By Steve Shea (@SteveShea33)
January 27, 2017
Reports are that Phil Jackson is serious about trading Carmelo Anthony. Melo is a bit of an enigma. He is a 9-time all-star, 6-time all-NBA selection and a 4-time U.S. Olympian. Those are the kinds of credentials that should cement any player’s legacy. Yet, the recent trade rumors have prompted a serious debate as to how good Carmelo really is and shown that not everyone agrees he’s that valuable.
Carmelo is on the tail end of his career. He’s 32 and in his 14th season. But he’s still averaging more than 20 points per game (something he’s done every year of his career).
What is Carmelo’s value? Are the criticisms warranted? Let’s see what the numbers suggest.
Criticism #1 He’s inefficient
Carmelo has a True Shooting % of .545 this season. That’s 28th among the 33 20 point-per-game scorers in the NBA. However, he’s about equal to John Wall and Russell Westbrook, 2 players that are getting a lot of praise for their performances.
It’s not that Melo’s efficiency is on the decline late in his career. He’s never been particularly efficient. His .545 TS% this season is actually up from approximately .530 the previous two seasons.
Why is Carmelo so inefficient? Even his harshest critics will acknowledge Carmelo has a gift for putting the ball in the hoop.
Melo is a high usage player. He accounts for about 29% of his team’s possessions while he’s on the floor. That ranks 18th in the entire NBA (among players that have played at least 300 minutes). However, he’s behind many of the NBA’s top scorers. For example, he trails DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Isaiah Thomas, Damian Lillard, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James, all of whom have been more efficient than Carmelo.
Carmelo’s biggest problem is shot selection, not finishing ability. When Carmelo gets to the hoop, he’s averaging 1.05 points per shot. That doesn’t include the times he gets fouled on those attempts. He gets 1.67 points for every 2 free throws. The problem is that Carmelo doesn’t attack the hoop enough. He’s got 129 attempts at the rim. By comparison, Harden has 241.
Melo’s great from the corner 3, getting 1.3 points per such attempt, but he’s only taken 30 corner 3s this season. Corners do tend to be occupied more by role players in the offense waiting for the star to kick. But if Melo were able to play with creators like LeBron and Kyrie Irving, he could have many more corner 3 opportunities. Kevin Love has 104 corner 3 attempts this season.
On 3s overall, Melo is generating a healthy 1.12 points per shot. On catch and shoot 3s, he’s averaging 1.34 points per shot!
The trouble begins for Carmelo in mid-range. He’s only generating 0.9 pts per shot on his 398 mid-range attempts this season. A lot of those mid-range attempts are pull-ups out of isolation. Carmelo averages 5.5 isolation possessions a game (3rd in the NBA). In isolation, Carmelo generates a respectable 0.94 points per shot. The problem is that isolations count for too many (24%) of Carmelo’s possessions.
Players can be inefficient in two ways. One, they can simply miss a high percentage of their good shots. The other way is through poor shot selection. Carmelo is plenty efficient on the good shots. He just needs to take more of them. In particular, he needs more catch-and-shoot 3s.
In New York, Carmelo has always been the go-to guy and the options around him were limited. Thus, it was easy to justify putting the ball in Carmelo’s hands. A trade could present the opportunity to play with another exceptional offensive player (such as Isaiah Thomas in Boston or Chris Paul in Los Angeles). The question is if Carmelo could accept a role where he spent more time off the ball.
Criticism #2 Ballstopper
There is a sense that Carmelo kills ball movement and disrupts the flow of an offense.
His possession numbers aren’t out of the ordinary. Carmelo only holds the ball an average of 2.8 seconds per touch and accounts for only 2.8 minutes of possession per game. By comparison, Jimmy Butler holds the ball 4.17 seconds per touch and accounts for 4.9 minutes of possession. LeBron holds the ball for 4.21 seconds per touch and accounts for 6.1 minutes of possession. In seconds per touch, Carmelo trails Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Andrew Wiggins, and Paul George.
On the other hand, assist numbers aren’t pretty. Carmelo only averages 3.1 assists per game. Worse than that, he only averages 5.6 potential assists (passes to FGA that would be assists) per game. Jimmy Butler averages 10.9 potential assists, and LeBron averages 16.6.
Some might argue that the numbers above suggest Carmelo should pass more. That’s true, but at 32 years old, it’s unlikely Carmelo will transform into an elite distributor. Better is the suggestion that Carmelo should spend more time off the ball as the receiver instead of on the ball as the creator.
Criticism #3 Defensive Liability
You have to go back to 2013-14 to find the last season Melo’s team was better defensively with him on the court. And that season, the team had a DRtg of 108.3 with Melo on the court. That would have been the 22nd ranked defense. In other words, not very good.
Carmelo gets 1.6 deflections a game, or the exact same number Justin Holiday gets for the Knicks in half the playing time. (Kawhi Leonard deflects 3.5 passes a game, and Jimmy Butler deflects 3.7.) Melo’s drawn 0 charges on the season. He’s gotten out and contested 278 shots, which might sound like a lot until you find out that Kristaps Porzingis has contested 601 shots.
Simply put, Carmelo is not a good defender. But does that mean Carmelo can’t have a net positive impact on his team? No one is confusing Ryan Anderson’s D with Kawhi’s, but Anderson seems to have found a home in Houston.
In New York, Carmelo is an inefficient ballstopper and a defensive liability. Wow, that’s not a glowing recommendation. However, there is potential that he could be tremendously valuable to another team. One such scenario would be Boston.
In Boston, Anthony could play alongside plus defenders in Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Melo would get the defensive assignments of Kevin Love, Pascal Siakam or Nikolo Mirotic. He can handle those. (The situation would be ideal if Boston also landed a rim protector to come off the bench.)
He’d play alongside Isaiah Thomas, who is more creative offensively than anyone Melo’s had in New York. That would allow Melo to play more possessions off the ball and increase his frequency of attempting very efficient catch and shoot threes.
When needed, Melo can also be the focus of the offense, and Boston desperately needs another player that can create his own shot. Boston has an ORtg of 115.8 when Isaiah is on the court and an ORtg of 105.2 when he’s off. Last season, Boston had an ORtg of 100.9 with Isaiah off the court.
Offense is harder in the playoffs. With Isaiah on the court, Boston had an ORtg of 93.8 in the playoffs last season. Boston is stacked with catch-and-shoot options in Bradley, Crowder, Jerebko, Olynyk and others. But how many of those guys can take a good defender off the dribble and instill enough fear in a D to draw consistent help and open up shots for teammates? Melo can do that.
Carmelo has weaknesses, and more weaknesses than what we would typically see in a star player. When it comes to lineup construction, player weaknesses are constraints. For example, Rondo’s lack of shooting means he won’t work well next to a ball-dominant slashing guard like Monta Ellis or Dwyane Wade. Melo’s weaknesses make him a bad fit in New York, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be very valuable in the right situation.