In our mind's eye, the Dallas Mavericks have spent the last two seasons allowing Vince Carter to climb the offensive totem pole when, we think, at age 36 he should be slipping down it.
This becomes a Mavs talking point especially after Friday's 88-87 loss at Atlanta in which Dallas seemed to design a play for Carter, who took the final shot -- a bad 22-foot miss -- that really gave the Mavs no chance to win.
The stat-based arguments against the strategy are many. Vince was in the midst of a 3-for-10 night from the field. He was in the midst of a week in which he shot 9-of-33 from the floor.
And what he did last year in these situations seems to indicate that coach Rick Carlisle has himself a "pet'' and is picking the wrong guy in the wrong situations.
*Last Nov. 18, DB.com noted that at the time, only 35 NBA players had taken more shots in the 2012-13 season than Carter. All 35 of them had a higher scoring average than Carter. All 35 of them were starters on their respective teams. Only six of them were shooting a lower percentage.
*By the time the season ended, according to our research in "clutch situations'' (one minute or less remaining in a game within three points either way): OJ Mayo had hit 6-of-9 attempts (66.7 percent). Dirk was 5-of-10 (50 percent). Darren Collison was 3-of-9 (33.3 percent). And Carter? He had hit 3-of-11 shots (27.3 percent).
So is Vince Carter not "clutch''? Or are the Mavs simply relying on him too heavily?
My Fox Sports Southwest colleague Mark Followill, the Mavs' terrific TV play-by-play voice, helps us out here, arguing that when it comes to clutch-time performance, it's not the latter.
*In the fourth quarters of games this season, the Mavs have 351 field-goal attempts. Only 29 of those have been taken by Vince, a number that certainly doesn't seem out of whack.
*Are turnovers a problem? Dallas has committed 75 of them in final quarters; just five of those have come from Vince. And in the final five minutes of games within six points or fewer, Dallas has 10 turnovers -- none of those from Carter.
*For the most part, the clutch-time field-goal attempts are going to the right people in the right totem-pole order: Dirk has 22, Monta has 15, Calderon has six, Marion and Dalembert each have four, Mekel two, and Blair, Crowder and Vince one each.
Maybe far more notable than Vince's numbers in these circumstances is this: Dirk has made nine of those 22; Monta has made just two of his 15.
So there's an easy argument to be made that while Vince Carter hasn't been good enough or hot enough to be a go-to guy, Ellis in particular could stand to be more effective in this department, and yet ... on Dallas' 20 made "clutch'' field goals, Monta has two of the buckets and assists on seven of the others.
Entering Saturday's visit from Minny, Carter had made less than 35 percent of his shots in five of six games. He'd shot 40 percent or worse in seven of the last eight games. Yet the Mavs essentially went back to that same Friday night well, with Vince again taking 10 shots and again playing 30 minutes and again making just four of them in a Dallas loss.
Even if Dallas views him as a member of its "Big Three'' (a silly notion, I think) and even if Dallas views him as a go-to guy (dubious because of the lack of supporting evidence), isn't there a point where he's viewed as being "not hot''? Or "not shooting well''? Or "not playing well''?
"As we move forward,'' Followill says, "it will be interesting to see if it's a matter of 'Father Time, Bro,' or if Vince will get on a better track when Devin Harris and Brandan Wright are back and presumably playing with him off the bench.''
In other words, Vince Carter might be better if he's slid just a notch or two down that totem pole. (Or "food chain,'' as Carlisle has taken to calling it.) Maybe that can happen Tuesday with the 8-10 Bobcats in town, as Jose Calderon (ankle) may make his return to the lineup -- and to the quintet that finishes games.
None of this is an argument about Carter's overall value. He made just $3.09 million last year, a bargain in comparison to his production, which was almost Sixth-Man-of-The-Year-worthy. He’s due $3.18 this season. Again, overall performance and leadership taken into consideration, the Mavs have every reason to view this as a sweet deal. He will likely approach his final numbers from last year -- 13.4 points, 4.10 rebounds and 2.4 assists -- and he will almost certainly find a hot-streak rhythm.
Consider: From Jan. 18, 2013, and dating to the middle of the last week of last season, Carter played 22 games. During that time, as Dallas vaulted into playoff contention, he averaged 15.9 points, 48.5 percent from the field, 50.4 percent from the arc, four rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals.
In his mind's eye, he's ready to break out and recapture those numbers at any moment ...
“I pride myself on being fearless and not being afraid to take the big shot,'' Carter told us at that time, when he helped Dallas make its come-from-nowhere playoff push. "I’m going to hold my head up high, regardless, but (missing a clutch shot) has never set well with me. I feel like that’s my job.”
Followill points out what I see as the real failing with Vince so far this year. It's not Carter's number of clutch-time shots; it's all the other minutes in the game, when his subpar numbers (10.6 points on 37-percent shooting) are helping to cause an overall dip in bench production.
In every Rick Carlisle season in Dallas, the Mavs' bench has ranked in the top five in the NBA in scoring. Right now, Dallas hovers at 16th. So maybe it's not so much that Vince needs to be better in the final five minutes or final three minutes. Maybe it's that he's not playing well enough in the first 43 or 45 minutes.