For a deep bench role player, Phoenix Suns guard Jevon Carter has already experienced a career of extreme ups and downs and he’s only just barely finished his third NBA season.
The former West Virginia Mountaineer almost disappeared from the league in year one, played his way into a huge contract in year two, lost his rotation spot again for a while in year three but then regained it just in time to earn a solid rotation spot on a title contender heading into the playoffs. Phew.
And to slam-dunk that rotation spot guarantee, Carter nearly posted a triple double with 19 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals against just two turnovers in a season-finale win over the San Antonio Spurs.
“It was fun,” Carter said simply. “It just shows how deep we are as a team.”
Indeed, Carter has only played just the 9th most minutes on the team this year, but joins Frank Kaminsky (10th in minutes) as role players who nearly posted a triple-double in a rare start to help the contending Suns to an important win.
“That’s our DNA,” head coach Monty Williams said after the game. “No matter who steps on the floor for us, we compete.”
On Sunday, with the top-seed in the Conference still within reach if they could notch another win, Williams made the tough decision to rest his All-Star back court ahead of a grueling playoff run to come. He turned to Jevon Carter and Cameron Payne as starters at guard and they did not disappoint. Carter played 43 of the game’s 48 minutes in the win.
For three straight seasons, Carter has begun the year out of his team’s rotation. And for three straight seasons, he’s turned that into a huge positive by the end of that campaign.
As a rookie, he was an afterthought in Memphis but showed enough skills to catch the eye of rookie GM James Jones in Phoenix when a trade possibility came up. As a sophomore, he excelled in a high-energy back court in the Bubble to earn a 3-year, $10 million contract with the Suns. And now in year three, he’s beaten out a pair of veterans (Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore) to earn the backup spot behind Devin Booker for the 2nd-seed Phoenix Suns in the 2021 playoffs.
Carter never profiled as an NBA star. Too short for regular shooting guard minutes (6’0” on a tall day) and too limited as a playmaker for regular point guard minutes (7th on Suns in assist percentage).
As a 23-year old rookie second round pick, he was 13th on a 15-man roster in minutes played and no role on the horizon. His contract was non-guaranteed and the Grizzlies were looking to add other players that summer to the guard core, leaving Carter in a fight for his NBA life.
Then he finds himself in Phoenix, an even worse team than the Grizzlies, looking at a depth chart with sophomore Elie Okobo, first round pick Ty Jerome and veteran Tyler Johnson between him and starter Ricky Rubio on the point guard depth chart.
A year later, even after turning that lemon into lemonade by finding a new role as Devin Booker’s primary backup at shooting guard, he gets handed another lemon. GM James Jones plopped proven veterans Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore between Carter and Book on the depth chart. Heck, even the lanky Abdel Nader was added to the mix.
Another year, another battle for relevance.
He calls it the Treadmill Mentality, and he’s done it by making 38% of his three point attempts, well above the league average, and defending the ball-handler like a man possessed.
Carter now looks forward to the 2021 playoffs as one of the best defenders on a team that needs to rediscover its defensive presence.
In the first round, the Suns will face either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Golden State Warriors. They play on Wednesday night in a play-in game for the 7th seed and the right to play the Suns in a seven-game first round series that starts this weekend (day and time TBD).
Both teams employ small enough back courts for the 6-foot Carter to be effective. Carter is great as long as the opposing guard is 6’4” or under.
The Lakers have Dennis Schroder (6’3”) and Alex Caruso (6’4”) at point guard that Carter can defend, though they’ve recently moved the burly Talen Horton-Tucker (6’5”) into a playmaking role. The Lakers can go big with THT and LeBron James (6’9”) in the guard roles for some minutes, but there will be plenty of minutes with Caruso and/or Schroder on the ball too.
The Warriors have MVP candidate Stephen Curry (6’3”) to chase around, as well as Michael Mulder (6’3”) and Jorden Poole (6’4”) on the ball a lot in the second unit. Carter will have a chance on all three of them, if the Suns end up facing the Warriors.
Jevon Carter will make some big plays for the Suns in the 2021 Playoffs. Let’s hope he has lots and lots of game chances to make that happen!