It’s likely that more analytics battles have been fought over the topic of Carmelo Anthony than any other player in the NBA. LeBron James, everyone admits he’s a star. But Melo? He fits the key characteristic for the standard “overrated” analytics mantra — Scoring, at varying levels of efficiency, is his only elite skill.
After yet another cycle of rumors over his long-term destination, Anthony is locked in with the New York Knicks for a very long time after agreeing to a five-year $120 million-plus deal, slightly less than the max. Melo had flirted with other teams yet stayed back in New York with the most money possible and a chance at a new offensive system.
But like Bill Simmons, I often get perturbed by the common statistical narrative surrounding Carmelo Anthony. Similar to LeBron, he deserves a tremendous amount of credit for re-imagining his shooting into a more diverse, creative and, most importantly, efficient game. And oh yes, he’s done so with incredibly high usage. Take a look at the season-by-season heat charts below, via Basketball-Reference.com.
Early on in his career, Melo wasn’t a very good shooter at all. In his first four seasons with Denver, he shot just 27.9% on only 2.2 three-point attempts per 36 minutes. Since then, and especially in New York, he’s been drastically better. He has shot 37.0% on 3.6 three-pointers per 36 in his last seven seasons. You can see that improvement in the heat charts with his point distribution spreading out all over in the court.
But last season, the Knicks weren’t very good. That much isn’t a surprise. They missed the playoffs – in the Eastern Conference! They won 17 fewer games, despite returning the lion’s share of their rotation players. Melo, however, wasn’t the cause. He had yet another scintillating season. In fact, one of the team’s key new additions was likely just a net negative, via NBAWowy.com.
After actually giving up assets for Bargnani, he then had a miserable season before falling victim to injury. The Knicks’ offense was 6.6 points per 100 possessions worse with Bargnani and Anthony compared to just Anthony. They performed at about the same level without either. And that 112.9 ORtg? That’s quite, quite good and shows the value of an offense with Anthony as the lead orchestrator and no Bargnani.
Kevin McElroy over at The Cauldron came to terms with what it means for the Knicks and Anthony to continue their imperfect marriage:
And, really, that’s what makes Melo and the Knicks so perfect for one another. They’re both taking calculated risks here — risks that New York’s youngsters will develop and that its system will work and that it will have better luck in the coming summers than it did the last time it had cap room to use. They both likely wish they could have done better than they did, but both realized they simply couldn’t. Now their interests are almost perfectly aligned. The circumstances (read: on-court failure) that would lead to Melo wanting out are largely the same ones that would make it wise for the Knicks to trade him.
The Knicks remain an incomplete and oddly constructed team. Executive Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher are in, while Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton are out. In their place are Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert and a slew of much-needed youngsters (Shane Larkin, Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo). Still around are young assets Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert, plus the bloated final-year contracts of Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire.
New York might not be that improved this season — especially if Bargnani still receives minutes — but the team should have a clearer style of play under the Triangle Offense. The best thing looming for the franchise, ultimately, is the likely cap space in summer 2015. Only Calderon ($7.4 million) and J.R. Smith (player option for $6.4 million) will get paid handsomely that season alongside Anthony. If they can attract another star, they could make a surge in the always-up-for-grabs Eastern Conference.
For now, this deal does indeed make sense for both parties. The Triangle Offense will run through Anthony, a known and valuable offensive commodity who was wanted by many other franchises. New York could be in a much worse situation than having Anthony around to attract another star in the future.