It’s a simple question. Either/or. Coke or Pepsi. There may be no wrong answer here, or in forthcoming “who you got” articles.
It’s a look at two players at a similar position, the strengths and weaknesses of each, and a conclusion of who you’d rather start a team with for just one season.
For today’s “who you got,” we have Anthony and Green, two players we can safely categorize as combo forwards.
The main issue here is offense or defense.
Melo is a former scoring champion, with a career scoring average of 25.2 points per game. Green, meanwhile, finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2015 and was the primary ingredient for the versatility of the Golden State Warriors’ top-ranked defense.
Of course, there’s more to this head-to-head than just that, as the cases below will present.
On their face, the basic numbers in this comparison would seem to favor Anthony. Points win basketball games, and Melo tends to get a lot more of those than Green.
Don’t count Green out yet, though. Stats and analysis in 2015 make it very easy to replace antiquated terms like “energy guy” or “emotional leader” in favor of empirical data.
The Warriors finished the season with the best Defensive Rating in the NBA, surrendering just 98.2 points per 100 possessions in 2014-15. But when Green was off the floor, they had a DefRtg of 102.1, a figure that would’ve landed them in a four-way tie for 12th with the Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics. His individual rating of 96 was second to Andrew Bogut among Warriors, but the difference between Green’s on- and off-court numbers (6.1 points) was the largest spread on the team. Other defensive metrics paint a similarly favorable picture of Green, especially in comparison to Anthony.
As you can probably infer from their names, Real Plus-Minus (ESPN) and Box Plus-Minus (Basketball-Reference) are adjusted plus-minus figures which endeavor to paint a fuller picture of a player’s impact on a game.
Without getting into the minutiae of strengths and weaknesses of each model, one can reasonably deduce from the table that Green’s defensive impact on a game vastly outweighs Anthony’s. In fact, his defense appears to add more value than Melo’s offense.
Why? Golden State’s success on the defensive end was largely predicated on the ability to switch on screens all over the floor, and no single player embodied that philosophy better than Green.
In one game, he could be tasked with defending a point guard, and he had the athleticism to handle that assignment. The next night, he could be asked to bang with a center under the rim. He had the size, strength and determination necessary for that. Oftentimes, he had to handle both responsibilities, and then some, in a single game. He’s one of the only players in the NBA who can effectively defend all five positions.
And defense isn’t the end-all, be-all of Green’s case.
Golden State’s offense was significantly better when Green was on the floor as well (that’s certainly impacted by the bulk of his minutes being shared with Stephen Curry, but still).
Green’s impact on offense mostly comes down to his passing and ball-handling ability. He may have already reached point-forward status, finishing third on the Warriors in Assist Percentage at 16.1 (behind point guards Curry and Shaun Livingston).
He also stretches the floor a bit. No, 33.7 percent from three isn’t great (it’s not even league average), but it’s enough from a big man to command attention on the perimeter. Of course, pulling a big out to the three-point line allows more room in the paint for Curry, Andre Iguodala and others to operate.
Finally, Green is also a solid rebounder for his size, leading the Warriors with 8.2 boards per game. This plays into what he does on both ends of the floor. No defensive possession ends as a stop until a defender gets a rebound. And when Green was the man who corralled that defensive board, he often started a one-man fast break.
His biggest strength in this debate is obviously his defense, but Green really does a little bit of everything well, making him stiff competition for the eight-time All-Star, Anthony.
For 12 seasons, Anthony has been one of the steadiest, most reliable No. 1 offensive options in the NBA. Since he entered the league in 2003, only LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have scored more total points. Only Bryant, Kevin Durant, James and Allen Iverson have higher scoring averages in that span than Anthony’s 25.2.
As a pure scorer, there are few better in the league now, or across NBA history. He can shoot from deep (37.9 percent since he joined the Knicks in 2011), create his own shot off the dribble and take advantage of smaller defenders in the post.
Alpha scorers like Anthony aren’t easy to come by, but they’re important for meaningful success. Three of the four conference finalists last season were led by bona fide No. 1s: Golden State’s Curry, Cleveland’s LeBron and Houston’s James Harden.
Offensively, Anthony can have that kind of impact on a team. Last season, the Knicks scored 105.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor and 92.7 when he was off. That’s a seismic shift, comparable to that of Harden’s with the Rockets.
Having a legitimate No. 1 option is of utmost importance in the NBA, but half the game is spent trying to stop the opposition on the other end. And again, Green’s impact on that end outweighs Anthony’s.
Additionally, although this hypothetical applies to just one season, Green’s youth is a factor. Anthony has a lot of wear-and-tear on his body and is coming off a knee surgery in February. Green has no significant health issues.
The verdict here finds for Green, without necessarily saying he has to be the No. 1 option. He was Golden State’s second-best player, while scoring significantly fewer points than Klay Thompson.
He can lead a team in the sense that he makes his teammates better on both ends of the floor. He can cover for mistakes on defense. He can create looks and find open teammates on offense.
In the case of Anthony vs. Green, Anthony’s scoring is trumped by Green’s multifaceted game.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com and ESPN.com.