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It’s Time We Respect Carmelo Anthony

Our Myth Busters series continues with a look at Melo

2014-15 Season Stats: 40 games, 24.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1 spg, 2.2 tpg, 44.4% FG, 34.1% 3PT, 79.7% FT, 21.5 PER

Career Stats: 25.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.1 spg, 2.9 tpg, 45.5% FG, 34.5% 3PT, 81.1% FT, 21.2 PER

Over the last two years, I’ve felt sorry for Carmelo Anthony. Riddled by injuries, organizational ineptitude and drama, and a spotty-at-best supporting cast, Melo has essentially been steering the Titanic in New York. For whatever reason though, he’s gotten more blame than the iceberg, which is the culmination of the aforementioned issues the Knicks have dealt with.

And that’s on top of the [unfair] scrutiny that stars get on a regular basis.

Somewhere down the line, we let all the jokes about Honey Nut Cheerios, not playing defense and not passing cloud the judgement of the overall NBA fan base when it comes to Carmelo Anthony. Lost in all of the jokes (and the shadow of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) is a sure-fire Hall of Famer with one of most versatile scoring skill sets the NBA has ever seen.

MYTH #1: He doesn’t make his teammates better

Fans of Anthony see him as a superstar and one of the greatest scorers the NBA has ever seen. Others view him as a one-dimensional talent who doesn’t get his teammates involved. Like most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The whole idea of Player X making his teammates better is loosely worded at best, and flat-out incorrect at worst. Contrary to popular belief, star players don’t make their teammates better; they make the game easier for their teammates. It’s a small distinction, but it’s a distinction that needs to be made and more widely accepted.

There are multiple ways, in my opinion, for guys to make the game easier for others. On defense, great rim protectors ranging from Hakeem Olajuwon to Dwight Howard to young stud Rudy Gobert can help erase the sins or mistakes of the perimeter defenders in front of them. On top of that, guys playing with elite rim protectors behind them can gamble or play more aggressively on the perimeter knowing there’s a safety net behind them.

Offensively, guys like Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and even LeBron James (among others) are great examples of players who create(d) open opportunities with their court vision and passing ability. To a certain extent, assist numbers are a decent indicator of these players getting others involved.

For whatever reason, the effect that pure scorers have in opening things up for teammates doesn’t get held in the same regard. This is the category that Anthony falls in, as he’s one of the most dynamic scorers the NBA has ever seen.

To that point, here’s a fun fact: There are only seven players in NBA history who put up at least 25 points per game with a true shooting percentage (TS%) of 50 or higher in the regular season and postseason:

scoring 4

Melo’s face-up game is top-notch because of his rare mix of size, strength, an incredible first step and an even quicker release on his jumper. He’s too strong for smaller defenders, too quick for bigger ones and can flat out abuse anyone fortunate enough to have the size and quickness necessary to guard him outright out of the triple-threat position:

The fact that Melo is so potent offensively, specifically in the mid-range area, puts defenses in a tough spot. He can get virtually any shots he wants out of isolation situations. If the defense sends help, that opens up shots for others — specifically outside shooters.

A few interesting stats to help put Anthony’s offense prowess — and his effect on others around him — into perspective:

-Again, Melo is ridiculously talented in isolation; despite only playing 40 games last year, he was seventh in the NBA in isolation points (229) and was tied for seventh with 0.95 points per possession (minimum of 150 possessions), per Synergy.

-Anthony also posted a 0.95 PPP mark on post possessions last year, ranked sixth in the NBA (minimum of 150 possessions), making him and Kings forward Rudy Gay the only two players in the NBA to produce at least 0.9 PPP in isolation and post possessions.

-On shots between 15-22 feet, Carmelo is 2073-5079 (40.8 percent) for his career (since the 2003-04 season). For comparison’s sake, here are some other wings who get their fair share of buckets in the mid-range area:

mid chart

-For his career, Anthony has a +4.3 net rating offensively, per Basketball-Reference.com. His team(s) (Nuggets, Knicks) score 109.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, but that number falls to 105.5 with him on the bench.

-Over the last two seasons, the Knicks have shot 213-413 (51.6 percent) from three off passes from Anthony, via NBA.com’s passing dashboard.

Pay special attention to those last two. Despite the reputation as a ball stopper or a ball hog, teams are better offensively with Anthony on the court, because duh. He’s virtually unguardable when he’s decisive and has his shot going. He thrives in the area that defenses typically want to “give” offensive players (the mid-range area), and that makes it even more difficult to defend him. Melo isn’t a remarkable passer like his 2003 classmates LeBron and D-Wade, but he’s able to make solid reads when he’s doubled or when he senses the defense is scrambling to rotate.

MYTH #2: He can’t play defense

This one is a bit iffy. Personally, I believe there’s a difference between players who can’t play defense and players who simply don’t play defense. In my opinion, Melo’s reputation should mirror the latter, if anything. Although that’s a negative in its own right, I do think the overall criticism he gets on defense is a bit overblown.

There’s truth in the fact that Melo isn’t an impact defender, though. For his career, his teams’ defense has been 1.5 points better with him on the bench (107.2 defensive rating with him on the court, 105.7 with him on the bench). He’s never been, nor will he be, a ball hawk or a shot blocker.

However, Anthony does do a solid job defensively when he’s engaged, and he’s always been a sneaky-good low-post defender. His brute strength allows him to hold his own down low. Although it only came in 40 games, opponents shot 12-27 (44.4 percent) in isolation and 10-23 (43.5 percent) against Anthony on post-ups, per Synergy.

Last year, Anthony was plagued with various injuries (including a knee that required season-ending surgery) and an incredible offensive workload that likely drained him as well. Opponents shot 46 percent when guarded by Anthony, 1.6 percent above their average, per SportVU. In 2013-14, opponents shot 43.3 percent when guarded by Anthony, 1.6 percent below their average. That seems to check out as pretty average over the last couple of years.

There’s nothing surprising about a No. 1 scoring option taking off plays on defense to conserve energy to carry the load on offense. Anthony has clearly been doing this for his entire career. He just seems to get criticized for it more than just about anyone not named James Harden — shockingly, Harden isn’t as bad as his (somewhat outdated) poor defensive reputation would have you believe, either.

MYTH #3: He can’t be the best player on a title team

There are only a handful of transcendent superstars in the NBA, and Melo isn’t one of those. Luckily for him and others, he doesn’t have to be a transcendent superstar to be the best player on a title team.

For a guy like Anthony, he has to have a specific supporting cast around him for this to take place. He needs to be surrounded by defensive pieces, plenty of floor spacing and preferably a veteran point guard to direct the offense while he shoulders the scoring load.

He had solid-to-very-good squads in Denver, but he continually ran into better teams in a ridiculously tough Western Conference. The 2012-13 Knicks laid out a pretty good blueprint for him, although the veterans on his team burnt out as the postseason approached and his best offensive teammate, J.R. Smith, went full-blown J.R. Smith, capped off by Rihanna/club rumors.

Ironically, the team that offers Melo virtually everything he needs was the team he turned down in free agency last summer — the Chicago Bulls. Honestly, the flak that Melo caught for choosing New York over Chicago reeked of stupidity and hypocrisy. With all of the criticism LeBron received from fans and former players alike for leaving Cleveland to join Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami instead of staying “loyal” and sticking it out in Cleveland, it seems crazy to think Anthony would be criticized heavily for choosing to stay in New York instead of going to the perceived win-now situation in Chicago.

What’s done is done, though. It’s now up to Phil Jackson to put the necessary pieces around Anthony if he hopes to win a title in New York. They certainly won’t be contending this year, but Phil did take solid steps with smart signings (Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn), and a very solid draft as far as I’m concerned (Kristaps Porzingis, Jerian Grant). Moving forward, who’s to say the Knicks can’t continue to sign a good mix of talented veterans and role players to put around Anthony?

I’m sure nobody outside of Texas saw the 2011 Mavericks coming.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve gained a lot of respect for Carmelo Anthony over the last two years. He has his flaws as a basketball player, but the workload that he’s had to carry on top of the flak he’s caught from fans is simply incredible.

We have to be careful not to try so hard to put guys in a box so that we end up missing the greatness that’s already in front of us. Anthony will never be a defensive stud, a dynamic playmaker or a monster above the rim. What he is, and what he’s always been, is one heck of a scorer, a solid offensive rebounder and one incredibly fun player to watch when he gets going.

Regardless of if he wins a title in New York or anywhere else, we need to recognize two things:

1. If he’s healthy, you probably can’t name 10 or 11 players better than Carmelo Anthony right now.

2. This man is going to the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done.

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