Vince Carter's epic struggles

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The Phoenix Suns knew what they were getting when Vince Carter came to the Valley of the Sun — a declining superstar whose production doesn’t match his star power. But for a short stretch of games, Carter gave Phoenix reason for hope.

He showed signs of life in the Big Apple, scoring 29 points and grabbing 12 rebounds for his first double-double since Feb. 2, 2010. For four straight games (Jan. 11-17) Carter averaged 21 points on 47.7 percent shooting, while drilling 56.0 percent of his triples.

It appeared he could be the go-to-guy the Suns so desperately needed as he helped propel the Suns to a five-game winning streak — their longest of the season. But since then, he’s been a disaster.

In the four games following the NYC outburst Carter is averaging a mere six points per game on 25 percent shooting from the field (10-for-40) and 23.5 percent from three (4-of-17).

Only seven of those 40 shots have come at the rim, according to Hoopdata.com, and Carter is no longer ripping the chords from behind the arc. He’s been so bad (scoring two points against the Sixers and three points agains the Cavaliers) that you have to wonder why he’s still a starter with a sizzling Jared Dudley behind him.

But the real question is: Why has Carter struggled so badly after showing promise?

Shot selection

Whether it’s fadeaway threes or off-balance jumpers in the lane, Carter’s always been criticized for his shot selection. He’s the ultimate plus-minus player that makes and misses shots he shouldn’t take. In Phoenix, there’s no such thing as a bad shot, but Carter’s quickly changed that.

He’s living on the perimeter far too often and is no longer penetrating the lane or taking advantage of mismatches on the block. Over the last four games Carter’s only attempted five shots inside of 10 feet after taking 14 inside of 10 feet in the four games prior.

Here the Suns would like to see Carter explode to the hoop, but instead he pulls up lazily for a mid-range jumper:

Carter’s had success posting up smaller players and drilling the turnaround fadeaway. But the shot below is ill-advised and not what the Suns want. When he catches the ball he has a lane to drive baseline, but decides to slow down, dribble into a double team and shoot an 18-foot fadeaway over Andre Iguodala.

Here Carter has a chance to use a Warrick pick and get something going to the basket. He backpedals to the three-point line, however, and jacks up a three that doesn’t drop.

Not the creator he’s made out to be

While it’s true that Carter is taking bad shots and living on the perimeter, the fact of the matter is, he isn’t as effective of an isolation player as people think. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Carter is scoring only 0.78 points per possession out of isolation plays.

He’s even worse facilitating the pick and roll, scoring an embarrassing 0.33 points per play. Carter runs the pick and roll 13.2 percent of the time but is shooting a lowly 20 percent out of the play that’s characterized the Suns over the last decade.

Of the 25 shots he’s taken as the pick and roll ball-handler, 18 have been jump shots (four three-pointers), which isn’t what you want to see from your two-guard who’s supposed to attack the rack. This possession is the epitome of why Carter isn’t effective in isolation situations.

Hakim Warrick sets a pick and Shawne Williams switches onto Carter with about 11 seconds left on the shot clock. Carter does the right thing by backing it out, and this is where he should get Williams on his heels and attack the rack.

But Carter dribbles around aimlessly and eventually jacks up an off-balance 27-footer that doesn’t draw iron. He played great in the Knicks game, but he simply isn’t the isolation player he’s cracked up to be.

Not getting to the free throw line

Carter’s shot only four free throws over the course of the last four games, after attempting 10 during the previous four games. He’s one of the only Phoenix players with the ability to create his own shot and needs to get to the line to be successful.

This goes hand in hand with shot selection. When he’s living on the perimeter jacking up threes, the Suns offense lacks balance and he disappears if he’s not connecting. Carter needs to stay engaged by attacking the hoop and most importantly getting to the charity stripe.

When he shows versatility offensively, the Suns are tough to beat. But when Carter gets lazy and becomes a spectator for 48 minutes, Phoenix struggles mightily. For Carter to return to the form he showed for four games he needs to take better shots and get back to the free-throw line, or it could be a long season.

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