I’ll admit it: I’ve had a Suns crush all season.
For many fans, this isn’t something new. We all love our superstars and defend their honor whenever Twitter attempts to degrade their performance. The Suns crushes are a little harder to defend. Lou Amundson? Elliot ‘Socks’ Perry? Eddie House? You appreciated their approach to basketball and how they cared for the game. Although we loved their spunk and energy, it didn’t always equate to consistent and successful on-court performances.
When Jevon Carter played his first minutes in a Suns uniform against the Sacramento Kings, I knew this guy would grow into my low key favorite Sun. Why? Well, his jersey number was 4 and his last name started with the letter C, so I instantly thought ‘C4’ would be an appropriate nickname. And I love a good nickname.
He shot 4-7 from the field that first game, including 3-5 from beyond the arc. The kid was explosive (like C4, get it?).
He also did something you rarely see in the NBA: he pressed full court. A lot.
I instantly bought stock on Jevon Carter Island.
The stock came with a price, however. The season would progress and Monty Williams would tinker with his lineups, opting quite often to provide minutes to Elie Okobo over C4.
Was Jevon Carter a true point guard? Only by his 6’1” height. The ‘Bulldog’ (his more popular nickname) did not display the consistent ability to be a distributor while spelling Ricky Rubio. His per-36 assist totals were 3.2 per game, compared to Okobo’s 5.8.
Frustratingly I would observe knowing that Jevon’s time would come.
His time came on Saturday night against Miami.
The Defensive Specialist
Jevon hasn’t been known for offensive explosions. He did score a career high 32 points in Memphis’ last game last season, but outside of that performance his career high is 15 points (three times).
So he isn’t really a scorer and isn’t really a distributor.
Carter has always been someone who loves the grind, especially defensively. While playing at West Virginia University he earned the 2017-18 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, was a two-time winner of the NABC Defensive Player of the Year, and won the Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s a former All-American Second Team selection who was second in the nation in steals (3.03) as a senior.
Therefore his role on the Phoenix Suns has been defensively based. Spell Devin Booker at the two-guard position and create havoc for the opposition. Press their second team, make them work for every inch, and take the occasional shot.
Jevon is a hustle player. His BBall Index perimeter defensive numbers fortify that mantra. His passing lane defense (bad pass steals + deflections per 75 possessions) is 4.3, an A- rating and in the 87%tile in the league. His pickpocket rating (loose ball steals per 75 possessions) is good enough for an A rating and in the 92%tile. And his real adjusted turnover rate is in the 98%tile in the league.
An Increased Role
The tinkering phase for Monty Williams is over.
The team no longer has the luxury of trying to see if Elie’s game will come around or if Ty Jerome can play anything that resembles basketball. With every minute of every game being of vital importance, Monty had to make a decision on who would come in and carry the torch.
Monty pulled the right lever.
Prior to the Orlando bubble, Jevon Carter played in 50 of the Suns 65 games. He was averaging 15.1 minutes-per-game and 4.6 points-per-game. In 5 games Carter has seen those totals increase, posting 21.8 minutes-per-game and 7.2 points-per-game.
The addition of Cameron Payne allowed Monty an opportunity to spell the starting guards with a defensive minded back court. “Change the pace of the game, pressure the ball,” said Payne last Saturday. “If they don’t give the ball up, at least we took seconds off the clock.”
The two have played well off of each other and helped the team when foul trouble has been a factor.
“That group came in the game and it wasn’t just a spark,” Monty said following the victory over the Pacer, “it was a bit of an explosion”.
The Jevon Carter Game
When you are on a run like the Suns currently are, it isn’t one guy. It isn’t Devin Booker carrying the team on his back to victory every night. It take a team.
Saturday night was an offensive coming out party for the second year guard. When the team needed production from anyone not named Devin Booker, Jevon took the opportunity to rise to the occasion.
Carter scored 6 points in the first half on 2-3 shooting from deep. Respectable, yes, but nothing extraordinary. He was fulfilling his role as per usual.
Carter noted the following after the game about the importance of a defensive mentality.
Jevon Carter: "I hate when I'm sitting on the bench and I see our guys doing the NBA thing, being lax, trying to preserve their energy so they can go score ... I try to tell our guys if we stay locked in on defense, good things are gonna happen more often than not."— Brendon Kleen (@BrendonKleen14) August 9, 2020
Carter entered the game with 4:10 left in the third and the team down 82-80 to Miami.
He would not leave the game until the final buzzer sounded.
Upon entering the game, Carter did something the analytics say not to do, at least for him. Shoot a corner three. His corner three-point percentage is 37.8%, a C+ and in the 54%tile. But C4 was feeling it. And when you are in a rhythm, the advanced stats don’t matter.
My favorite sequence of the game displayed the effort and tenacity that created my love for this player. Most players, following a blocked shot, hang their head and jog back down on defense. Or they look towards the referee and begin berating them for the lack of a call in the their favor. Too often the pride of the player leads to easy offense for the opposition.
When Bam Adebayo blocked his shot in the fourth, he didn’t sulk or whine. He rode Bam’s hip down the length of the court, pestering him in true bulldog fashion. The result? A steal and a fast break opportunity, capped off by an easy lay in for Deandre Ayton.
The 20 point performance Carter contributed on Saturday was his best statistical performance as a member of the Phoenix Suns. He scored 20 points on 710 shooting, including 6-8 from deep. Add a steal and a block to his stat line, along with 4 rebound and 3 assists.
When the Suns needed someone to raise their hand and step up, it was Jevon.
“Every game I feel like I’m due for a game like that,” Carter told media after the game. “That’s just how much work I put in. So it may be a surprise to everybody else, but for me, it was just doing what was supposed to happen.”
His post game speech? Classic.
“JC you wanna bring it in? You wanna do the speech?”— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) August 9, 2020
“Nah I’m cool” pic.twitter.com/WqAVO60z4A
“If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s I’ll never stop,” Carter said. “I’ll never give up. Mistakes happen in basketball. They happen all the time. (If) you go out there and you play hard and you give it your all, good things are gonna happen.”
Every great Suns team had a guy who came in off the bench who the fans admired. Danny Ainge in 1993. Leoandro Barbosa in 2005. Lou Amundson in 2010.
While successful teams are known for how bright their stars shine while in the spotlight, it is the grit and determination of their role players that ultimately defines the level of achievement. Just ask John Paxson.
Jevon Carter is quickly adding his name to the list of players in Suns lore that are loved by fans and feared by the opposition. Booker will get his, but if the likes of Jevon Carter are filling the stat sheet, you know you’re in trouble.
Will the Suns have the ability to bring C4 back next season, considering he will enter the free agent market restricted? The qualifying offer is $1.9M. He is clearly worth more than that.
But that is a question for another time and another place. For now, let us enjoy his contributions in the bubble. Let us cherish the attitude and readiness he brings to this team. Let us revel in the success our beloved Suns are having.