Vince Carter's 48-point performance for the Orlando Magic in Monday's rally against New Orleans has inspired many NBA observers to wonder.
For example, I'm wondering when Hornets swingman James Posey became incapable of moving his feet on defense. But that's really not fair to Posey, because -- while Carter has been a train wreck for a large portion of his first season with the Magic -- Vince has the ability to muster an occasional night of greatness.
Other league watchdogs are wondering if Carter's big scoring adventure will lead to a surge for an Orlando team that managed to lose half of its 14 games in January. Will the Magic's decision to wave bye-bye to free agent Hedo Turkoglu and send Courtney Lee to New Jersey in the deal for Vince pay postseason dividends? And while we're on the subject of offseason alterations by teams considered capable of winning the NBA championship, how are the other large moves working out as we trot into the All-Star Weekend?
For the record, we're here to consider the performances of Carter, Shaquille O'Neal (Cleveland), Rasheed Wallace (Boston) and Richard Jefferson (San Antonio). At no extra charge, we'll throw in one change-of-scenery move that may be eclipsing all of the above for a team insinuating itself into the deep-playoff-run chatter.
Anyway, let's get back to Carter, who was hired by Orlando to become a proven go-to slasher with the ability to create shots (for himself, if not others) against tight, half-court defense with center Dwight Howard and his free-throw liabilities diminished as a lead option. OK, upon his arrival in Orlando, Vince insisted that winning a championship now trumps all other interests. After all, he'd accomplished almost everything a self-serving, premier athlete could imagine.
Unfortunately, a relatively pedestrian start was nothing compared to how dreadful Carter performed in January. Vince, who attempted 49 3-pointers and just 38 free throws for the month, made a measly 28 percent of his field-goal tries.
Including Monday's salvo against the Hornets, Vince has made 52 percent of his shots in a 3-1 start for the Magic in February. As long as Carter (16 points per game on 39-percent shooting for the season) is somewhat accurate and Howard is allowed sufficient touches to keep a smile on his face, there's hope that this acquisition could work out. It also wouldn't hurt if Rashard Lewis performed up to his pay grade and the Magic focused on playing harder -- and smarter -- on the defensive end.
For now, we'll give the Carter move a grade of C-plus.
Shaq and the last year of his monster contract were moved to Ohio from Phoenix, where the Suns were seeking cap relief and screen-roll space in the lane for Amar'e Stoudemire. While the Suns have bounced back from a recent lull and now sit at fifth in the Western Conference, O'Neal has helped LeBron James and the Cavaliers rise to the top of the Eastern Conference.
As the years roll on and he finds himself matched with yet another superstar perimeter player, Shaq's understanding of how to pick and choose his spots has improved. With per-game averages of just under 12 points and 7 rebounds, O'Neal has not been guilty of clogging LBJ's driving lanes, but should be accused of doing this when the Cavs are on defense. And even though he's still not the master of the aggressive show in screen-roll defense, Shaq has adjusted to coaching and now takes a more proper angle in attempts to re-route opposing ballhandlers.
Doesn't this upgrade against screens create slip-screen opportunities for the screener? Well, Shaq remains a big enough NBA star that he's able to nudge the screener without penalty from the referees.
Having spent more time in this system and with his new teammates, the O'Neal deal now looks like an A-minus in Cleveland.
If Alicia Silverstone can't be persuaded, we always have 'Sheed for the lead role in a sequel to the movie "Clueless." Clueless, how can that be? Isn't Wallace a veteran with playoff savvy and a championship ring? Yeah, he's also the low-pay, big-picture addition who was supposed to provide rebounding and defense in the Boston Celtics' three-man post rotation with Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.
The defense has been reasonable, but the individual rebounding ranks at 85th in the league per 48 minutes of work. Well, perhaps 'Sheed is doing a great job of boxing out and allowing Perkins and KG to actually grab the rebound. Sure, keep believing it.
The real problem is on offense, where Wallace, a talented post player when he wants to be, has mistaken himself for Reggie Miller. Right, we've always known that Rasheed can be stubborn in this regard, but he's squeezed off three times as many threes as free throws. More bad news ... he's making those threes at a 29-percent clip.
With KG and the knee making things uncomfortable in Beantown, the Wallace experiment grades out at the D level.
If nothing else, having this once-great defender in the lineup prevents Kobe Bryant from having to check the opposition's top wing player in the fourth quarter. Since Kobe's been working most of the season with a least one minor injury, Artest and the Los Angeles Lakers look capable of reaching the Finals again.
Ron-Ron is averaging a tick under a dozen points per game and is making about 42 percent of his field-goal tries (right on his career accuracy number, unfortunately). But he also is something of a basketball stopper, meaning that when the ball is swung to him in the triangle offense, Artest often takes a little time to survey his options before proceeding. With Kobe on the other side, this leaves little shot-clock time to get something accomplished.
It should be noted in the two recent games Kobe has missed, Artest bagged 15 of his 28 field-goal attempts. The Lakers won those two games. The change in importance won't matter when Bryant returns, but it's interesting.
Anyway, with a much bigger sample size required and expected, Ron-Ron checks in with a straight B at the All-Star break.
RJ was shipped from Milwaukee to San Antonio for what amounted to contractual debris. But he was considered the missing piece in a Spurs puzzle that has been incapable of matching the assembly in Los Angeles. As a registered small forward with the ability to shoot, drive and defend, Jefferson has done very little of all three.
OK, the shooting percentage is similar to what he's done in his career. But being the fourth option prevents Jefferson from getting enough quality looks or knowing how or when to hunt his shots in Coach Gregg Popovich's offense. RJ, who's making just 41 percent of his shots on the road, his slipped to 30 percent overall in four February games. With the Spurs now embarked on their annual Rodeo Road Trip, this chilly marksmanship does not inspire much enthusiasm.
Even more un-Spur-like is a perceived lack of intensity on defense, something that many of his teammates are guilty of, as well.
With so much more expected, Jefferson matches Wallace with a grade of D.
BONUS PLAYER ... JAMAL CRAWFORD
When Golden State shipped the talented-but-enigmatic shooting guard to the Atlanta Hawks for Speedy Crawford and Acie Law last June, it was hailed as a relief for Warriors coach Don Nelson. Nellie, it was presumed, could move Monta Ellis to shooting guard and not have to find shots for Crawford.
Meanwhile, concerned Hawks fans were wondering how Crawford and shooting guard Joe Johnson would blend in Atlanta. The answer has been ... wonderfully. Jamal, working as the sixth man for the Hawks, has been a fourth-quarter hero in Atlanta. And when the Hawks go big, he's done a decent job of staying in front of the opposing point guard on defense.
His ability to fit in has helped the Hawks -- who still need additional bench assistance -- and is at least making experts include them as a fourth team in the Eastern Conference's top tier.
Averaging about 17 points per game, Crawford is a leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year and rates an A on the acquisition meter.