When a Career Season is Not Good Enough

We have analyzed whether or not George Karl should return as coach, who should come back among the players who constitute the end of the Nuggets bench, if Nene’s injury history is too bad to bother keeping him around, how important Eduardo Najera is, if Linas Kleiza has reached his ceiling, and where signing J.R. Smith to an extension ranks on the Nuggets offseason priority list.


After all of that, we have made it to the starting five. 


Let’s take a look at who was clearly the weak link in the Nuggets starting lineup this season.  That’s right, starting point guard Anthony Carter.


Anthony Carter’s story is a good one.  He has bounced around not only the league, but the world, lost $3.3 million when his agent failed to pick up his player option with Miami in 2003 (without which the Heat never would have been able to win a championship) and finally became a starting point guard for a 50 win team. 


The bad news is he was not a very good point guard.  He had one exceptional skill and that was passing the ball, often right over the finger tips of a defender, up the floor, as in half to two thirds of the length of the court up the floor, to a streaking teammate to trigger a fast break.  Apart from that Carter is average to below average in almost every other facet of the game.  When the Nuggets were not running, he contributed very little. 


Carter is a decent defender.  He was probably the Nuggets smartest defender thanks to a very good grasp of defensive positioning.  Unfortunately, he was consistently asked to defend the opposing shooting guard due to the fact he was paired with Allen Iverson much of the time.  Needless to say, that was not a good defensive combo for Denver.  Conversely, it was not necessarily a good offensive duo either.  AI possessed the ball much more frequently than the “point guard” Anthony Carter did.  That would be fine if Carter was a point guard like Derek Fisher who can kill the opposition by draining jumpers all night long, but Carter’s inability to hit shots was a major problem within the Nuggets half court offense.


Carter’s deficiencies were revealed for all to see against the Lakers.  He shot 4-14, only averaged 3.5 assists a game and saw his average minutes drop from 28 down to 15 because the Lakers were so adept at picking on the mismatches that were created by having both he and AI on the floor at the same time and with Kenyon Martin guarding Kobe.


According to 82games.com the most frequently used lineup for the Nuggets last season was the standard starting lineup of Carter, AI, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon and Marcus Camby.  Despite having more than five times the court time of any other lineup, they only had the sixth best plus/minus rating of the other top twenty lineups.  For example, the starters had a plus/minus of 34 in 923 minutes.  The fivesome of AI, J.R. LK, Najera and Camby had a plus minus of 61 despite playing only 167 minutes together. 


Carter’s poor totals did not end there.  Out of the six lineups that had better plus/minus totals than the starters, he was not a part of any of them.  However, he was a part of three of the four lineups who actually had negative plus/minus totals.


I am being pretty tough on Carter and that is not entirely fair.  In a way, he was a big factor in why the Nuggets season was even remotely successful.  Without him Denver would have been stuck starting a player like Mike Wilks at the point for most of the season or weakening the bench by moving AI to the point and starting LK or J.R.  Add in the fact that he was paid a near minimum salary of just over a million bucks and his value increases even more.  Even so, if the Nuggets are going to bring all the major players back again next year, there is no way you can expect them to improve without bringing in a better starting point guard.


Despite the fact he was so important to Denver last season, AC may lose out in a numbers game.  Carter is an unrestricted free agent this summer.  Chucky Atkins is under contract for another year.  Taurean Green is the young point guard prospect they acquired at the trading deadline.  It would be strange to see him cut loose unless he proved himself to be incapable of playing at an NBA level.  The bottom line is if the Nuggets decide to bring in another point guard to start, retaining Carter would require carrying four points.  That is probably not going to happen. 


Of course, we cannot know for sure if the Nuggets brass are going to upgrade the point, but already this offseason they have been linked to several different point guards.  Whether it be pricy veterans such as T.J. Ford and Kirk Hinrich, or a rookie such as North Carolina point man Ty Lawson, who most draft pundits believe is the likely selection for Denver with the 20th pick thanks to his ability to excel when playing at a frenetic pace.  Of course there is also the potential for Denver to sign a relatively cheap free agent such as Chris Duhon or J.J. Barea.  Whether or not the Nuggets bring in a vet or a rookie, Carter will probably be the player shown the door.


Obviously, it is not fair.  Carter is a good guy who deserves the chance to cash in on his big break last season.  If Denver either sticks with their current triumvirate at the point or if they can somehow trade Chucky Atkins, they would definitely be happy to throw two or three million Carter’s way.


The bad news for Carter is I think both of those scenarios are unlikely.


Thanks for the career season you gave the Nuggets this year Anthony, I am sure someone out there will be happy to give you that much deserved couple million dollars next year, just do not expect it to be the Nuggets.

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