Vince Carter was an average defender who was capable of much more on defense than he usually produced. His elite athleticism led to some amazing plays and made him capable of playing great D. But Carter coasted often on defense and did not put in enough consistent effort to be anything beyond average.
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Vince Carter on Defense: Stats
One great way to look back at a player’s career without the biases of our memories is to use advanced statistics. Advanced statistics do not tell us as clear a picture about a player’s defense as they do about offense. But they are still a great way to get a fair and clear look at a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
Basketball Reference lists five defensive statistics in its advanced statistics section. They also list defensive rating in their per 100 stats, which attempts to measure a player’s defensive effectiveness per 100 possessions. I will dive into each of these statistics for Vince Carter below.
When taken together, the numbers tell a pretty clear story. Vince Carter was generally considered an average defender and he posted pretty average career defensive statistics.
Single Skill Defensive StatsEmbed from Getty Images
As a bigger wing at 6’6”, you would expect Vince Carter to get some rebounds but you’d hardly count on him to control the defensive glass. His defensive rebounding percentage of 12.4% was about what you’d expect.
In my statistical analysis of Vince “Air Canada” Carter, I’ll compare him to some wings of the same era for added context. His cousin and one-time Raptors teammate Tracy McGrady registered a higher defensive rebounding percentage at 15.0% while Ray Allen finished at 10.2%.
The two individual defensive skills that usually speak to a players’ defensive output are steals and blocks. Whether it is high school or the NBA, great defensive players usually get one or both.
Vinsanity was certainly an absolute freak of an athlete. You would expect him to get his share of both.
He did okay. His 1.7% career steal percentage did not get him on the all time top 250 list for the NBA. He finished tied with Ray Allen in this category.
Of course Sugar Ray Allen was known as a pure shooter and not as some freak athlete – at least by NBA standards. And no one thinks he was all that great on defense.
Carter’s career block percentage of 1.5% puts him 196th all time. He is ahead of Kobe Bryant (1.0%) here and that is great! But Kobe is likely very overrated as a defender and did not really block that many shots.
Good defenders usually get steals, blocks or both. Vince Carter was a complete freak of an athlete who did not steal the ball much but did get a decent number of blocks.
Overall Defensive Stats
Defensive rating essentially measures how many baskets a player gives up per 100 possessions. Vince Carter ended his career with a 107 rating, which is not that great.
Defensive box plus/minus is an estimate of how many points a player gave up per possession when compared to a league average player & team. Vince Carter, in a powerful testament to average defense, finished with a 0.0.
Defensive win shares is a complicated stat that attempts to measure how much a player contributes to his team while on the floor.
Vince finished with 44.6 career defensive win shares and is ranked 67th all time.
While that ranking seems high, and the top twenty in defensive win shares are nearly all excellent defenders, long careers tend to give a player more win shares.
Vince played forever! T-Mac (136th at 36.4 DWS) and Allen (167 at 33.4 DWS) finished well behind him, in part due to the absurd length of his twenty year career . Kobe edged him out at 50.7 and finished 43rd all time.
Vince Carter vs Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady on Defense
Ray Allen does not compare very favorably with the other star wings of his era on defense. While I have written that Kobe Bryant is quite overrated on defense, he has the strongest reputation of this group by far.
He was almost certainly the best defender of them as well. Just because I think was overrated on defense, does not mean I think he was bad. Vince and Tracy, however may be a different story.
I believe Ray’s peak on defense with the Celtics was probably better than what Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady played consistently in their careers. But it also is probably not fair to compare one guy’s peak to other guys’ averages.
When you compare apples to apples, the numbers say Ray Allen was the worst defender in this group.
Vince Carter has a pretty boring career defensive statistical profile for guy called Half Man Half Amazing. He got some rebounds, blocks and steals but nothing amazing.
He seems to slot in pretty clearly above Ray Allen. But, again, Allen was a shooter with poor lateral quickness and a reputation as a poor defender.
It seems clear that of that group, Carter was the worst defender.
Did people think Vince Carter was a good defender while he was playing?Embed from Getty Images
In general, people did not think Vince Carter was very good on defense. Unlike Kobe, who somehow was named to 12 All-NBA defensive teams, Carter never made a single one.
People, rightly in my opinion, believed Carter was capable of great defense but recognized that he didn’t really play great defense regularly.
Vince had great lateral quickness and could stay in front of even tough players like Allen Iverson when highly motivated. But that motivation came and went.
He had a reputation for coasting on defense a lot. He was viewed as someone who would not fight through even the simplest of picks.
Instead of battling through a pick or moving his feet to stay in front of an opponent, he often took the easy way out. He would let opponents by him and then try to catch up with a spectacular play from behind.
This type of matador defense combined with freakish athleticism led to some unbelievable plays including crazy blocks. But high end defense is more than spectacular plays.
It involves working hard for positioning, being willing to help and consistently fighting through picks. Vince Carter was not seen as someone who was willing to work hard enough consistently on defense to do those things.
And, thus, he was an average defender with real highs and lows. He could get in front of Allen Iverson and lock him down on one possession but then get easily picked by a much smaller player the next time down court with almost no effort to fight through.
One interesting fact about Carter is that he is widely considered to have played his most consistent defense later in his career with Dallas when he was in his mid-thirties. He had a part-time role by that point and was not the focus of the offense.
He was freed up to give more effort in fewer minutes on defense and he did so. Similarly, there were reports from his last few years in Atlanta, when he was in his forties, of him being a defensive stopper for short runs of 10-15 minutes in a game.
Both of those facts speak to Carter’s potential on defense. Had he been highly motivated on defense he likely could have been a force. But few indeed are the offensive superstars who are driven to dominate on defense too.
What made Michael Jordan different was not so much the crazy athleticism as the singular drive. Carter may have had close to equal athleticism, but he had nowhere near the burning competitiveness of a Jordan – and who did, really?
Vince Carter was considered someone who could play great defense but who didn’t on most nights. He was capable of a lot defensively but often played in cruise control to focus on his offense.Embed from Getty Images
Summary: Vince Carer on Defense
Vince Carter was a supremely skilled athlete who was not driven to play great defense regularly in the NBA. He could make spectacular plays because of that athleticism, but he did not do the dirty work required of good defense consistently enough. His career defensive statistics are decidedly average and that is in line with his reputation while he played.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.