 minutes per game and reached 18 minutes in Friday's loss at Indy. In that game, he scored 10 points -- but none of them during Dallas' second-half collapse.

The needle ticked back upward on Saturday in Dallas' entertaining win at Cleveland. Seven different Mavs scored at least nine points. Vince was one of them, with 5-of-10 shooting for 14 points.

"These are the wins that make you feel good,'' said Darren Collison, "because we did it all together.''

Through the first eight games there were numerous times when the Mavs did what they did as Carter was the primary scoring option on the floor. In fact, it seems to be the case pretty much anytime O.J. Mayo is not on the floor. Carter has served as the backup to Mayo often times this season, but has also shared time on the floor with him as well.

But the difference between Mayo's production and Carter's production has been drastic. Going into the weekend, Mayo had managed to average eight more points per game than Carter and has only taken 25 more shots than him all season, a pretty incredible feat. Mayo has been efficient while Carter has been taking a great deal of low-percentage shots.

Mayo was again a model of efficiency in Cleveland, scoring 19 points on nine shots. And as we try to make the comparison to Vince ... well, we realize that's not completely fair. Even in his mid-30's, Vinsanity lives; he can finish at the rim and he can draw the and-1 there, too, as he did in a critical situation in the Wednesday nail-biter win over Washington. Vince can also, however, shot-hunt. Against the Cavs, OJ took those nine shots. Vince, in 13 fewer minutes, took his 10. Chris Kaman played 12 more minutes than Vince and took only one more FG.

Truth is, this has been a concern with Carter his whole career. Even in his prime, when Carter had unbelievable explosion and ability to put himself in great positions on the court, he still often settled for very low percentage shots. It may have something to do with the fact that Carter is so offensively talented that any shot feels like a good shot to him.

But when Vince is out-gunslinging OJ ... things aren't quite right. There is an imbalance in the basketball world.

The return of Marion this weekend (a 10/10 in 32 minutes on the second night of a b-2-b in Cleveland, a wonderful sign) did get the planet spinning back on its axis a bit.

Nevertheless, these days we see Carter taking way too many shots one foot inside the 3-point line or 3-pointers fading slightly backwards and slightly to the left or right. Ah, the "long two'' -- the bugaboo of smart basketball people everywhere.

So the question is whether or not Carter's current trigger-happy mentality is a product of his own over-confidence or more of an example of the role that Rick Carlisle believes he holds on the team. Does Carter have the green light to shoot every time someone kicks it out to him around the 3-point line or take his defender one-on-one whenever he has the chance?

"Vince has really done a great job,'' Mavs owner Mark Cuban says. "Vince deserves a lot of credit. He's really been a calming influence and tried to do a lot on the court, and has taken charges -- the whole nine yards. ... OJ and Vince (are) who we count on to score.''

We don't buy the argument that if you're going to bring Vince Carter to your team then you are bringing him in only as a scorer and you should just let him play his role. We actually can testify to having seen Carter, at times, work as a terrific distributor and even play some valuable perimeter defense as well. So Cuban's "whole-nine-yards'' point is well-taken. These things have been underrated aspects of his game throughout his career, perhaps overshadowed by often-questionable shot selection (and of course an unmatched highlight reel).

Smile

But elevating Vince to the lofty position Dallas is putting him in? Dangerous and dubious.

Back when Carter was a true superstar, his teams faced a dilemma. They had a terrific talent who kept defenses honest and could put the ball in the basket. Unfortunately they had to contend with a high volume of shots, many of which had little chance of going in. Poor shot selection by a leading scorer can disrupt the offense of any team.

Going forward, the Mavericks will face a similar dilemma, albeit on a smaller scale. Even upon Nowitzki's return, we fear Carter will take the third highest amount of shots for Dallas. (Isn't Cuban all but saying that?) The key will be whether or not the Mavericks can take advantage of Carter's scoring ability (which they may need), encourage his role as distributor and defender and manage to reduce the number of low-percentage shots.

Yes, we know Carter is often a bail-out option late in the shot clock. So it would be unfair to ask him to consistently shoot a very high percentage. But his "situational shot selection,'' if you will, can certainly improve.

Carter's inability to find that middle ground contributed to the loss at Indy. Vince ability to be guided to that middle ground helped in Cleveland. Vince in a place where he isn't among the NBA leaders in FGA might turn out to be crucial to the Mavericks' success this season.


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