High volume scorers are the most visible players on the court. Frequently having the ball in their hands and with a bevvy of moves at their command, they are often at the center of the fans’ focus. Even though playing good defense, rebounding, or setting a good pick requires timing, intricate footwork, and body positioning, they are often attributed to desire. Whereas scoring is commonly thought to be the major measure of skill for a basketball player. But high visibility doesn’t necessarily translate into productivity, especially for the scorer who lacks a well-rounded game. For years basketball statisticians have tried to quantify the volume scorer’s effect on a team, without any definitive conclusion.
A few months ago, former baseball-prospectus statistician and political polling guru Nate Silver attempted to answer that question with regards to the Denver Nugget’s Carmelo Anthony. Using +/- data, Silver concluded that Anthony has “made his teammates much more efficient offensive players” and that “upon a more careful examination, the argument that Anthony is a merely average offensive player turns out to be superficial.”
Anthony has played with his current teammates for over a month now, and I thought I’d check out how this effect has translated to New York. The table below shows seven Knicks, and their stats pre-Melo compared to today.
|Roger Mason Jr.||1.8||11.3||8.3||47.8||6.5||36.5|
If we discard Mason’s tremendous improvement due to small sample size (he only played 82 minutes prior to the deal), then nearly every Knick has seen a decline in scoring productivity since Carmelo’s arrival. Only Toney Douglas has apparently reaped the rewards of a ‘Melo-centric offense. But like Mason, Douglas’ early season stats seemed to be below his capabilities, some of it due to a shoulder injury. Meanwhile Amar’e Stoudemire, Landry Fields, Shawne Williams, Ronny Turiaf, and Bill Walker have all been less efficient since #7 was inserted into the lineup.
In the case of “high volume scorers make their teammates better” versus “high volume scorers ruin the flow of the offense with their greed”, is this a definitive answer? No. There are a host of reasons to explain these numbers in the context of the former hypothesis. Perhaps a +/- inspection, or waiting to accumulate more data might reveal a positive ‘Melo-effect on the rest of the Knicks. Although the New York offense has gotten better (from 109.8 to 110.4 pts/100 poss) since making the deal, that doesn’t address the specific matter of Carmelo making his teammates better. And from the evidence at hand it appears that the theory of a great scorer opens up opportunities for his teammates is overstated.