The 36-year-old Carter averages 12.4 points on 45.0 percent shooting in the Mavs’ 23 victories. His production plummets to 10.3 points on 35.3 percent shooting in their 16 losses.
The Mavs are 10-3 when Carter, an eight-time All-Star who has embraced a reserve role during the golden years of a Hall of Fame career, shoots at least 45 percent from the floor. They’re a .500 team when he falls below that mark and 7-10 when he’s a sub-35 percent shooter.
“Everybody looks at the numbers. I try not to,” Carter said after scoring 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting in Monday’s 107-88 win over the Orlando Magic. “I base it off if I’m being aggressive and getting in the paint. That’s important. That’s what I’m trying to do consistently. Sometimes the shot’s not there, but I think if I consistently get to the paint, that’s essential to our team.”
Dallas’ dependency on Carter shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider the Mavs’ rotation. His first stint of both halves almost always starts when Dirk Nowitzki checks out of the game.
That puts a premium on Carter’s ability to create offense.
“He’s the one guy we run a lot for,” Nowitzki said. “We post him up, run a lot of high screen-and-rolls for him and he creates stuff for himself and others. We need him to come off the bench and give us another scorer, that’s for sure.”
That was a problem the Mavs had to overcome during Carter’s slow start to the season. Frankly, it’s surprising they finished November above .500 considering Carter’s poor numbers that month, when he averaged only 10.0 points on 35.5 percent shooting.
But Carter has worked his way into a nice groove over the past month. Not coincidentally, that’s when his off-the-pine pick-and-roll partner Brandan Wright started playing after recovering from a nondisplaced shoulder fracture. The pairing is plus-8.4 points per 48 minutes.
In the past 15 games, Carter is averaging 13.1 points on 45.7 percent shooting, including 40.3 percent from 3-point range. He’s been particularly effective during the Mavs’ 4-1 run over the past week, averaging 14.8 points on 51.0 percent shooting, including 52.2 percent from 3-point range.
“I’m just playing the game, taking what’s there and shooting the ball with confidence,” Carter said. “It comes with just me being aggressive.”
Nowitzki sees a sixth man with a pretty arc on his shot again and a good rhythm to his game. Coach Rick Carlisle likes the way Carter has been mixing up his offensive game, blending drives with open jumpers instead of settling for contested shots.
“The important thing is we keep the game simple for him and he keeps the game simple for himself and his teammates,” Carlisle said. “When he does that, he’s still a terrific player.”
When Carter does that, the Mavs are a much better team.