Ever since he was a five-star recruit coming out of famed Oak Hill Academy, Carmelo Anthony has been one of the most polarizing basketball players at any level. A McDonalds All-American and All-American high school dunk contest champion, Melo was Jim Boeheim’s premier recruit in a 2002 recruiting class (arguably the greatest recruiting class in school history) that included the Orange’s all-time career three-point leader, Gerry McNamara.
Although it seems insane in hindsight, after a dominant freshman season in which he led the Orange to a National Championship, many thought Anthony should have been the number one overall pick in the 2003 draft over LeBron James. The former Syracuse forward ended up dropping to the Denver Nuggets at third overall behind LeBron and Darko Milicic (who actually has more championship rings than Melo), and has been one of the most productive players in the NBA ever since.
Despite his prolific career statistics, Anthony has only made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs twice in his 11-year career. This leads us to the question that is the driving force of this article: Can any team win a championship with Carmelo Anthony as its centerpiece? Both the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks have done their best to surround Anthony with the right combination of players to make a run at the title but both failed, often miserably.
Considering the Knicks struggles on the court and their less than desirable cap situation, the chances of Melo resigning with the Knicks is starting to look improbable, even if Lala says he’s staying. If he stays, will the Knicks be able to build a championship contender around him? If he leaves, does he possess the right combination of mental toughness and pure talent to lead a team to a title?
High Scoring, Low Efficiency
Coming off of a combined 97 points in his last two games, including a Knicks’ franchise record 62 against the Bobcats on Friday night, it's impossible to argue against the fact that Melo is one of the best pure scorers in the NBA. The reigning NBA scoring champion has averaged at least 20 points in each of his 13 seasons in the league and currently sits second in the league in scoring at 27.2 points per game, only behind Kevin Durant who has my vote as the best pure scorer in the league.
Possessing a rare combination of size, athleticism and shooting ability, Anthony is one of the hardest players to guard in the league. He is big enough to back opponents down in the post, athletic enough to take them off the dribble and, if opposing defenders give him space, he can knock down the jumper from just about anywhere on the court.
When the former Syracuse star gets hot, he is pretty much unstoppable. But the problem with the way Anthony plays is that he will continue to shoot at a high volume regardless of the situation. Watching Melo play is like watching an LMFAO music video: Shots! Shots! Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots!
The Knicks forward is averaging 19.6 field goal attempts per game for his career and 20.7 over the past four seasons, including a league-leading 22.2 attempts per game last season and 21.6 attempts per game this season. Additionally, Anthony has never finished any season with a field goal percentage of 50% or better, a three-point percentage of 40% or better (though he is currently at 41.5% this season), a free throw percentage of 90%, or with a true shooting percentage of 60% or better.
|Points Per Game||Field Goal Attempts Per Game||Field Goal %||Three Point %||Free Throw %||True Shooting %|
With Anthony taking so many shots, often early in the shot clock or on isolation plays, the offensive players surrounding him frequently become stagnant and lazy. This means that although Melo may score more points than most, he does so inefficiently and he commonly has a negative impact on the offense rather than a positive one.
More Than Just a Scorer?
A popular criticism of Anthony is that he is simply just a scorer and, therefore, not a complete player. Although he isn't a great passer or defender (which I will get to shortly), Melo has put up solid rebounding numbers in each of his 11 seasons in the NBA. The Knicks forward has only posted two seasons where he averaged less than six rebounds per game and is currently having a career year on the glass, averaging a career best 9 boards per game this season.
With that said, considering how many minutes he plays and how often he touches the ball, Anthony’s inability to play defense and unwillingness to play defense has been a huge factor in why he has never played in the NBA finals. With his size and athleticism, Melo definitely has the tools to be an elite defender, yet, due to a lack of effort and consistency, the six time all-star has perennially struggled on the defensive end.
Anthony has never averaged more than a steal and a half per game or a block per game and has only had a defensive rating lower than 107 twice. Additionally, in spite of a usage percentage above 30% in all but his first two seasons in the league, Melo has never averaged more than four assists per game and has only had an assist percentage more than 20% once in his career.
Despite his lofty scoring and rebounding numbers, Anthony’s lack of efficiency, defense, and passing has kept him from elite status. With an 8.1 nERD, Melo is currently ranked 17th in our numberFire player power rankings, behind a few names that might surprise you, such as DeAndre Jordan, Goran Dragic, Wesley Matthews, and Serge Ibaka, just to name a few.
Can Melo Bring a Title to the Garden?
I think it has become increasingly clear that Anthony will not be able to lead the Knicks to a title the way the roster is currently constructed. As Mike Comeford discusses in his article, Can the Knicks Be Fixed This Year?, the Knicks supporting cast has been abysmal this season. Other than Anthony, the Knicks lack a consistent second scoring option and have suffered a myriad of injuries to their frontcourt, including the man who was supposed to be Melo’s partner in a run at the title, Amar'e Stoudemire.
But is it possible that the Knicks can build a contender around him if he resigns? Considering the team’s lack of draft picks over the next few seasons and unfavorable cap situation, it is pretty unlikely that the Knicks will be able to surround Anthony with enough talent to win a title. With that said, on the off chance that the Knicks were able to pair Anthony with two other superstars, could the Knicks make a run in a terrible Eastern Conference.
The good news for the Knicks is that Stoudemire’s contract is up after this season and Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani’s are up after next season. Getting out from underneath those three contracts will be a huge plus for the struggling franchise and open the door for them to sign a few big name free agents during the 2015 off-season.
In the Knicks’ perfect world, they would pair Anthony with a great big man and an attacking point guard. What if the Knicks were able to convince Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love to come to New York to play with Anthony? While that would certainly make for an interesting team, it's incredibly unlikely that all of these players would be willing to come to New York and would fit well together.
Additionally, it's even more unlikely that the Knicks would be able to surround this “big three” with enough complimentary players (particularly defensive stoppers considering how bad Anthony, Rondo and Love all are on defense) to take down either the Heat or the Pacers, assuming those two teams are able to keep their current nucleuses.
Best Chance Outside of New York
As talented as Antony is, even if he tests free agency there are really only a few situations where I could conceivably see the reigning scoring champion contend for a title. Despite reports that Kobe Bryant is recruiting Anthony to come play with him in Los Angeles, assuming he only wants to go to a big market, there is only one team where adding Melo makes any sense: the Chicago Bulls.
With Derrick Rose suffering his second catastrophic knee injury in two seasons, the Bulls’ future is up in the air. Although they currently sit at fifth place in the Eastern conference with a 22-22 record, the Bulls seem to have given up on this season after trading away Luol Deng. Chicago already has a solid core of young role players and could end up with a lottery pick in a draft with an abundance of talent. In addition, the Bulls have the complimentary components I mentioned earlier in Rose and Joakim Noah.
When healthy, Rose is an MVP-caliber player who can penetrate the defense at will. Playing with a player like Rose, who averages 6.6 assists per game and a massive 33.5 assist percentage in his career, would be perfect for Anthony. Rose’s ability to get in the paint should collapse the defense and allow Melo to hit open shots.
Meanwhile, Noah, has a defensive rating below 100 each of the past four seasons, should provide the defensive catalyst and rebounding presence Melo needs behind him. Although highly improbable, a Bulls team constructed this way might provide Anthony with his only real shot at an NBA championship.