Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Melo Ball: The Clock is Ticking

At first glance, he is a legit NBA Star. He'll drop 40 on you, and then stare at you like you owe him money. And just when you think your team is about to chalk up a W, his pull up 3-pointer in transition will suck the soul out of your home crowd. This elite fusion of quickness, power, and skill is a 5-time NBA all-star, who has averaged nearly 25 points a game over his 9 year career. His game is smoother than Maxwell's falsetto. Next to a guy named LeBron, he has the most versatile offensive arsenal in the game. He'll post you up on blocks and take your heart, or he'll beat you straight up off the dribble while you look at the refs for help. His jab step keeps you off balance, while he attacks your bigs in the paint and makes it all look effortless. The nom de guerre exemplifies his cool-"Melo." But as the transcendent American author-philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, "It’s not what you look at, it's what you see." The uncomfortable truth -especially for long-suffering New York Knick fans- is Carmelo Anthony is more of an elite one-dimensional scorer then a true franchise talent.

Valuing an NBA player exclusively on offensive is a seductive yet misleading narrative. Carmelo exemplifies this fool’s gold. Offense in any sport is sexy. Home runs in baseball, rushing yards in football, goals in hockey. We worship at the altar of offense. The visceral excitement of an NBA player dropping “4 dimes” (40 points) on your ESPN highlight reel induces fan and media histrionics. Hence, the shared blame. Few however, dare quantity how those points are scored. To their credit, many NBA front offices are increasingly using quantitative statistical analysis to objectively evaluate talent (and calculate how it translates to winning). Like too many NBA players Carmelo’s value has been elevated using a narrow offense-first bias. Looking a bit deeper, you begin to see the holes in the boat. Carmelo gifts as a scorer are beyond reproach-he is scoring machine. He is a consistent top 10 NBA scorer. There were actually two seasons with Denver where he averaged nearly 29 a game. Elite players also produce in the post season right? Well Carmelo’s teams have gone to the post season every year he has played. In the post season he has averaged nearly 25 points a game. In the 2008-09 magical playoffs run, Carmelo averaged 27 points a game before Denver lost in the conference finals to the Lakers in six games. The next year he averaged 30 points a game in the playoffs. Surely “superstar” numbers right? Wrong!

Here is where the rubber hits the road in the “scoring makes you a superstar” story-line. Superstars, franchise players, or whatever moniker you choose make their teams better. They elevate the talent around them. There are multiple NON-SCORING ways they impact a game. Carmelo simply does not possess that. Rather he is a prodigious volume scorer. “Melo ball” is high usage, iso-heavy, ball-dominating style that too frequently causes offenses to stagnate. It becomes predictable and easy to defend–especially in the post season. Moreover, it does not produce NBA championships. According to NBA RAW statistics, in the past three years, Carmelo has taken the highest percentage of contested long 2’s (field goals attempted between 16-23 feet from the basket)-the most difficult shot in basketball. It would not be bad if he made these shots. He has not. He averages less than 33%. His lack of efficiency is further illustrated by his true shooting percentage (this takes into account two-point field goals, three-point field goals, and free throw attempts) and his usage (the number of possession a player uses per 40 minutes). Melo’s usage last year was second only to LeBron at 29.2. Yet his true shooting percentage was .525% or 34th among all small forwards. To put things in better perspective, Kevin Durant, another volume scorer, had a usage of 28.4%, but had a true shooting percentage of .610% while shooting nearly 49% on long 2's.

Due to a confluence of salary, contract, and "star status" few are willing to critique “Melo ball. “Simply put "Melo ball" does not produce. In his nine NBA seasons, only one time did his teams make it out of the first round in the playoffs. Since Melo seldom moves without the ball, runs baseline snakes, attacks the basket with regularity, or plays pick-and-roll, his style of play produces a lopsided floor. On many occasions floor his other four teammates become spectators while Melo does his thing. Do not think for one moment his teammates do not resent this. Look no further than the post-Melo Denver Nuggets. They have been able to reboot with a more balance, symmetry, and yes better chemistry-not to mention deeper playoff success.

Time is running out on Melo. The Knicks are all in this year. Notwithstanding the injury to Amare Stoudemire, they have assembled a group of battle-tested, post-season veterans who know what it takes to win. From Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, to Marcus Camby , the die has been cast. Yet Carmelo is still the one who moves the needle. This is where he has to make his mark. Anything less and he will feel the wrath of New York fans the same way A-Rod felt it (and at least he won a ring). Hope is not a strategy Carmelo. It is now or never for Melo ball on Broadway

No comments:

Post a Comment