The 1998 NBA draft class will forever be remembered depressingly by Los Angeles Clippers fans as the Michael Olawakandi draft. Nonetheless, that draft produced quality players. Mike Bibby, Larry Hughes, Ricky Davis and Al Harrington, just to name a few, were solid players in the league for a small number of years before eventually retiring or being out of the league entirely. The Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks ended up with their franchise players in Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki, respectively. With the fourth pick in the NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors had their choice of two players from the University of North Carolina.
One was 6-foot-10 power forward Antawn Jamison. He won numerous accolades at Chapel Hill. Jamison was the Wooden Award Winner, Naismith College Player of The Year, ACC Player of the Year and a consensus First-Team All-American. He was also only the seventh player in North Carolina history to have his number retired. Jamison finished with a career average of 19.0 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game. Jamison would’ve been a great draft pick for the Raptors, as analysts considered him the safer pick.
The other was 6-foot-6 shooting guard Vince Carter. He was the second option behind Jamison at North Carolina. Whereas Jamison appeared to be more NBA-ready, Carter had the higher ceiling. Carter finished his last season in Carolina blue averaging 15.6 points per game. Carter was named a second team All-American and declared for the draft after Jamison did. Carter was the prospect with the higher risk and the higher reward. The Raptors had a choice to make.
The Raptors drafted Jamison, but then traded him to the Golden State Warriors for Carter. It can’t be argued that Carter saved basketball in Toronto; before Carter’s arrival, the Raptors saw their attendance dip. After drafting Carter, the team set league attendance records in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Carter won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, and this would be the start of a career that saw Carter win the Slam Dunk Contest in 2000 and be named an All-Star eight times. The Raptors traded him after the 2004 season, though, due to a deteriorating relationship between the Raptors and Carter. Jerseys were burnt and demonstrations were held by fans that made Cleveland’s reaction to The Decision seem timid.
Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets, where he continued his amazing career. Carter teamed with current Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd to help the Nets reach the postseason. The Nets decided to part ways with Carter after five seasons, due to wanting to rebuild their team. The Nets traded Carter to the Orlando Magic, his hometown team. However, it was toward the end of his tenure with the Magic that the injuries he began to deal with in Toronto resurfaced. Because of a lack of a market due to injuries, Carter signed with the Mavericks as a reserve. The former franchise player was now asked to come off the bench. Most players would scoff at that. Not Carter.
Carter has relished his transition to a sixth man. During his time with the Mavericks, Carter became the 10th player in NBA history to make 1,700 career three-pointers. Carter has also surpassed Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler on the NBA’s career scoring list. Carter’s doing this not as the high flyer who saved Toronto basketball, but as a defensive-minded perimeter player who can shoot the ball when teams sag on Nowitzki. This was very apparent during last night’s victory against the New York Knicks.
Carter hit 7-of-12 from three-point range last night en route to 23 points. Carter is now averaging 11.6 points per game, which is good for fifth amongst reserves. Even more notable was his defense on the Knicks’ leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. With the game on the line, Anthony went for a pump fake thinking that Carter would bite on the fake. Nonetheless, Carter stayed in his defensive stance and forced Anthony to give up the ball late in the shot clock. Without Carter’s defense on Anthony, the Nowitzki game winner wouldn’t have ended up happening. Carter’s been an efficient reserve who Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle can count on in the fourth quarter for timely shooting and stellar defense. Not bad for the man not asked to save anything anymore.