It’s much closer than it appears.
NBA Twitter is usually a fun place to be, but sometimes it can also be a thoughtful environment. For example, two weeks ago this tweet engaged the large Twitter community:
Sadly, been debating with some friends…. Prime Vince Carter of current Klay Thompson?— Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 (@JoshEberley) December 20, 2016
At first I thought, ‘Pssh, obviously Vince,’ but then I’m like, ‘But Klay…,’ and then I’m like ‘Vince…?,’ then I realized it would require some more thought than I had anticipated.
Vince Carter is a bona fide first-ballot Hall of Famer, an eight-time All-Star, a gold medalist, and one of the league’s most memorable and athletic superstars ever. It’s easy to simply brush off Thompson as a young blood who still has much to prove in comparison.
But Thompson, for his part, has himself a fine résumé. He’s a two-time All-Star, one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game (at age 26!), an NBA champion, also a gold medalist, and was an integral part of the greatest team in NBA regular season history. At every turn this argument is closer than it appears.
So let’s pit them head-to-head in a few categories to see if we can differentiate the two stars. The categories are: signature skill, greatest on-court accomplishment to date, excitement factor, individual contribution to his team, and average statistics (both per game and advanced) over the course of their primes. Whoever wins more categories is therefore the better player. Let’s get this thing started.
Vince Carter: Jumping/dunking. Carter is the greatest dunker in basketball history. His in-game dunks were so outrageously unreal that people started calling him “Half-Man, Half-Amazing,” like he was a real life superhero. And his dunks outside game action—i.e. in the 2000 dunk contest—were, unbelievably, completely freestyled, meaning that probably the single greatest dunking performance ever was accomplished with zero planning. A total freak of nature, Vinsanity was worth the price of admission.
Klay Thompson: Three-point shooting. I have used this Shea Serrano quote regarding Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals before, but in this context it bears restating:
Klay Thompson had already hit nine 3s in the game, evolving into KLAY THOMPSON — his most violent form. The universe vibrates when KLAY THOMPSON walks and it glows when he shoots 3s.
When Thompson gets in a zone, there are few players in the league who can rival his scorching, melt-your-entire-skeletal-system level of hotness. When Thompson gets in a zone, he’s on another astral plane of being in a zone. When Thompson gets in a zone, he literally reimagines what Kanye West meant when he said, “Don’t let me get in my zone.”
Thompson is either the third or fourth best player on his team, or if he’s feeling it, the previous two MVPs of the league, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, will stop shooting so they can give him the ball.
This is a tough category to choose since on the one hand you have the greatest dunker ever but on the other you have arguably the greatest pure shooter ever. But I think Carter is the choice here. Though an argument can be made for Michael Jordan as the greatest dunker ever, I feel most would agree that the title belongs to Carter. On the flip side, Thompson might not even be the greatest shooter on his own team. So it’s Carter in a close one.
Greatest On-Court Accomplishment To Date
Vince Carter: Vince Carter committed an international murder in front of a stadium full of people and not only got away with it, but has also been heralded for it ever since.
Show me a better dunk than that. I’ll wait…
Do you understand how enormous that dunk was? That dunk was so gigantic that people actually still remember the name of the guy Carter dunked on. And this dunk isn’t like the time Scottie Pippen dunked over Patrick Ewing. That dunk was elevated because of the status of the dunked-upon. The guy in this Carter dunk, though, he never played a single minute of NBA basketball, spending his entire career as a journeyman in Europe.
But if you say the name Frédéric Weis to even a casual sports fan, he or she would know who you’re talking about. “Oh that’s that French guy Vince Carter put in a casket that he dumped into an undersea volcano at the bottom of the ocean,” they may say. Or maybe they’d say, “He’s that dude Vince Carter decimated, obliterating his physical body so that his soul must wander around the Earth for eternity without a home, right?” Or: “Ohhhh yeah, that’s the dude whose soul Vince Carter ferried across the river Styx!” The point is, people know about this dude literally just because Carter dunked on him so hard.
Klay Thompson: Either 37 points in a single quarter or 60 points in 29 minutes, I can’t decide which one is more impressive. And, boy, both are pretty impressive.
What Thompson did in such a short amount of time is beyond video game status. I’m pretty certain that given 10 tries I could not score 37 points in any regular quarter of 2K with any player.
So here’s the battle: Carter man-on-man destruction or Thompson man vs. team evisceration. The fact that Thompson carved up a whole team and then did it again is unbelievable. But did you see Carter usher that poor man’s soul into the netherworld? This one’s too close to call.
This one is basically how intense of a reaction you have when this player is mentioned in a League Pass Alert.
Vince Carter: I imagine excitement around Carter must have been like what excitement around Russell Westbrook is like. A dude who can do no wrong, who is a vicious dunker, and has the potential to score a bunch of points. Someone who by himself is worth buying a ticket. That helps Carter.
But Twitter and League Pass didn’t exist in Carter’s heyday, so that hurts Carter. Even if they did, though, if you found out Carter threw down a hammer of god dunk, that’s not really “change the channel” worthy. You missed the moment, and will likely have to catch it on SportsCenter or a game highlight.
Klay Thompson: You’re buying a ticket to see the Warriors, not any individual players. And even if you are buying a ticket to see an individual player, it’s probably Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant or JaVale McGee if you’re into that kind of stuff.
But if you see ”League Pass Alert” and then you see “Klay Thompson” you’re taking the remote control hostage until the DEF CON system is back down to at least four after Thompson’s laser beam, missile shooting barrage concluded.
Thompson here has a higher potential for excitement factor, as a sustained hot streak allows awe-inspired euphoria to last longer than a single monster jam.
Individual Contribution To His Team
Vince Carter: Carter is one of the three greatest Raptors of all time, and was part of the OG Big Three that consisted of Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson with the New Jersey Nets.
But he led the Raptors to only two playoff appearances and has only made it to the Conference Finals one time, with the Orlando Magic in 2010. However, on those Raptors squads Carter was by far the best player on the team. It was a situation akin to, but less extreme than the one in Philadelphia, where Allen Iverson was the only reason the franchise had any playoff success.
So though Carter was the most important player in Raptors history (note: most important does not equal best [though he may be the best too]) his greatness did not show itself in team playoff success.
Klay Thompson: The question here is how much worse would the Warriors be without Thompson? This year, with the Durant addition, you’d have to think they’d be about as good as they were last year, which is to say historically good. But if you look at the on-off differences between Thompson and Durant on Basketball Reference, the Warriors are +11.1 with Thompson, while they’re just +3 with Durant. This suggests that Thompson is much more valuable to the Warriors than MVP candidate Durant.
Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
The Warriors are so stacked with talent it can be hard to tell if Thompson really is contributing that much. It seems easy to think that if you threw any decent shooter into his role that he’d do about as well. It’s basically the opposite situation that Carter was in in his prime; Thompson has so much talent around him that it may diminish how good he truly is, though it benefits the team for that to be the case.
Again, we’ve got a close one. But I’m going to give it to Thompson because he may somehow be underrated, while Carter seems pretty much properly rated.
Since one of the previous categories was a tie, we’ll make this one worth double.
Vince Carter: Over an eight-year prime from 1999 to 2007, Carter averaged 24.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.3 steals with 2.4 turnovers per game on 44.6/37.9/79.4% shooting splits.
His net rating over that eight-year span was a +4 (ORtg 109 - DRtg 105), while he sported a win shares per 48 minutes mark of .158. He had a true shooting percentage of 53.6% on 31% usage.
Klay Thompson: In the Warriors’ past three seasons, Thompson has averaged 21.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.8 turnovers per game on shooting splits of 46.8/42.4/87.7%.
His net rating since their first title appearance in the Steve Kerr era has been a +6 (ORtg 112 - DRtg 106), while he’s posted a ws/48 rate of .149. He has a 59.3% true shooting percentage on 26.7% usage.
So… Carter averaged more points, rebounds, assists, and steals per contest, but Thompson averaged less turnovers on higher percentages.
Thompson has a better net rating on a better true shooting percentage, but Carter has a better ws/48 on higher usage. I think having a higher ws/48 on higher usage is more impressive than a better net rating with a higher true shooting percentage. So I’m giving this category to Carter at the buzzer.
Signature Skill: Carter.
Greatest On Court Accomplishment: Tie.
Excitement Factor: Thompson.
Individual Contribution to His Team: Thompson
Statistical Comparison (x2): Carter.
Carter took home three categories. Thompson won two. Therefore the winner is Carter in a very tight one.
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- 1996; 2009
- 1997; 2010
- 1998; 2011
- 1999; 2012