Carmelo Anthony has averaged 20 points per game every season since he arrived in the NBA. This past campaign, he became the third-youngest player ever to reach the 10,000-point plateau, behind only Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. And next summer, he could hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.
But despite all those gaudy point totals, the three-time All-Star may not even be worth the max deal a team would likely give him in 2011.
At first glance, Anthony seems like a member of the NBA's elite, largely due to his scoring prowess. But a deeper look at the points column and elsewhere in his game reveals a player who lives on an undeserved reputation more than his actual impact on wins.
It's tough to argue with his 28.2 points-per-game average in '09-10, but in the game of basketball, how a shooter gets his points is more meaningful than the raw number itself. To see that, we need to peel back the layers.
Let's first talk about Anthony's shot volume. It's not exactly a secret that 'Melo likes to shoot the rock, but his propensity to launch shots may raise some eyebrows. This past season, no player in the NBA took more shots per minute than Anthony -- not Kobe, not LeBron, not even scoring champ Kevin Durant.
It may seem obvious that a player worthy of 20 shots per game would have a healthy conversion rate. But in Anthony's case, that's far from the truth. Anthony, in reality, had a below-average field goal percentage (.458) this past season -- and his career percentage (.459) is no different. (The league average is .463.)
The sharp readers out there will point out that traditional field goal percentage doesn't reflect Anthony's shooting ability, since he launches a healthy dose of 3-pointers, which obviously count more on the scoreboard. That's true. But if you've been paying attention, you know Anthony is not a good shooter from beyond the arc, so that doesn't help his case. As a career .308 percent 3-point shooter, his shot from downtown ranks far below the norm (the average small forward shot .349 last season; Melo shot .316) and any progress he seemingly made in 2008-09, when he shot a career-high .371, disappeared. Even if we incorporate the added point bonus of a 3-pointer, the Syracuse product's shooting percentages are, at best, average.
It seems that, anyway we slice it, Anthony is a gunner at the core. His exceptional skill on offense is his ability to get his shot off, whether it's attacking the rim or through a patented pull-up jumper on the perimeter. But interestingly enough, Anthony got his shot blocked a whopping 109 times last season, which ranks as the second-highest total in the league, according to Hoopdata.com. Evidently, he doesn't lack perseverance.
Anthony's case illustrates a fundamental problem in conventional basketball analysis: scoring averages don't reflect efficiency. It's true that Anthony scored 28.2 points per game last season, but it's also true that no player missed more shots as often as Anthony did. Feel free to credit his skill but also pay attention his lofty shot volume and playing time.
And that's before we consider the disguise of team pace. Since Anthony entered the league, the Denver Nuggets have averaged 95.9 possessions per game, which places them as the third -fastest squad in the NBA over that period of time (and just a fraction behind the high-octane Phoenix Suns). Over that same span, the Nuggets have squeezed out an extra four possessions per game when compared to the average NBA team. Do the math, and the Nuggets have enjoyed nearly 2,000 extra possessions above the norm since Anthony joined the NBA. That's a ton of extra opportunities that can pad the per-game stats used as measuring sticks.
So after stripping out the inflationary effect of fast pace and boiling down Anthony's numbers to a per possession level, his scoring punch looks even more pedestrian. How pedestrian? Anthony's career offensive rating, an efficiency measure that calculates how many points a player produces per 100 possessions he uses, checks out at 107, which sits right at the league average. For reference, 2003 draft-mates James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have earned 114, 111, and 113 lifetime offensive ratings, respectively.
Before we prematurely call Anthony an average player, there is something to be said for the burden of trust. Not every player can still perform while shouldering the heavy scoring responsibility that Anthony has endured. But the Nuggets have probably allowed Anthony to shoot far too often if efficiency -- and winning -- is their goal. In fact, last season Melo was only sixth on his own team in ORtg (110), trailing far behind other legit weapons like Nene (124), Chauncey Billups (120) and Ty Lawson (118).
Aside from scoring, Anthony doesn't have many other bankable weapons as a player. His rebounding (career 6.2 rpg) is only slightly better than what we'd expect from a small forward, and he doesn't create opportunities for his teammates like Paul Pierce, Wade and James can. Furthermore, he hasn't shown the intensity and dedication on the defensive end that you'd want from a max player.
In the end, Anthony's game demonstrates why it's important to strip away the biases that color our perceptions of elite players. In Anthony's case, the excessive shot volume, his team's stat-padding tempo and the lack of a true 3-point game makes his 28.2 ppg seem far less impressive than his sparkling reputation would suggest.
If anything, it's time we moved on from per-game statistics to evaluate our players. Millions of dollars are wasted every year basing player value on the archaic statistics that teams used half a century ago. And someone will surely overpay Anthony and offer him a max contract -- just look at the deals Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay got.
If the New York Knicks, rumored to be the favorites to land Melo if he decides to leave Denver, are expecting salvation from Anthony next summer, they're going to be very disappointed with their investment. It would be a much a wiser move to throw that cash toward the pursuit of Chris Paul, a real max player.