Webster’s Dictionary defines the term “franchise player” as a player who, well, actually Webster’s Dictionary doesn’t define it. More accurately, no one can really nail down what exactly it means, yet in the world of sports it’s something everyone says all the time to describe a litany of players and prospects.
By just typing “franchise player” into Google, Wikipedia spits out the following definition: “In professional sports, a franchise player is an athlete who is not simply the best player on their team, but a player that the team can build their “franchise” (team) around for the foreseeable future.”
Carmelo Anthony is a future Hall of Famer, one of the great scorers of all time and the best player on the Knicks. However, by that definition, Anthony’s time as a franchise player has passed him by.
Over the last couple weeks, Today’s Fastbreak executed a Franchise Player Draft. The task was to have 30 writers in a randomized draft order select in sequence who they’d take if they were starting out a franchise. Current contracts weren’t considered, but age and injury history were. Anthony — who’s without a doubt one of the 30 best players in the NBA and arguably in the top 15 — wasn’t selected.
Why was Anthony left off this list? The first thing to look at is his age. At 31 years old, his best years are admittedly behind him. There hasn’t been a significant decline in his skills, mostly because he didn’t rely on his athleticism offensively anyway, but he isn’t the rebounder he was when he was young and never a defensive stopper; it’s been awhile since we saw him really move on the other side of the ball. Part of that could be that he was stuck on a bad Knicks team and dealing with injuries the last time we saw him on the court.
Yet the biggest knock for older players landing on this list is the short time they’ll remain as elite or near-elite players. That’s why guys like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns made their way comfortably into the top 10 picks. A lot of great players were dropped down significantly because of their age, and guys like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker didn’t find their way into the top 30 either.
However, that doesn’t explain it all. LeBron James is just slightly younger than Anthony, and he was off the board with the second overall pick. Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul are each only a year younger than Anthony, and they all found their way into the bottom half of the exercise.
Anthony is coming off the knee injury, but Howard has been dealing with injuries himself, and as a big man those injuries can go much worse much faster, as we’ve seen in the past. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Anthony healthy, and out of sight sometimes means out of mind, but Kevin Durant was the third pick. Being four years younger certainly helps, as does his recent peak 2013-14 season, but his injury is scary as well.
The Knicks are only a few years removed from their 54-win 2012-13 campain, where Anthony led the league in scoring and posted a PER of 24.8. His 28.7 points per game in the regular season and 28.8 points per game in the playoffs were great marks, and it would’ve been hard not to put him in the top 30 after that.
Call me crazy, but at points during the following season I thought Anthony was better. Leading the league in minutes per game, he scored 27.4 points per game while pulling in better than eight rebounds a game and carrying the dead weight of a Knicks team that had completely checked out. The team finished 37-45 and missed the playoffs, but Anthony was phenomenal that year.
His numbers were surprisingly good in limited action last season, even though he likely was injured much earlier than he let on and should’ve been shut down very early in the year during a lost season. He played out the string until the All-Star break, but left a lot of bad memories for fans. If he’s healthy this season, I think we’ll see a performance like he had during the previous year, when he was marvelous for a below-average Eastern Conference team.
Even if the other 29 writers from the Franchise Player Draft agreed with me on where his talent level remains at age 31 — which I don’t think they would, by the way — I still don’t think he would’ve squeezed into the top 30.
The major reason Anthony isn’t the player who you can build around anymore is because of what we’ve seen from teams like the Hawks, Warriors and Spurs, among others. Ball movement and defense is so supremely important in basketball today. Not that it wasn’t two or three years ago, but it’s trending upward quickly.
Even as a Melo defender and apologist, I’ll admit that he doesn’t fit that modern idea of how to win in the NBA. I don’t think he’s a ball hog, but he’s a ball stopper. He still works in isolation offense and needs time to create for himself, while he isn’t extremely gifted at creating for others. The last few years the Hawks, Warriors, Spurs and Heat (to a lesser extent) built their teams around the idea that isolation kills offense. They pushed the ball up the court and around the perimeter, waiting for open shots and passing lanes. Then they swarmed on defense.
Anthony doesn’t fit those other offenses well. He’d be relegated to a spot-up shooter, almost the Chris Bosh-in-Miami role during those championship runs. Melo is a good-not-great passer and could’ve adjusted, but we just haven’t seen him do it or even a sign he’d be willing to do it. I’m sure he could shoot the ball like Klay Thompson or be a stretch 4 like Draymond Green, but he doesn’t defend like those two players, and their two-way ability is what gives them their value. They’re also both six years younger than Anthony, and that’s why both were taken in the top 25 of our Franchise Player Draft.
I expect a big bounce-back year from Melo. I hope he’s healthy, and if he is, he’s still one of the few great scorers in the league, with guys like Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and LeBron James. He should also be able to maintain a high level of play for another two or three years past this season if he doesn’t have any additional injuries.
All that being said, he’s not the guy the Knicks will want to build around for the foreseeable future, as the Wikipedia definition so nicely puts it. Anthony is the best player on the Knicks for that foreseeable future, but Phil Jackson and the organization aren’t building the future around him. They’re hoping to build a competitive team around him while they hope to transition to Kristaps Porzingis as the next franchise player in New York.