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In a season of pleasant surprises, Jevon Carter stands out from the rest

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The 2nd-year PG has earned ample playing time and won over the hearts of Suns fans in just a handful of games.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

When Jevon Carter was dealt to the Phoenix Suns on July 7th, 2019, he was nothing more than an afterthought to what Suns fans considered “the Josh Jackson trade”. On that day, Suns fans were primarily preoccupied with either celebrating the end of the Jackson era in Phoenix, or with bemoaning the loss of promising rookie De’Anthony Melton. But there was little to no discussion on the incoming point guard Carter, whose rookie campaign was far from impressive given its stat line of 4.4 points and 1.8 assists per game on just 30 percent shooting.

Now, fast forward to Monday.

In just a matter of four short games, Carter’s relentless energy has infected Suns fans. He is quickly becoming a fan favorite, a byproduct of not only hustle but also tangible results.

“I got to give a lot of credit to Coach”, he told reporters after the loss to the Jazz. “He lets me go out there and be confident and play through my mistakes so that I don’t have to think a lot. I shoot the ball when I’m open.”

And most importantly, those open shots are falling. Through four games Carter is averaging 10 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists on an absurd 65% true shooting percentage. He’s also 10-for-20 on three-point attempts. While that level of shooting efficiency is unsustainable, it seems that Carter’s hard work over the summer to become a capable floor spacer has paid off. He estimates that he got up anywhere between 500 to 1500 shots per day over the summer, depending on whether it was a low volume or high volume workout.

That’s given him the skill set to go out and impress Monty Williams to the point where he’s quickly seizing minutes from other Suns rotation pieces. Going into the season I expected the veteran Tyler Johnson to make for a fine 6th man, but on Monday it was Carter who received 26 minutes to Johnson’s 20. Carter has always been known as a ball hawk, but it’s his improved offense that will keep him on the floor for longer.

Feel free to re-live this clutch moment, where Carter proves he’s more than just a catch-and-shoot player. With time winding down on the shot clock he pump fakes Bogdanovic out of his shoes, side steps and nails the game-tying triple. The entire sequence shows the poise of a player several years his elder.

Furthermore, it’s not just the long distance shooting that seems to be on an upward trajectory. Carter shot just 8-for-28 in his rookie year on shots within 5 feet of the rim, which is simply unacceptable production if you want to stay on the court at the NBA level. That’s far worse finishing than even a player like Tyler Ulis.

While a four-game sample size is small, we’ve already seen flashes of better finishing from Carter this year (who has, admittedly, only attempted 4 shots within 5 feet thus far).

Understanding that we’re working with such a small sample size, you still love to see a play like this from Carter. Coming off a screen set by Kaminsky, he fakes a drive left to get the separation from Donovan Mitchell. He then gets a clean drive down the lane past Ed Davis, a far less intimidating rim protector than Rudy Gobert.

He also had a terrific play in transition the other night against the Clippers, spinning and finishing over two defenders.

Of course, being a point guard also involves quite a bit of facilitating and that’s been the main knock on Carter so far. And it’s true, the Suns have a far more difficult time making similar offensive reads when downgrading from Rubio to Carter.

But that’s not to say that Carter has been a “bad” playmaker. While he might have to worry about Ty Jerome waiting in the wings to fill that void, his assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.7 is at least decent and he’s shown off some nice reads over the past couple games.

This play in particular displays Carter’s vision nicely. It’s not fancy, but first Carter spins off the Kaminsky screen to get Mitchell on his hip. He then has the good sense to hard dribble towards Davis, forcing a hedge and creating the spacing necessary to open up Kaminsky for three. It’s basic stuff like this that goes a long way in the Suns’ new-look offense that is so heavily predicated on threes from big men like Saric, Kaminsky, and Baynes.

Finally, back to the stuff that makes Suns fans love Carter so much in the first place. The recognition on this play to see the roll from Gobert and sacrifice his body for the charge is downright phenomenal. Don’t forget, Gobert has a 50-pound weight advantage.

You can also point to this bizarre fact that Carter has allowed opponents to shoot a combined 0-16 from deep thus far.

With just a 6’4” wingspan, Carter is not a physical freak built in the same mold as a Mikal Bridges or De’Anthony Melton. But he remains at least solid, if not definitively above-average on defense, by applying intense ball pressure throughout the game and never letting up. His lack of length prevents him from being much of a “switchable” defender, but he can hold his own against fellow point guards for sure.

To start to wrap things up here, let’s get to the million-dollar question. How much of this is sustainable?

Well, I’m pretty confident in two things:

  1. Jevon Carter is not a 50% three-point shooter
  2. Jevon Carter will not allow opponents to shoot 0% from deep all season long

So let’s just say that some regression to the mean should be expected. In addition to those reasonable assumptions, let’s not forget that Ty Jerome will be a crafty playmaker hungry for minutes within just a few weeks, and that Tyler Johnson remains a capable option to play spot PG minutes. And oh yeah, that Devin Booker guy can play that position too.

Still, there remains a legitimate value in being able to pump up teammates and fans like Jevon Carter has done throughout the first week of the season. He doesn’t have to be an elite shooter or finisher, but if he can at least prove that those areas of his game have sincerely improved since his rookie year, he’ll be a hard guy to kick out of the rotation.