Carmelo Anthony still can be great (especially at power forward)

Carmello Anthony, sports

Carmelo Anthony has become an afterthought. It’s the natural extension of only playing 40 games for a 17-win team last season. But long before that disastrous campaign, perception of him had begun to slide. Each passing season has brought Anthony one step closer to retirement and reinforced the opinion that he is a one-dimensional scorer who can’t get his team over the hump.

Yes, Anthony’s Nuggets teams struggled to advance in the playoffs and that his New York Knicks teams have even struggled to make the playoffs. But difficult team situations the past few seasons in New York have obscured the most efficient basketball of Anthony’s career.

Box Plus-Minus is a box score derived estimate of a player’s overall impact, expressed in points per 100 possessions. By BPM, the three best seasons of Anthony’s career were his first three full seasons in New York.

Carmello Anthony Stats 1, sports

While Anthony’s overall value has long been a subject of passionate debate, his skills have always been clear: Anthony is a scorer. Over the past five seasons, only LeBron James and Kevin Durant have scored more  than Anthony. The concern has been about how efficiently he scores and what else he provides to help his team.

When Anthony was traded to the Knicks, his game faced two significant transitions. The first was that he began taking more 3-pointers. With the Nuggets, about 12 percent of Anthony’s shot attempts were from behind the arc. In New York, that has doubled to 24 percent . The other change is the position he played. According to Basketball-Reference’sposition estimates , Anthony played power forward only about 10 percent of the time in Denver, whereas he has almost evenly split time between power forward and small forward in New York.

If we take out original Box Plus-Minus graph and overlay the progression of those two statistics — the percentage of his shot attempts which were three-pointers and the percentage of minutes he played at power forward — we can see that they coincide rather neatly.

Carmello Anthony Stats 2, sports

The positional question really reflects a number of different factors having to do with style of player. In Denver, Anthony scored a lot around the basket, either posting up or coming off a drive. But because he was so frequently on the floor with two traditional big men, there was less space to operate. In New York, as a nominal power forward, there has been more shooting on the floor around him and consequently more space to operate.

Adding 3-pointers regularly to his arsenal has raised the overall value of his shot distribution and made him a more efficient scorer. In addition, making outside jump shots a bigger part of his offensive repertoire has helped him dramatically cut his turnover rate. Catch-and-shoot jump shots, in addition to often offering a higher expected value than a difficult shot in the paint, are also much less likely to result in a turnover. Only 14 players (42 total times) in NBA history have finished a season using more than 30 percent of his team’s possessions while turning the ball over on less than 10 percent of those possessions. Anthony has done it the past three seasons.

There are plenty of things for the Knicks to work out before the season begins, but deciding how exactly to use Anthony is one of the most important. Derek Fisher, in his first year as Knicks coach last season, used him on the wings with bigger lineups much more frequently and, although it wasn’t the only factor, his overall impact fell, extending the pattern we see in the graphs. Even with his increased reliance on 3-pointers, Anthony has consistently performed better the more he is used at power forward.

That may be an issue. This summer, the Knicks continued to add size. Robin Lopez is in to replace Tyson Chandler, but New York also added Kevin Seraphin, Derrick Williams, Kyle O’Quinn and rookie Kristaps Porzingis. That crowded frontcourt seems like an indicator that Fisher may continue using Anthony as a small forward. Again, this is less about the specific positional designation and more about shrinking offensive space around the basket by crowding in two other big men. There also is talk that Anthony prefers playing small forward, a common theme among players who prefer to avoid size disadvantages even at the expense of matchup advantages.

The arguments about Anthony and 2003 NBA Draft-mate LeBron James have long since been settled, Anthony simply doesn’t have the all around game or impact of that top tier of player. What he does have is a gift for scoring efficiently in a high-usage role — a skill which is extremely rare and dramatically important. How far the Knicks go this season will mostly be determined by the supporing cast, the players gathered around Anthony to do the things he can not.

Still, he is a very good and very talented player who has gotten better in the later stages of his career. Anthony’s biggest battle this season may not be against age-related decline or stagnation, but instead against a restrictive role that pushes him back towards what he used to be.

Source: MSN Sports

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