Yesterday's Knicks/Thunder showdown wasn't just an entertaining basketball game - defense is optional at best when both teams average over 1.35 points per possession. It also wasn't just a battle for seed positioning, with the Thunder still trying for the West's No. 1 and the Knicks trying for the East's No. 2.
This game morphed into an all-out war for the NBA's scoring title. Carmelo finished the game with 36, Durant finished the game with 27, and now these two are separated by the length of the hair on Carmelo's head. Coming into the final 10 days of the season, both players hold a 28.4 points per game average.
Will Durant pull off yet another scoring crown, or will Carmelo take the title for the first time in his career? I decided to ask numberFire Chief Analyst Keith Goldner for some good old numberFire projections. After establishing some baselines and assumptions (both players will play all remaining games at the same MPG rate), he broke the numbers down two different ways.
The season-average model way of looking the numbers looks at each player's season-long totals, the defensive efficiency of the teams they're facing, and mixes it all down into one simple cocktail of projected points for the remaining games this season.
We prefer this method for one simple reason: sample size. Carmelo is such a volatile scorer when compared with Durant; the standard deviation of Melo's 2012-2013 scoring nights sits at 9.24 points while Durant's is a much lower (read: more consistent) 7.15 points. As compared to weighting recent data more heavily (which we'll get to later), this way of looking at the race can provide a larger base from which to draw Carmelo's numbers, taking into account both Good Melo and Bad Melo.
But here's the thing: Carmelo has been such an efficient scorer all season that the good outweighs the bad, no matter the opponent. Using this method, Anthony would still average about 28.1 points the rest of the way, even with tough defensive opponents Chicago and Indiana still down the pipeline. Durant, meanwhile, is projected to score roughly 28.2 points per game, right around Anthony's total despite an easier schedule.
The upside for Carmelo is just too great. These projections currently give Anthony a 60.6 percent chance of winning the scoring title with his recent hot play.
I'm not sure that Carmelo remembers how to pass. On the season, Anthony has averaged 22.0 field goal attempts per game. Over his last four contests, he hasn't posted less than 26 field goal attempts in a single game. With a usage rate above 37 percent of his team's possessions in each of his past six games, Anthony has risen his already league-leading usage rate to 35.2 percent. Second place is Russell Westbrook, all the way down at 32.7 percent.
With these numbers in tow, it really shouldn't be a surprise that Carmelo has taken over the scoring lead down the stretch. So Mr. Goldner decided to run projection models to reflect this fact: both Durant and Carmelo's play from the past month is weighted more heavily in numberFire's Recently-Weighted Model.
Continuing on his recent four-game NBA Jam on-fire streak, the scoring title would be expected to go to Anthony with 76.4 percent odds. Durant may have posted at least 25 points in each of OKC's past five games, but Carmelo has just been that much better.
As mentioned above, the problem with this is Carmelo's volatile scoring nature. Sure, he's played well recently, but what's to say that these numbers are more statistically significant? Still, assuming that their recent trends continue, Carmelo may very well run away with the crown.
It seems that no matter how you break it down, Carmelo should be expected to take the scoring crown. However, that's why they play the games, and with Carmelo's up-and-down scoring nature, I wouldn't count out Durant quite yet. This will be one to keep tabs on the rest of the season, and we will do just that here at numberFire.