But wait! Max has a twin brother named Hortense, and they are really dying to play together. They feel nostalgic for those games of two-on-two from their childhood. Hortense is not the same player as Max, but he’s similar. When the offense is run through him, the team’s scoring efficiency improves by 20%. On defense he’s slightly less comatose. He rebounds pretty well, and sometimes he tries to stay in front of his man. Still, due to his inconsistency of effort and focus, opposing offenses improve by 10% with him on the floor.
So what happens when Amare and… err I mean Max and Hortense are on the floor together? Well, their combined poor defense results in a 30% increase in opponents’ offensive efficiency, and if they’re well-disciplined and always run the offense through Max (despite Hortense’s continual complaints), they also score 30% more efficiently. They are a .500 team.
Obviously this is a simplification, but I don’t think it’s that far off. When you have guys who are only elite when they have the ball in their hands, do not play good defense, and aren’t great passers, the law of diminishing returns weighs heavily on them. Sure, there is the benefit of being able to always have a scorer on the floor, and certain matchups may favor one scorer, but overall, it’s the worst kind of skill replication there is. For evidence, you can look here and see that New York was at least as successful with Carmelo on the floor and Amaré off as with the two playing together. Compare those numbers to Boston’s lineups where any lineup without three of their big four has a negative +/-. Every other lineup is dominant. That’s healthy. The Knicks are not. However, as the minutes for New York’s alternate lineups post-trade are too small to make any grand conclusions, let’s compare this union to past unions or disunions of high usage players:
Age 25-27 average WS/48: .086
Age 28-29 average WS/48: .169
Notable changes: Left the Clippers/New York, where his interior scoring ability was replicated by Kaman and Curry, for Memphis, where the low-post belonged to him.
Ben Gordon —
Age 23-25 average WS/48: .123
Age 26-27 average WS/48: .048
Notable changes: Left Chicago via free agency for Detroit, where his skills were replicated by Richard Hamilton.
Vince Carter —
Age 34 WS/48 (with Orlando): .160
Age 34 WS/48 (with Phoenix): .060
Notable changes: Was traded to Phoenix, where he was expected to be more of a role player, catching and shooting or else moving the basketball.
Kevin Durant —
Age 21 WS/48: .238
Age 22 WS/48: .189
Notable changes: Westbrook’s usage rate jumped 5%. Durant’s usage only fell by 1.4% but the way he was using those possessions changed as Durant became more of a catch-and-shoot role, evidenced by his increased three point attempts and decreased free throw attempts.
Players that are at least as valuable as off-ball scorers and/or are good defensive players do not suffer from these sorts of fluctuations as often and are more likely to benefit from a diversity of offensive talent. Pau Gasol, for example, has been far more effective in LA, where he can focus more on defense (his rebound rate improved significantly) and doesn’t have to force his offense (thus the lower turnover rate and more efficient scoring). Ray Allen, who is just as comfortable (or perhaps more comfortable) catching and shooting as being the number one option, has arguably had four of his top five seasons since joining Boston.
What does all this mean? Well, I think Carmelo has made a case with his hot shooting that he can be effective off the ball. However, is he willing to play that role? Is his friend Chauncey willing and able to facilitate an offense where Carmelo is playing that role? Is our new general manager (or owner) willing to employ a coach who will spread the floor and run pick and roll?
That means the Knicks have to go to their local Kinko’s, and they have to ask the pimple-faced dude behind the counter to print a poster at the largest size that says, “Get a point guard that has the backbone, the will, and the skill to run the offense through Amaré Stoudemire, or else trade him. Deadline: 2/23/12.” Heck, even if you have a secret paper with Chris Paul’s signature across the bottom that says he’s committed to coming to New York, I still think if an offer comes along this summer for a player of equal value to Stoudemire but who makes his living more off defense and/or playing off the ball on offense (say Andrew Bogut or Joakim Noah), that’s a trade that you jump on, especially if a certain coach with a striking resemblance to the Pringles man is no longer employed here.