The Memphis Grizzlies surprised people with the announcement Saturday that the team had signed 8 time All-Star Vince Carter to a multi-year deal. Why turn away from Mike Miller to sign an even older player in Vince Carter?
At first glance it doesn’t make sense. Carter is no longer an All-Star. Last season in Dallas Carter averaged only 11.9 points per game in just over 24 minutes a night. What’s more, Carter is not young. Carter will turn 38 during the 2014-15 season and has played 16 seasons in the NBA.
Carter will replace Mike Miller, a fan favorite in Memphis 3 years younger. Miller was informed the Grizzlies would not be bidding for his services shortly before the signing was announced. Miller had publicly stated he wanted to stay in Memphis and seemed hurt by the news.
So why should people be excited about this signing?
I’ll tell you why. Vince Carter is an assassin.
No he doesn’t kill people for money. He kills teams. He has ice water in his veins and when the pressure is on he is capable of creating situations that help his team win games. He steps up when needed. He doesn’t shirk from the responsibility.
The Grizzlies have never had a player so capable of making big plays in crunch time. Rudy Gay was the closest thing and, while Gay did make many memorable plays at the end of games for the Grizzlies, Carter’s combination of big shot ability, passing, ball handling and foul drawing capability make him a far more dangerous closer at the end of games.
The man he replaces took just 3 shots in the Grizzlies game 7 loss to The Oklahoma City Thunder. Carter took 12 in Dallas’ game 7 loss and added 4 rebounds and 4 assists. While Carter took about the same number of 3 point shots in his series as Miller took (31-29), Carter took 68 total shots compared to 42 for Miller. Carter went to the free throw line a lot more than Miller. 196 times Carter stepped to the line last season in Dallas compared to just 128 times for Miller.
More importantly, Carter took and made the big 3 point shot that defeated the Spurs in game 3 of their series, draining the corner jumper with Manu Ginobili defending. When was the last time you remember Mike Miller taking a big shot like that while a defender was in his face?
“I don’t mind taking the game-winning shot,” said Carter, who otherwise had a rough day before finishing with 11 points. “I don’t mind missing them, and dealing with it. So I think having that mentality helps me.”
Memphis has been missing that mentality from the SF position for the last few years. Last season the closest thing the Grizzlies had to a go to scorer in crunch time was Mike Conley and that isn’t Conley’s forte. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol struggle creating their own shot in crunch time. Courtney Lee, like Miller, prefers to allow others to take the big shots. Tony Allen wants to take it but no one on the Grizzlies wants him taking that role.
Now with Carter the team has a player who not only can create his own shot, but he can set up others, create contact to get to the line and even play decent team defense when the other team has the ball.
That doesn’t mean Carter will start for the Grizzlies. What it means is Carter can close for the Grizzlies and that is far more important. Carter isn’t the young player who manufactured the “Dunk of Death” at the Sydney Olympics. Carter won’t be asked to defend the Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony’s of the NBA night in and night out. The team will likely pick and choose spots where Carter can come in fresh and make an impact. Unless the roster changes again, those times will definitely include the closing minutes of tight games.
And Carter realizes that. Unlike many aging stars of the NBA, Carter understands his new role in the league and has adopted it completely. Where Eddie Jones and Allen Iverson struggled taking a secondary role with the Grizzlies, Carter embraces it. He realizes what his role is today and still has the ability to stand up and be counted when called on. It is a rare accomplishment for a player of his stature.
Carter has lost the spring in his step but he hasn’t lost his competitiveness, his intelligence or his sharp shooting ability. These skills don’t pass as quickly. These talents are born not bred too. No matter how many times you put Mike Miller on the court at the end of games, he isn’t going to want to take the big shot. Miller isn’t the type of player that can create scoring opportunities when things break down.
Put Carter in that situation and he will call for the ball and create. It’s not skill alone. It’s skill combined with the heart of a warrior. He is the type of player who can take a contested corner three at the buzzer and make it. He won’t back down. He’ll accept the challenge and make something happen.
And it is something the Grizzlies have missed for a long time.