2011 Report Card: Carmelo Anthony
You know what? Melo doesn’t like you either.
That’s right. He’s looked into your advanced stats. He knows that your posts from January to April registered a blistering True Spite Percentage (TSp%, or posts / vitriolic statements) of 78%. He knows a lot of you didn’t want him – or at the very least, thought we gave up far too much to get him. He knows you think he makes way too much money. He knows his every move from now until Rapture will be dissected and analyzed more intensely than Citizen Kane.
It’s OK though. Because Carmelo Anthony’s not one to hold grudges. “The next Starbury,” “cancerous ball-stopper,” “defensive sieve” – these things just roll off his back, like so many city raindrops. You wanna know how Melo deals with the barbs? He throws on a blue garbage bag, grabs a panda, and smirks away the spite. The symbolism is unmistakable: Through the panda — a creature cursed by its own inability to adapt, grow, evolve — Carmelo is confronted with and knows his own weaknesses. If he’s going to survive in this city, evolution, adaptation, improvement — that’s the goal. More importantly, he’s doing something about it.
He might’ve only played 31 games in an actual Knick uniform, but for most of the 50 that proceeded his February 23rd arrival, Carmelo Anthony was the defacto 16th man (you know, if a 16th man sat at the end of the bench yelling all awkward-like about how 8 of the guys in front of him were about to be shipped out). Like an intangible specter perpetually suspended above the organization, Melo just needed an appropriate vessel to render real what had for months been the stuff of ether. That vessel finally arrived when the Knicks agreed to deal Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Eddie Curry’s expiring contract (That’s it, right?), Raymond Felton (Ok, that should do it.), Anthony Randolph (Jesus, really?), and Timofey Mozgov (Are you $%#&@ kidding me!?) in exchange for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, and this guy.
Some said we mortgaged our future for a two or three year title window. Others scoffed at taking on a contract that could look exponentially worse if a new CBA includes a more restrictive salary cap structure. Still others laughed at this painfully funny t-shirt, one of the first off the post-trade press, which features an image of Anthony taking what appeared — rather ironically — to be an ill-advised, off-balance 22-footer. The media, in all its schizoid glory, managed to both deem the deal — any deal, at any price — absolutely necessary… before promptly demonizing it in calling for Mike D’Antoni’s firing. A full six months and one Herculean playoff performance later, the jury is still out.
Given the relatively small sample size, there’s not much to parse through when it comes to post-trade stats. We do know Melo’s TS% trended up slightly after donning the orange and blue (55% with Denver to 58% in New York). The biggest reason for this? His three-point shooting, which took a huge leap from 33% to 42%. Interestingly, his new-found outside shooting prowess reflected a 10% overall uptick (64% to 74% of his shots) post trade. Obviously this has to be viewed more in the context of D’Antoni’s system, which relies on effective floor spacing and opportunistic shot attempts. But even if he regresses half way back to the mean, a Carmelo Anthony connecting at 37-40% from beyond the arc is nothing to scoff at.
As for the worry that Billups and Melo would seek to impose their brand of isolation-heavy ball on D’Antoni’s comparatively more free-flowing offense, it turns out the numbers bear much more of a mixed bag. Indeed, while Melo’s iso rate stayed pretty much the same after being dealt from Denver, dropping only a hair from 37.3% to 37% (Synergy Sports Technology WHAT!?!?), Chauncey’s share plummeted from 25.8% to 13.5%. Meanwhile, Billups’ use of the P&R jumped nearly as drastically, from 20.75 to 36.5% after joining the Knicks. Which suggests what many have suspected all along: namely that the point-obsessed D’Antoni is far more concerned with reshaping Chauncey’s role (and his game) than he is about Melo’s.
What kind of weapon Anthony evolves into on the offensive end will be one of the more interesting narrative threads over the next few years. Towards the end of last season, D’Antoni famously suggested that Melo should be getting “close to a triple double” every single game. Which of course is just batshit crazy. But D’Antoni wasn’t saying that because he somehow believed himself capable of chiseling away and uncovering a hidden LeBron that George Karl couldn’t; rather, he was putting the onus on Melo himself. The dude’s an incredibly gifted basketball player — everyone knows that. But there’s always been the nagging sense that he wasn’t quite the all-around player he was capable of being. Maybe Mike D’Antoni can help bring it out of him (on the offensive end, anyway), and maybe he can’t. What matters is the internal gauntlet has been thrown — a gauntlet which only time will tell whether Anthony is willing to pick up and wield himself.
Does he still take bad shots? Oh yeah he does. Did he still exhibit cheesecloth defense? Yup. Are both of these things fixable? Ask Paul Pierce.
Like the really funny uncle with a healthy bourbon habit who matches every brilliant Thanksgiving story with one or two ill-advised racist jokes or boob grabs, we’re stuck with Melo. So we might as well learn to love him — quirks and all. Thing is, if you look past the albatrossian contract and entirely fixable chinks in the armor (defense, shot selection, ball-stopping, in that order), that shouldn’t be difficult to do. He was born in the city; identifies his roots within it; and, from roughly last September until late the following February,wouldn’t shut up about how badly he pined to return.
As with Amare Stoudemire before him, Melo wanted to come here. Very, very badly. And like Amare’s arrival last summer, there’s something oddly, egoistically appealing about a top-flight superstar who, for all the franchise’s long-worn woe — and for all his own flaws — sees himself as something of a savior. Rational or not, potentially destructive or not, it’s hard not to feel stroked by that. The only question now becomes: does this prodigal son’s return spell a reprise reminiscent of Bernard King, or Stephon Marbury?
Advanced stats may one day vindicate what many still believe: That, for all his undeniable offensive filthiness, Carmelo Anthony is simply too inconsistent and too unreliable defensively to be anything more than a number two option on a top flight team. Until that day comes, however, it would behoove us all to at least flirt with the possibility that – for once in this proud franchise’s perpetually-tortured present – we landed the right player at the right time, and in the right system.
Now hold that thought. Let it sink in. Breathe. Think near decade-long veteran – a scoring machine – nearing 30 and heeding the clarion call of many before him, who found in career apex a sudden commitment to defense and leadership. Think explosive turning to crafty, cocky giving way to vocal, doubted succumb to lauded. Think expected, sustained winning, clutch baskets from iced-over veins and shaking Garden rafters. Think a title. Hell, think titles.
With that, we now return to our regularly scheduled reality.
Report Card (5 point scale):
Final Grade: A-
Beyond his work for KnickerBlogger, Jim is a contributor to the New York Times Off the Dribble NBA blog, ESPN.com, and The Classical. He is currently working on a biography of Robert Silverman, titled "Clownin' and Astoundin.'" Follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.