Carter Continues To Learn In 21st Season In NBA
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Vince Carter was not pleased. Prior to getting fouled on a putback last week, Carter had roamed into the mid-post area with his back to the basket like an honest-to-goodness wing from the 2000s. A second after he got there, the opposing small forward jogged over and pointed Carter in the back with an elbow. Carter turned, saw who had jabbed him, and made a mental note that he saved for the next dead ball.
"Watch the elbows, please," Carter said.
Carter, who didn't enter the game until the start of the second quarter, was fully riled up at that point. He went on to score 16 points in 16 minutes. In a way, he was doing something unprecedented in NBA history.
It wasn't the request to keep elbows tucked away or even the 16 points in 16 minutes. Vince Carter was making history by playing small forward at 42 years old.
The four 42-year-old players who took to an NBA court before Carter – Kevin Willis, Robert Parish, Dikembe Mutombo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – were all 7-footers who played in the paint. Carter himself had exclusively played at power forward for the Hawks this season. In this game, though, Vince was a small forward. He guarded the opposing small forward and the opposing small forward guarded him.
According to head coach Lloyd Pierce, it was a switch borne out of necessity. First, Jeremy Lin was waived. When than happened, DeAndre' Bembry slid over to a point guard role and Kent Bazemore filled the vacancy left by Bembry at the 2-spot. Carter took the minutes at small forward. Then when Jaylen Adams got healthy enough to play the backup point, Kevin Huerter got hurt. And when Huerter returned to full health, Taurean Prince missed a game for personal reasons. All in all, Carter has been the backup forward for much of the past six games now, a moved that has excited Lloyd Pierce.
"It was a cool opportunity for me to play him at small forward," Pierce said of coaching the future Hall of Famer. "That's his natural position."
Carter himself wasn't fazed by being the metaphorical old dog learning new tricks.
"I consider myself positionless," Carter said. "I just pride myself on understanding the offense and knowing the plays."
In Carter's first game in his new role – a win over the Lakers – Kent Bazemore had the ball as the Hawks ran an set play on offense following a dead ball. Carter nearly ran into a teammate. Bazemore waved his arms to motion Carter over to the other side of the court.
"I was playing the power forward role when I was the small forward," Carter said with a laugh. "I had done it for 56 games, and I was just like, 'Oh man. Sorry.' But that's the beauty of our team. We've got a lot of veterans who look out for each other. They made sure I was where I needed to be and we made it work."
Carter's positional move has coincided with an even longer streak of strong play. In his last nine games, Carter has averaged 9.4 points while playing just 15.6 minutes per game. Over the same stretch, he has shot 62.5 percent from the field and 55.2 percent from three. And that's to say nothing of the nights when he takes to the air to make incredible plays at the rim as he did against Minnesota.
Carter moved into seventh place on the NBA's all-time made threes list in December, and he has made 39.6 percent of his threes for the season. Currently, he sits seven threes behind Jamal Crawford for sixth place, and that race should get interesting over the final weeks of the season. In other words, the 42-year-old remains one of the greatest shooters in NBA history.
The newest Hawk, Jordan Sibert, won't forget meeting Half-Man/Half-Amazing anytime soon.
"He just takes you under his wing," Sibert said." He let me know what was going on. We had a shooting contest today joking around. He's one of the greats. Just to able to be near him, to see how he conducts himself, has just been an honor. I just want to pick his brain as much as I can."
And who won the shooting contest?
"I was missing so I felt like I needed to go work on my game on the other side," Sibert quipped. "We'll finish the game another time."
Sibert wasn't the first Hawk to lose a shooting contest to Carter this season, and he won't be the last, either. Vince Carter can make baskets like few others can.