Keltner List: Vince Carter
Recently, it’s come to my attention that the mere possibility of VC making the Hall of Fame apparently evokes an angry, violent, nauseous reaction on par with this. Then again, there’s no doubting he’s been one of the defining figures of the post-MJ era, for better or for worse. So what’s the verdict? Hall or no Hall for Mr. Carter? Let’s do this…
Height: 6-7 Weight: 215 lbs.
Born: January 26, 1977 in Daytona Beach, Florida
High School: Mainland in Daytona Beach, Florida
College: University of North Carolina
Draft: Selected by the Golden State Warriors in the 1st round (5th pick, 5th overall) of the 1998 NBA draft.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball? There may have been a brief moment in the spring of 2001 when someone may have whispered that Carter may have been the best player in basketball… But honestly? No.
2. Was he the best player on his team? Sometimes. Carter was consistently the best player on his Toronto teams — some good, some bad. In New Jersey, it was probably a toss-up between VC and an aging Jason Kidd, with Richard Jefferson making his own bid in 2006 and Devin Harris taking the title in 2009. He’ll likely finish a distant 2nd on the 2010 Magic in Win Shares.
3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position? At his peak, he may have been the best SG in the NBA, but there was plenty of tough competition in Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, and Ray Allen. SPM says the best SG in 2001 was Allen Iverson; WS says Ray Allen. I’m going to go with “no”, then — Carter was close, but never quite #1.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals? No. The deepest Carter ever went into the playoffs were a trio of Conference Semifinal losses, including a 7-game defeat vs. the Sixers (2001) in which Carter infamously attended his UNC graduation in the morning and returned to Philadelphia that afternoon to miss a game-winning jumper.
Of course, this could all change in a few months…
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime? Yes, he’s doing it right now. Although, weirdly, his “prime” probably came at age 24.
6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame? Incomplete, because he’s still active. Although even if he was retired and eligible, he still wouldn’t be better than Artis Gilmore or a handful of other guys.
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame? Every player who matched VC’s career line of 22.9 PPG/5.3 RPG/4.2 RPG/.537 TS% is either in the Hall of Fame or is a lock to be there someday. And even if you relax the standards to 22/5/4/.500, you still get a list of blue-chip HoF talent. I’m going to go with “yes”.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? Carter’s Hall of Fame probability is currently 86.1%, which ranks him 71st all-time and definitely within the realm of HoF territory. In fact, according to HoF Probability, VC’s resume is a better match for past voting tendencies than established Hall members like Pete Maravich and Alex English. That still puts him more in the “borderline” camp than that of a “no-doubter”, but he’s definitely inside the range of numbers that meet the Hall’s standards.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his basic statistics? Carter’s typically listless defense is not reflected in his gaudy basic per-game stats. While VC had the tools to be a good defender, he rarely showed the inclination, as evidenced by his DPA numbers:
There’s also the huge elephant in the room: Carter’s basic stats fail to reflect his demonstrable, indefensible willingness to tank both his own performance and that of his team. With the Raps in 2004-05, an unhappy Carter not only loafed on defense (which, while annoying, is hardly a new phenomenon among star players), but he may have been the first player in league history to openly mail it in on offense, averaging 15.9 PPG and 3.3 RPG on a .475 TS% at age 28 — numbers so out of step with his talent and past production that it shocked no one when he admitted later that he didn’t always try his hardest as a Raptor. (Really, Vince? You think?) Lobbying for a trade to a contender the previous summer, his apathetic play forced Rob Babcock’s hand into trading him to the Nets for Alonzo Mourning (who promptly refused to report), Aaron Williams, Eric Williams, and a pair of 1st-rounders. As if by magic, Carter suddenly started tearing up the league the second he stepped off the plane in Jersey, averaging a ridiculous 28 PPG & 6 RPG on a .556 TS% the rest of the way, which spurred the Nets to a 33-24 record and a playoff berth down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Raptors have had just one winning season since.
So while a lot of voters will love Carter’s talent and (for the most part) his production, isn’t his behavior in Toronto one of the worst sins a player can commit? I mean, holding a team hostage for a trade by openly not playing at anywhere near 100% of his ability — despite having signed a 6-year, $94 million extension to be the team’s franchise player just 3 years before? I feel like that incident is (justifiably) going to be a major negative mark on VC’s permanent record.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame? Incomplete, for now. But when he retires, he’ll likely go out around the same time as Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen, two players I think you have to rank ahead of Carter in the world of SGs. Also, Allen Iverson will likely be in already when Carter hangs it up (heck, A.I. might be retired right now for all we know), but he’s another SG who ranks higher on the all-time ladder than VC.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close? Carter brushed with an MVP-type season in 2000-01, ranking 6th in the NBA in Win Shares, 2nd in PER, and 3rd in Statistical +/-. Yet even then, he only tied Ray Allen for 11th in MVP voting, which was actually one position lower than he’d been in 2000.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame? Carter is an 8-time All-Star (2000-07), but probably wasn’t a deserving, All-Star-caliber player in at least two of those seasons (2003 & 2004), and you could probably object to 2005 on moral grounds. Players named to 8 ASG rosters include Rick Barry, Dave DeBusschere, Alex English, Bob Lanier, Larry Foust, Paul Pierce, Dikembe Mutombo, & Bill Sharman — a bit of a mixed bag, but one leaning towards the Hall of Fame. But when you drop down to 5-6 ASG selections, a far smaller % of players are in the Hall of Fame.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title? No. Carter was the franchise player for a Toronto team that was built around him, and they maxed out at 47 wins and a loss in the 2nd round. In New Jersey (where he wasn’t even necessarily their best player), Carter’s teams peaked at 49 wins and a loss in the 2nd round. Even at his peak, surrounded with a solid cast of complementary players, Carter didn’t appear to be capable of leading a team to an NBA title.
14. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy? He’s the greatest dunker in basketball history, hands down (just ask Freddie Weis). He single-handedly revitalized the dunk contest in 2000, and the buzz from his jaw-dropping performance in Golden State reverberates through All-Star Saturday Night to this day, a decade removed from his last appearance in the competition. Carter’s performance in that contest will likely be his greatest legacy in the sport, but as long as the dunk is a part of basketball, his name will always be remembered.
The Verdict: I don’t think he gets in, barring some kind of postseason success with Orlando (and even that may not be enough). It’s much easier to make a case for him never stepping foot in the Hall than it is to argue for his induction, and this simple fact is going to weigh heavily on the minds of the voters. David Thompson was inducted despite never reaching his potential, and his fall from grace was actually less defensible than Carter’s Toronto tankfest (drugs and a knee injury — caused by falling down the stairs at Studio 54 — ruined Skywalker’s career), but Thompson was also a winner/statistical monster in college, and his long-run impact was massive: he helped further legitimize the ABA, leading to the merger; he helped pioneer the high-flying, dunking style we see today; he influenced the Greatest Player Ever™ more than anyone else; his career-ending drug addiction was one of the prime incidents that motivated the league to clean up its image… etc. In other words, Thompson gets a pass where Carter doesn’t because Thompson came first, and people view Thompson’s career arc as tragic, while they see Carter’s career arc as self-inflicted. Is this fair? Probably not. But is Carter as talented as Thompson was? Probably not. Thompson was viewed as arguably the best player in basketball during the 1978 season, and we’ve already established that Carter was never viewed as the NBA’s top player, even at his peak.
There’s also the question of whether Carter deserves to be in, which depends on how you view the ever-changing (or is that eroding?) standards of the Hall of Fame. In many ways, what newly-inducted Dennis Johnson is to APBRmetricians (his numbers underwhelm, but all he did was win ballgames), Carter is to the “intangibles” crowd, because he has good numbers but the non-statistical aspects of Carter’s profile are off-the-charts horrible (or as the popular narrative goes, he has no toughness, no heart, and isn’t a winner). Because of this, a few days ago I argued that as long as we’re going to include players like DJ, why not include Vince Carter and anybody else who’s a borderline candidate? I mean, they’re borderline for diametrically opposed reasons, but they’re both still borderline, right?
However, your mileage will definitely vary — heck, my feelings on the matter change constantly, too. We know that in a high-standards Hall, there’s no way Carter should be in. But that Hall of Fame doesn’t exist right now, so we’re stuck with the one that actually does — and I think that even with the tanking and the intangible concerns, Carter is on the fence and leaning toward falling off on the “deserving” side, pending what happens with Orlando. Does that mean he’s an all-time great player? No. But then again, that’s not really a requirement for the Hall of Fame at this point. In the end, Carter meets a ton of historical HoF qualifications, and he has made a definite impact on the culture of the game. At a certain level, what more can you ask from a Hall of Famer?