DALLAS -- Want a sleeper candidate for Sixth Man of the Year? Take a look at the Dallas Mavericks’ old man.
If 37-year-old Vince Carter’s February foreshadows the rest of his regular season, the 1998-99 Rookie of the Year and eight-time All-Star should be considered for the award that recognizes the league’s most impactful reserve.
After all, the race is wide open if the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford ends up ineligible for the award because he plays more games as a starter than he does coming off the bench.
Despite Carter’s slow start to the season, a case can be made that his name be included on a list of candidates, along with Phoenix’s Markieff Morris, Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson, Chicago’s Taj Gibson, Houston's Jeremy Lin and San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili.
His case will be stronger if the Mavs, who stand in sixth place in the Western Conference at the moment, keep winning.
“I’ll leave it to you guys to push that for me,” Carter said, chatting with a few reporters after scoring 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 22 minutes during Wednesday’s 108-89 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. That all came on the heels of his season-high 23-point performance in Monday's win against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Carter has got a deal, as long as he holds up his end of the bargain.
He has to keep producing and contributing to the Mavs’ success like he has this month, when Carter has averaged 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists during an 11-3 run by Dallas.
The Mavs have outscored opponents by an average of 8.7 points per game with Carter on the floor during that stretch. That gives Carter, who has flourished since a healthy Brandan Wright and Devin Harris were added to the Mavs’ bench, a plus-minus that’s the best on the team by almost two points per night during the team’s hot streak.
“Vince has been looking great,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Really just coming in being instant offense, like he was last year, when he was probably our best player all season. Just having great rhythm.
“He’s been playing well, and you know we need him to score. He’s a playmaker for us, not only a shot-maker. We want him to run screen-and-rolls. We post him. He makes plays for other out of the pick-and-rolls, gets other guys open. We rely on him a lot, and he knows that. He’s been great.”
Can “Old Man, Occasionally Amazing” sustain that level of play?
“I can handle that,” said Carter, who replaced Jason Terry as the Mavs’ sixth man and embraced the role before last season. “I can do that. No problem, I can do that. I feel comfortable.
“When I get in the game, I know what’s expected of me, and I think more than anything, our chemistry is what’s elevating everyone’s game. It can happen.”
If Carter keeps rolling, he might have a Sixth Man of the Year case. And the Mavs will have a playoff berth.