Charlotte Hornets

Secret to Vince Carter’s fountain of youth? Not dunks or bounce, but something simple

Atlanta Hawks forward Vince Carter (15) is now in his 21st NBA season, but he has continued to be an effective player because of his strong shooting fundamentals.
Atlanta Hawks forward Vince Carter (15) is now in his 21st NBA season, but he has continued to be an effective player because of his strong shooting fundamentals. AP

Ever heard of that old basketball shooting drill, Around the World? You shoot from one corner of the 3-point arc, then gradually move around the edge as you bury shots until you end up at the opposite corner.

Sounds simple, right?

Well, for Vince Carter it is.

Of course that may not sound like much, considering Carter is now one of the NBA’s most savvy veterans and a likely Hall of Famer when he eventually retires. But for the man nicknamed “Air Canada” for his back-breaking dunks as a Toronto Raptor, there’s something incredible about watching Carter stroke it.

And, can he ever.

It’s Tuesday morning, hours before Carter’s Atlanta Hawks lose 113-102 to the Charlotte Hornets, and the 41-year-old former North Carolina staris in the middle of a game of Around the World. Even in the middle of interviews, Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce can’t help but stare as Carter goes through his routine.

“They do this shooting game,” Pierce said, motioning at Carter, “and you see he’s on the home stretch as he always is. It’s easy.”

Carter drains a 3 almost in sync with Pierce’s compliment, and moves on to the last spot on the circle.

“You go back and you think about Vince Carter, and all you think about are the dunks and the highlights,” Pierce continues. “But just watching him shoot? It’s unbelievable how easy he shoots the basketball and...”

Pierce’s voice trails off as Carter hits three more in a row. The coach grins, then re-focuses.

“That’s why he is on his last spot now. I mean, it’s just a pretty shot. It’s easy. It’s effortless.”

In Carter’s storied career, he’s been known for a number of things on the basketball court. The gravity-defying dunks are one thing, but there’s also his tenacious defense, not to mention a positionless versatility that predates his prime.

But shooting? Well, it’s just not the first thing that comes to mind with Carter.

It’s a fair question why not, because the statistics back up Pierce’s awe. In his 21 NBA seasons, Carter is a career 43-percent shooter and 37.3 percent from 3. Those numbers, naturally, are skewed by Carter’s more recent, lighter-usage seasons, but the point remains:

Vince Carter, no matter what you say about the rest of his legacy, deserves to be remembered as a good shooter.

“For all those people who said, ‘We didn’t know,’ it’s real easy to go to this thing called YouTube, pull it up and just watch any game at the time,” Carter said with a smile. “You can see that I did more than (dunk) and I had to do more than that, because back in the time, yes, I was able to dunk the ball, but it wasn’t that easy.

“It wasn’t just allowing you to go through the lane, and the lane wasn’t as open as it is now, so I just had to create those opportunities with the jump shot and knowledge of the game.”

And now, as age slowly drains Carter of his trademark athleticism — make no mistake, the man can still get up, as he did against Hornets guard Jeremy Lamb Tuesday night with a reverse jam — it’s one of the more underrated aspects of his game that has allowed him to continue thriving in the league.

In fact, fellow UNC alum and Hornets forward Marvin Williams said Tuesday the direction the league has taken actually may have played a part in Carter’s longevity.

“As the league has evolved, he’s almost benefited from it because he still can guard multiple positions, and he can still really shoot the lights out,” Williams said. “On his worst night, he’s still a great shooter. Even if you just stick him in the corner, when the ball comes to him, he can still put it through the basket.

“And like I said, that’s on his worst night.”

Carter finished Tuesday’s game with seven points, two steals and two blocks in 22 minutes — and the pure shot he’s always had was on display.

For anyone who doubts that, whether it be fans or Carter’s daughter, he joked, there’s plenty of evidence beyond Tuesday’s game to corroborate the statistics.

Like, say, watching the man dominate his younger teammates in a casual game of Around the World.

“My daughter, when we talk about sports or different things, I’m like, ‘Look at YouTube,’” Carter said, laughing. “When she questions if I was actually pretty good, I’m like, ‘Go look at YouTube when you were born. See what I was doing at that time.’”