Vince Carter, Small Forward
For every human being 25-40, the moment when Vince Carter 360-windmilled into our teenage faces (giving Kenny Smith an aneurysm in the process) was among the greatest moments of earthbound existence.
Vince Carter, once immune to the laws of this mortal plane, also did this to a 7'2" (!) Frenchman at the 2000 Olympics:
When the Grizzlies signed Vince Carter to a three-year, $12 million deal in the summer, I allowed myself five minutes of teen euphoria, cramming 2000 into 2014 like Vince's elbow into that rim. Vince Carter! On the Grizzlies! Dunking! SportsCenter! Hallelujah! I ran downstairs in my underwear, hollering "Vince Carter to the Grizzlies! Vince Carter to the Grizzlies!" barely rustling my disinterested roommates.
But then, out of breath from my pantsless bout of Vinsanity, I sat down and adjusted to how things actually are. That's what you always have to do: start where you are, and work from there. And where we are is not Vince's elbow in the rim. But it's not so bad a place, either.
Where we are: Carter's 2013-14 numbers
Forget everything you know about Vince Carter. Forget the dunks. Forget the cover of Sports Illustrated (that glowing ball!) I've had plastered to my collaged sports-wall since forever. Forget everything Bill Simmons (who has a Vinsane hatred of Carter that rivals my own Dwight Howardian dislike) has ever written about VC.
Carter, no longer a star, no longer the center of attention or the centerpiece of a teenager's bedroom wall collage, is a sixth man. Vince is a three-point specialist, not quite in the #LetItFly zone but not as far from that as you think. Still an aggressive, attacking ballhandler in the pick-and-roll, Carter can get to the rim and finish. As the crazy athleticism has slowly seeped from his legs, Carter has committed to performing the small tasks of a role player: he is a sturdy defender; he gets to the foul line; he'll occasionally get frisky on the boards.
What to expect from Grizzly Vince
Carter was ostensibly brought to Memphis to replace Mike Miller, our beloved Mike, loping around the three-point arc, calling for the ball, bango-ing treys with a stroke sent from God. The lay NBA-person assumed Carter, who is two years older than Miller, would do similar things in Memphis. But Carter will do more. Vince Carter is a better basketball player than Mike Miller.
While Miller outshot Carter from long range last season (Miller a ridiculous 46%, Carter a more modest 39%), Vince is an upgrade in every other basketball category James Naismith could imagine. Carter is durable, having played in under 73 games only once since 2002-03 (even then, he played in 61 for the 2011-12 Mavs). Carter is an eager shooter, somehow far more so than the trigger-happy Miller, as Vince hoisted 371 triples last season (Miller shot 233). Carter is capable off the bounce and in the pick-and-roll game, a facet most non-Conley Grizzlies have struggled with in recent years. Despite his diminished springiness, Carter still furiously attacks the basket, getting to the line nearly four times as often as Miller in 2013-14 (where they both shot an identical 82%). While Miller, bless his heart, played defense with the obvious demeanor of someone who'd rather be jacking a three, Carter can ably and willingly defend other wings. Carter's periphery numbers -- rebounds, assists, steals -- also suggest a player who is more engaged and well-rounded than Miller.
But while the Carterian offseason enthusiasm is certainly warranted (better statistically than Miiller + overwhelming nostalgic factor = ENTHUSIASM), we are still likely looking at an off-the-bench player for the Grizzlies. Carter played 24 minutes per game in Dallas last season, which seems about right for this year too. Memphis lost Miller's 20 MPG, so you'd think Carter would get those, in addition to some of Tayshaun Prince's harrowing 25 MPG. Quincy Pondexter will return to the rotation this year, and certainly he warrants something around the 20 MPG mark. Tony Allen will get some time at the 3, especially when it's turn-the-water-off time against Kevin Durant and others.
We will make a big deal about who does or doesn't start, but probably it will not matter. Dave Joerger, who loves Tayshaun Prince like I love nothing else on earth, will, let's be honest, likely start Prince at the 3. Carter would then be the first sub, playing alongside Tony Allen (who also would enter with the second unit), adding explosiveness and energy to the Grizzlies' secondary lineups. Carter is going to get his 25 minutes, however they come -- which means he's going to get his shots up, too -- so really, it won't matter much whether he starts or not. Carter will, most certainly, be on the court at the end of games.
Play 25 minutes a game, hit some threes, jam some jams, and splash a couple massive shots in the playoffs. Like, maybe, this:
You never like to think about this, especially not about your childhood heroes, but Carter is old. He was born in the '70s! They didn't have cell phones then! Carter is a nagging injury or two (which he's miraculously avoided his whole career) from being done. The worst-case Vince Carter scenario is that he gets hurt, plays something like half the games, and loses the bulk of his minutes to Quincy Pondexter.
Let's talk about the fun one again!
All that hypothetical injury talk really bummed me out. So let's raise the bar. Actually, the ceiling. ACTUALLY, the roof. Let's raise the roof. Vince Carter's 2014-15 ceiling/roof is going all Frederic Weis on Blake Griffin in the playoffs, uniting my childhood and adulthood fantasies with one powerful slam. Yeah, that sounds about right.