Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Mismanagement of Melo’s Minutes

The New York Knicks have bent over backwards time and time again for the sake of re-signing Carmelo Anthony to a long-term deal, why with his impending free agency looming and nobody having a clue what direction the star is leaning towards.

They’ve intimated at shaping their future plans around acquiring one Rajon Rondo — who Anthony is reportedly a big fan of — and have surrounded Melo with members of his talent agency, from the front office staff to the players alongside him on the pine. Although the Knicks have done virtually all they can in persuading Carmelo to remain a Knick off the court, they could be compromising both parties’ long term basketball success with their current approach of utilizing Anthony on the court.

Anthony is playing a league-leading 39.3 minutes per game this season, the highest mark of his career. At the age of 29 years old, no player has played that many minutes a contest through at least 70 games since the 2008 season. This soon-to-be six year gap signifies the NBA’s collective fixation on preserving older and more fragile players by limiting their minutes and in some cases having them sit out a game occasionally in order to extend their careers. This relatively new strategy has been matched with real results with some of the NBA’s most popular superstars of yore, who are still contributing big time today.

Tim Duncan’s had a down year thus far, but has totaled five 20-point, 10-rebound per-36 minute seasons since turning thirty in 2007. Last season, at the age of 36, Duncan averaged 17.8 points, 9.9 boards and 2.7 blocks a night, with a true-shooting clip of .554 and a PER of 24.4.

The key to all this? Duncan’s decreased minutes and games played: Duncan hasn’t played over 31 minutes a night since the 2010 season, and has regularly sat out games in recent years to assure fresh legs for the postseason and beyond.

In the wake of recent knee troubles, Dwyane Wade has been put through a similar regiment this season — playing in just 28 of the Heat’s 37 games and averaging the second-lowest minutes-per-game in his career. This has led to increased efficiency from Wade, who is boasting a career-high true-shooting percentage of .585 and has been spry enough to collect 9.2% of available rebounds, the second-highest mark of his career.

Now back to Melo, who has been straight-up run into the ground by Mike Woodson this season. Yes, Carmelo is still in his prime, yet to suffer anything more than a minor injury and is not a sidekick or supplementary piece behind a younger, better superstar on this team. As such his situation and those of the aforementioned players are vastly different. The point remains however: Anthony’s minutes need to be managed more effectively, as the effects of fatigue on Melo right now are becoming more glaring by the game.

Carmelo’s fourth quarter true-shooting percentage has been significantly lower than that of the first three frames. His true-shooting percentage also decreases with every passing quarter, from 57.4% in the first to 56.5% in the second, 53.6% in the third and just 49.9% in the final period.

(Anthony’s played in just four overtime periods this season — a small sample size of twenty minutes — but his TS% continues to plummet down to 45.5% in said frame.) If this pattern continues, we could see a gassed Carmelo Anthony down the stretch of the season when the Knicks will be fighting for Playoff seeding.

So, what’s the solution?

Anthony playing primarily at the three this season has posed its fair share of issues. Because the Knicks don’t have a traditional back-up small forward outside of Metta World Peace — who is hurt — the only other immediate solution is having to increase the minutes to Tim Hardaway Jr., who could conceivably play the small forward along with two point guards or J.R. Smith in a bench unit.

Sadly, we haven’t seen near enough of the former, while Smith’s place on this team remains shrouded in drama.

That said, benching Bargnani for another point guard — or Hardaway — would probably be the best option. This puts Melo at the four, allowing Stoudemire to be the sixth man and wreak havoc on the side P&R with Anthony and hopefully sharing only a few minutes of floor time with Bargnani. Kenyon Martin is also in the mix there, however, meaning that, in order for this to make sense, either he would lose significant minutes, Amar’e would lose significant minutes or Bargs would simply fall out of the rotation.

I’m not opposed to the final option of the three.

Like it or not, the Knicks are expecting Anthony to be the focal point of their future. If he stays in New York, it would take treating him as if he were a long-term centerpiece on the court, not just off, to prove this direction of the franchise worthwhile in the slightest.

If they don’t, Anthony’s decline from stardom could be as abrupt as Stoudemire’s, with an even more crippling contract and no way out for the Knicks.

28 comments on “A Mismanagement of Melo’s Minutes

  1. knickster

    I said the same thing a couple of days ago and some irate fan chased and threatened me for two threads before apologizing to everyone for his overreaction.

    Hope the author fares better – I suspect he will…lol

  2. Kevin Udwary

    Look at the situation from Knicks’ management/coaching perspective. They feel the best way to win is to have Melo play massive minutes. They have no reason to balance his minutes because they don’t have a long term commitment to him. What’s the worst that can happen, from the Knicks’ perspective? If Melo gets hurt and misses the end of the season, maybe he doesn’t opt out of his contract and plays another year to prove he’s healthy going into free agency. Yay Knicks! Or he does opt out and draws less competition to resign him over injury concerns. The slow start this season has everyone’s backs against the wall, and they are going to run guys into the ground to try and recover, especially the guys they don’t have a long term commitment to.

  3. David Vertsberger Post author

    I’m pretty sure opting-out (not waiving the ETO) has a deadline somewhere mid-season, so I don’t think Melo can get hurt near Playoffs time and be like, NEVERMIND I’M STAYING! Also, even in such a case, it could be a major injury. Which hurts Melo (and thus, the Knicks) long term.

    And the Knicks are only running Melo into the ground, hilariously enough. No other player is playing more than 33 minutes a night.

  4. DRed

    Melo’s shooting % going down in the 4th quarter doesn’t mean he’s tired. It means he’s not clutch. Did you ever play basketball?

  5. ephus

    According to cbafaq.com, there is no time limit or official mechanism for informing the league that a player has amended his contract by waiving an ETO. An ETO must be exercised by June 29. So he can through the end of the season (and playoffs, I hope) before deciding whether to exercise his ETO.

    Remember – Orlando was able to get Dwight Howard to waive his ETO on the eve of the trade deadline.

  6. Hubert

    I said the same thing a couple of days ago and some irate fan chased and threatened me for two threads before apologizing to everyone for his overreaction.

    Eh, no.

    1. I have never threatened anyone on this board.

    2. I didn’t apologize for my “overreaction” because I didn’t overreact. I apologized for feeding the troll (you) a day later.

    3. You didn’t make the same point.

    a) David Vertsberger is talking about Melo’s minutes this season. We were discussing his minutes last year, which were considerably lower than this year (39.3 v 37.0).

    b) You said Paul George’s minutes don’t count because they are effortless because he is suave. I don’t see that ridiculous assertion in David’s article.

    c) Your overarching point (which I was responding to) was that the only reason the Knicks finished 4.5 games ahead of Indiana was because Woodson burned his players out last year while Vogel did not. You were wrong. That was a statement of untrue facts. Again, I don’t see that assertion in David’s article.

    Carry on.

  7. Nick C.

    Dred, in Denver Melo had the fabled best last second shot numbers in the league according to 82games. Unless you think something happened to make him lose his nerve then maybe he is gassed.

  8. knickster

    Your overarching point (which I was responding to) was that the only reason the Knicks finished 4.5 games ahead of Indiana was because Woodson burned his players out last year while Vogel did not. You were wrong. That was a statement of untrue facts. Again, I don’t see that assertion in David’s article.

    I guess Woody overplays Carmelo because he wants him injured, not because he wants to extract every winning ounce out of him, regardless of how that affects the player.

  9. The Ghost of Ted Nelson

    First off, I’d like to say that this article is strong, and David, I think you’ve come a long way from your work earlier this season.

    Secondly, I think there needs to be a larger study, to see if there truly is a correlation between minutes played per game, and injury. It seems that the a priori assumption is that there is. (Fans seem to blame D’Antoni for playing Amar’e too many minutes and thus bringing on his rash of career halting injuries). But I think the effects of minutes per game are only relevant within the context of that individual game: ie, the diminishing returns are in the 4th quarter (as David pointed out in his correlatory point about Anthony’s woeful 4th quarters). I agree that Woodson is making a mistake: he runs his horse into the ground, then isos him down the stretch of every close game. It’s a poor recipe for success. But I don’t agree with the conclusion–that Anthony’s career may be permanently derailed by playing 3 or 4 extra minutes every few days. Sure, it’s 3 minutes of risk, but the risk is no different that the other 36 minutes of risk, as injuries happen to well rested people, and to people in great shape, and to people who slicing onions in the kitchen, and to people who are asleep.

    I’m pretty sure opting-out (not waiving the ETO) has a deadline somewhere mid-season, so I don’t think Melo can get hurt near Playoffs time and be like, NEVERMIND I’M STAYING!

    Yes, as Ephus stated, there is no deadline for that. The dealine that does exist is the day that the Knicks can begin discussions with Anthony on an extension. That date is in February, so the Knicks can get an idea of Anthony’s wants and needs before the trade deadline; however, they don’t really know what Anthony’s plans truly are because they can’t ask him for another few weeks (which is why you correctly state that “nobody [has] a clue what direction the star is leaning towards”)

  10. DRed

    It would at least seem logical that a player would run a higher risk of injury when they are already fatigued, but I agree with TGoTN that it’s something that it would be interesting to see studied.

  11. d-mar

    Check out this first quarter score – Wizards 43 Miami 18. Yes, that’s not a typo. And this after LeBron’s promise to “put up big numbers” in response to coasting remarks.

    Still way early but wow.

  12. DRed

    Check out this first quarter score – Wizards 43 Miami 18. Yes, that’s not a typo.

    Well, I mean they did lose to the Knicks. . .

  13. richmond

    checkout LeBron’s mpg and fg% compared to Melo. Maybe rest him more at the start of 2Q and end of 3Q but managing minutes can only help

  14. Totes McGoats

    Good stuff Verts!
    While I do believe Melo’s game will age very well as he can play the 4 as well as he does the 3- maybe even better. This load he’s carrying IS very troubling. When you’re the best player, you tend to try and do a bit too much. Combine that with playing 82-85% of available minutes at his age over an 82 game season plus playoffs where he is a lock to play more, and you..well..u break the machine. Even if he stays remarkably in shape and healthy for the next 5 years, that kinda wear and tear against mostly better and younger athletes at his position will limit his effectiveness. Like it or not, he could be looking at the same thing LeBron was looking at his last year in Cleveland. Sure, he loves the franchise and the city- but we are leaning on him a whole hell of a lot while promising help that’s not coming. Now..all of it’s not managements fault. STAT’s just not what he was. If he was what he was when we inked him, things would be way different. But we leaned on him and his old knees too much and now we settle for glimpses of the healthy STAT and a Karl Malone inspired re-imagining. Like I said a few threads ago- Catch 22 that can easily go south if Melo’s minutes aren’t managed better. but he’s pretty much all we got so what do u do? I trust that Bargnani/TH2/Shump/Earl/Felton/Tyson/MWP CAN help a whole lot. But it’s not really working…so..Catch 22

  15. David Vertsberger Post author

    Thanks Totes! I even forgot to mention Carmelo’s usage. Not sure if it’s as high as in 2013 but it’s definitely up there. That, with the minutes… How has he not collapsed yet? Must be in solid shape.

  16. Totes McGoats

    Right! I would think his usage is high but probably not as high with Bargnani and TH2 in tow. Still if Woodson played guys who are more effective and could actually hit some shots (ie: TH2 over Earl), maybe Melo would trust his teammates more. Also, Shumpert’s more than a 3 and D guy. He’s got more ability on offense than he’s shown and even with his struggles it makes no sense for him to be limited like he is. Hell, Earl gets a green light while Shump actually plays both sides of the ball which normally would warrant more influence on the game. But I guess that’s another story..

  17. maxwell_3g

    Good article. I agree with the basic reasoning, but we should not be surprised. the Knicks are consistently shortsighted in everything they do.
    One thing that i would challenge, however. I am sure that fatigue plays some role in Melo’s declining shooting as the game goes on. I am also sure that our team’s offensive strategy in the fourth quarters, especially in the last 5 minutes, affects these stats as well. Our iso strategy as the game winds down puts Melo in a position to end up taking very low percentage shots. Perhaps the resulting shots (often off balance long range j’s) are also more common due to Melo’s fatigue as well as the initial iso strategy. I just don’t thing the end result is a fatigued Melo missing shots that he would normally make. It is strategy and fatigue resulting in low percentage shots.
    Wherever the truth lies, I would love for a) Melo’s minutes to be cut and b) no more iso ball to close out games

  18. Hubert

    When I see a situation like this, I feel it reflects poorly on upper management (i.e. above Woodson). They set the punish/reward model. Woodson follows it.

    Think about it:

    The team played arguably the worst basketball in the league for 1/3 of the season. Coach got in waived off because players were injured. We let the fact that we mismanaged end of game scenarios, couldn’t manage basic defending principles, and were generally the worst prepared team in the league slide because Tyson was injured.

    So management sets up an injured star as a get out of jail free card.

    Now you’re Woodson, and there are two possible outcomes of playing Melo extreme minutes:

    1) It increases your chances of winning the game, and winning increases your job security

    2) He gets injured, which -amazingly – also increases your job security because anything that happens when your star is injured doesn’t count.

    Running Melo into the ground is pretty much the smart play for our coach. In fact, not running him into the ground, when both outcomes are extremely favorable to your job security, would be lunacy.

    Long story short: Blame Dolan. Again.

  19. Hubert

    Of course this flies completely in the face of the premise that the Knicks are an organization that is mindful of relevant statistics.

    But we all knew that was bullshit, right?

  20. Sweetney Ate Curry

    Not sure if it’s as high as in 2013 but it’s definitely up there.

    You are correct. Melo’s USG% last year was a career-high 35.6%. It’s down to 31.2% this season which is actually slightly below his career AVG (31.6%).

  21. Sweetney Ate Curry

    Also, Shumpert’s more than a 3 and D guy. He’s got more ability on offense than he’s shown

    I really want to believe that because I love me some Shump Shump (my wife got me the shirt for X-Mas and as soon as I started wearing it for games, Shump Shump went supernova down in Texas…coincidence? I think not).

    Problem is, I don’t see that diversified offensive game yet. He still has trouble finishing at the rim. He doesn’t seem to have a super explosive first step to blow by guys on the perimeter and, probably oddest of all, he seems like he can barely dunk when attacking off the dribble (yet he can get his teeth at the rim on put-back-dunks). He clearly jumps better off of 2 feet than 1 but can’t incorporate the 2-feets jump on dribble-drives.

    I think slightly better handle and a little more creativity around the rim would help but I’m not sure it would catapult him beyond the 3-and-D label he now (sort of) rightly owns.

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