Vince Carter: Hall of Fame Legacy on the Line?
We are among many observers who have noted that Vince Carter is one of the pivotal players of the 2009-10 NBA season. We are on the side of believing that the move from Hedo Turkoglu to Carter is an upgrade for the Magic, and is a key reason that we predicted Orlando to be NBA champions in '09-10. As we noted in our season preview post, we still have concerns about Vince's leadership ability, but the beauty of his current arrangement is that he's just one of several stars, and certainly not the face of the franchise: he doesn't need to lead, he just needs to produce.
Taking a step back, Vince is one of the most interesting players to watch this season, not only because of his potential effect on the 2009-10 season, but also because he may have more on the line in terms of his career legacy than any other player in the league. Vince may well be playing for the Hall of Fame.
As much as we strongly believe in Orlando's move from Turkoglu to Carter, we have to say that we were taken aback when we noticed how high Vince ranked on Basketball Reference's Hall of Fame probability page.
The Hall of Fame probability is explained here. It's important to note that this is not a judgment on whether a player deserves to be a Hall of Famer, but rather a look at how closely a given player's accomplishments and attributes are similar to players who have made it to Springfield.
As the explanation page notes:
- Although it can be risky to make predictions for active players, you can think of these probabilities as answering the question "If this player retired today, what is the probability he would be elected to the Hall of Fame?".
I guess we're surprised just because we haven't considered Vince to be Hall of Fame material. We've certainly held it against him that he flat gave up on the Raptors, and we've never considered Vince to be particularly strong in the categories of leadership or mental toughness. As we wrote in the season preview, we can't disagree with the scout who once told reporter Frank Hughes that, "I bet no player in the history of the league has gone to the locker room and come out again more than Vince Carter. In the history of the league."
On top of that, Carter's career is something of a disappointment in that his best season probably occurred at the age of 24, in 2000-01, when he posted career-highs in points (27.6) and PER (25.0) for the 47-35 Raptors - also one of the few seasons in which Carter's team reached the second round of the playoffs.
All told, we've considered Vince to be part of the Hall of the Very Good, as Peter King would say about an NFL player, but short of the Hall of Fame. Our guess is that most fans would tend to generally agree with this assessment (we're curious to know - let us know what you think in the comments).
In his recent book, Bill Simmons includes Vince Carter in his revamped Hall of Fame, as the 83rd-ranked player (out of 96), but accompanies that honor quite amusingly with a rather scathing critique that is a roundup of all the subjective reasons that Vince should not a Hall of Famer, in line with what we noted above, culminating in this:
- That's one of the reasons I wanted to write this book: fifty years from now, we wouldn't want an NBA fan to flip through some NBA guide and decide that Vince Carter was a worthy basketball star. He wasn't.
Note the variables which are considered by Basketball Reference:
- 1. Height (in inches)
2. Last season indicator (1 if 1959-60 or before, 0 otherwise)
3. NBA points per game
4. NBA rebounds per game
5. NBA assists per game
6. NBA All-Star game selections
7. NBA MVP award shares
8. NBA championships won
- In 2002-03, Carter was voted in even though he was sidelined from Dec. 8 to Jan. 26, and likely would not have made the team as a reserve.
- In 2003-04, the Raptors ended 33-49, and Carter may not have made it without the fan votes.
- 2004-05 was the season that Carter quit on the Raptors, so there's no way in hell he would have or should have made the team without the fan votes.
Take away two of Carter's All-Star nods (and also round down his career averages to 23-5-4 to take future decline into account, which is probably generous to him), and his probability drops down to .667, in the range of some guys who are in, like Wes Unseld and Frank Ramsey, and some guys who are out, like Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway.
But go the other way, and add a championship to the Vince Carter resume with 8 All-Star Games and a 23-5-4 career, and his probability leaps to .937, which would jump him up to 58th all-time, in between solid Hall of Famers Tiny Archibald and Robert Parish, and ironically, very close to Paul Pierce (56th, .942), a guy who may have cemented a Springfield legacy by resurrecting his career with a championship run in 2007-08.
Would a Magic championship in 2010 do the same for Vince Carter? Championships are pretty powerful things in the minds of fans and the anonymous Hall of Fame voters. Most of the arguments against Vince are subjective ones, and we think that the sentiments of a championship would likely wash them away. With a championship, we think fans and media alike would consider Carter to be redeemed. Is there anyone else with that much at stake in terms of career legacy this season? We don't think so.
Now for a separate question: if he plays a key role on a championship team, does Vince deserve to be a Hall of Famer? Well, let's go to another tried-and-true Basketball Reference measure: The Keltner List. They describe it as
- "that tried-and-true staple of sabermetric-type analysis ever since Bill James introduced it way back in the 1985 Baseball Abstract. The format is simple: it's an inventory of yes-or-no questions designed to assess whether or not a player deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. It's not numerical, nor is it strictly objective, but after going through the list you typically get a pretty good feel for the player's HoF-worthiness."
Here's what we've got for Vince:
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?
No, sir. His best seasons were '99-00 and '00-01, when Shaquille O'Neal was clearly the best player in the game, and several others ranked above Vince, as well.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
Yes, Carter was the best player on multiple mediocre-to-good teams in Toronto, and was no worse than 1A to Jason Kidd's 1 on some mediocre-to-good teams in New Jersey.
3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position?
My initial reaction was that Carter was never close to this, but actually, in 2000-01, he was likely the best small forward in basketball. Again, it was his peak statistical year of 25.0 PER, and he was voted second-team All-NBA as a forward, with the two first team spots occupied by power forwards Duncan and Webber. Still, it was an early high-water mark, as Carter never really approached that level again.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals?
For the sake of argument, let's say Carter has a strong performance in a Magic championship run, but assume that Dwight Howard would be Finals MVP. Carter has not appeared in a Conference Finals to date.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
Jury is still out, I suppose, but the answer appears to be yes, as Vince was still a productive player last year at 32.
6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
No, most would say that that is Artis Gilmore.
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Vince ranks 22nd in career points per game (23.5) and 36th in career PER (21.4), in a range where all surrounding players have made the Hall. Taking into account career decline, his averages should move into an area where about half the guys make it, half don't.
That said, Carter is currently 59th in total points (18,300) - one can expect him to move over 20,000. Every eligible player at 20,790 or higher has made it.
8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
The Basketball Reference Keltner Lists have used the Hall of Fame Probability to answer this question. The various variables for Carter regarding that metric were discussed above.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Again, as discussed above, all of the subjective measures for Carter are decidedly negative: quit on the Raptors, considered to lack in toughness, and leadership abilities were often questioned not only by fans/media but also teammates.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
Hard to get apples-to-apples here with Vince as a hybrid 2-3. As of now, as far as shooting guards, I'd probably rate Carter above Mitch Richmond and below Sidney Moncrief (Simmons ranks Sid 73rd). At small forward, Bernard King clearly gets the nod above Carter, and Mark Aguirre is in the mix, too. Chris Mullin - whom Simmons ranks one notch above Carter at 82 - is maybe the closest comparison. This is perhaps the question where an impressive 2010 championship run would really help Vince stand out.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
I would consider Carter's 2000-01 season (27.6 / 5.5 / 3.9) to be very good but short of MVP-caliber. He finished 10th in MVP voting in 2000 and 11th in 2001. That's as close as he got.
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?
Again, the complexity of the All-Star issue as it relates to Vince was addressed above. Vince has 8 All-Star Games, and interestingly, the threshold for a definitive Hall of Famer seems to be 9. Give him the 6 that he probably deserves, and Carter falls a little short.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title?
I think that this has been proven to clearly be a "no".
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?
Quite clearly, a main impact that Vince Carter has had is that he has unquestionably been one of the most spectacular dunkers in basketball history, with several memorable in-game dunks which were truly breathtaking - including maybe the greatest dunk in basketball history over Freddy Weis at the 2000 Olympics - and also one of the most electrifying dunk contest performances ever in 2000.
This is why we do the Keltner. After going through this exercise, I really do believe that Vince Carter is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, and I probably lean against his candidacy as of now. He really may well need a championship to get over the top.