It’s hard to call a perennial All-Star and future Hall-of-Famer a bust or an underachiever, but those labels are probably accurate when reflecting on the career of Vincent Lamar Carter. Which I guess goes to show you what type of potential was seen in the man they called Air Canada when he entered the League in 1998, because, as mentioned, he should find his way into the Hall of Fame some day. But to truly see what type of career Carter should have had, all you have to do is look at his current adversary on the Boston Celtics (and 1998 NBA Draft classmate), Paul Pierce.
If you look strictly at Carter and Pierce’s stats, it would appear that both guy’s have had similar careers – they both have career averages around the 23-5-4 range. But when you look outside the numbers you truly see Pierce’s dominance over Carter - when the chips are down Paul Pierce normally finds a way to get the job done. He’s got a Finals MVP award to prove that point. He put 21, 11 & 7 on Cleveland in Game 5 this year, pretty much crushing the Cavaliers’ spirits in the process. And he’s been dominant in the Orlando series thus far, averaging 25, 7 & 5. Sure, Pierce has bad games here and there, but more often than not he can be counted on to somehow get the job done. He is a true “number 1 option” on a championship team.
Which is what Carter was supposed to be. After all, he was drafted before Pierce was. He is a physical specism – if you were going to construct a basketball wing player, he’d have Vince Carter’s physical attributes and skills. There is virtually nothing that Pierce can do on the court that Carter can’t do better. Pierce is no high flying athlete, not exceptionally quick nor muscular. But no one in their right mind would prefer to have Carter on their team rather than Pierce. While Carter might have the physical advantage over Pierce, when it comes to the neck up, Pierce has him beat. The man knows how to slay an opponent. Carter knows how to throw up off-balanced, fadeaway jumpers over double teams.
Anyone who plays in the NBA is a supremely talented athlete. But what separates the “haves” from the “have-nots” – the boys from the men – is heart and mental toughness. Some guys have the drive to push themselves to excellence, some only to mediocrity. And, sorry Vince, when it comes to your signature move – your calling card – Pierce has you beat there also. I’m talking about overdramatizing injuries, of course.