Carmelo Through the Years

Historically, statistics suggest Carmelo Anthony has not always impeded ball movement or prevented offensive flow. Over the course of his eight-year career, Anthony has primarily played with three point guards – Andre Miller, Allen Iverson, and Chauncey Billups. When Melo is paired with a point guard able to control the offense, the numbers prove he is not simply a stop-and-hold isolation player.

In Carmelo’s Rookie year (03-04), with Miller running the point, the Nuggets finished 9th in the league in assists per game. ‘Dre averaged 8.5 assists per 48 minutes – not a stellar number, but a solid one.  60% of the Nuggets FG’s were assisted, a number that held true regardless of whether or not Anthony was on the floor. In total, 55% of his baskets were assisted. The offense wasn’t just dumping it off and watching, but rather finding him in easy-to-score situations. Additionally, Anthony averaged 4asts/48 – an excellent number for a “shoot-first” rookie.

The Nuggets only improved in Anthony’s next two years, finishing second and third in the league in assists, respectively, with Miller averaging 10asts/48min. Even more impressive, 63% of Carmelo’s makes were off assists, including 64% of his jumpers. Clearly, he was not solely settling for contested shots. It helped tremendously, though, to have a pass-first guard orchestrating the offense, allowing Anthony to play to his strengths: getting position and scoring.

When “The Answer” (a true shoot-first guard) took over the reins on offense in 2006, Anthony only improved his contribution, averaging 5asts/48min and when he was on the floor. Meanwhile, 62% of the Nuggets FG’s were assisted – while off, this number dropped to 57%. Anthony, it should be noted, had a stellar offensive season, averaging 29ppg.

With Chauncey Billups at the helm in 2008-2010, the Nuggets fell to 18th in the league in assists. Billups averaged under 8 assists per 48 minutes (the lowest of any PG Anthony had played with, including Iverson), and thus Melo’s isolation habits began to show. 64% of his FGA’s were jumpers, as opposed to his usual number somewhere in the mid 50s.  Even more shocking, his scoring was only assisted 42% of the time, a far-cry from the 60% he was used to.

This year, playing without any semblance of a point guard thus far, Carmelo’s stats paint an ugly picture: Only 30% of his FG’s have been assisted, and his 42 eFG% similarly marks a career low. A whopping 77% of his shots have been jumpers – a 20% increase over years past — while a mere 1% have been dunks. Currently, the Knicks are 20th in the league in assists. Needless to say, however, it seems as though help has finally arrived.

In terms of guards, Anthony will soon be playing with arguably the best pure passer he’s ever called a teammate in Jeremy Lin, with the second year Harvard man averaging 14asts/48. As such, the perennial All-Star won’t be forced into point-guard duties – as he was for much of this season’s first stretch – and the ball movement won’t start with him. Now, Melo’s main concern will be moving without the ball, running the pick and roll, finding open spaces, and finishing at the rim.

Jeremy Lin has proven he will reward hustle and persistence.  Statistics prove Carmelo performed well in an up-tempo, fluid offense in Denver. Since his pairing with Billups, the isolations have drastically increased. Now, with a smart, young point guard, it’s time to prove everyone wrong.

Nuggets 120, Knicks 118

To be honest, if before the season started I had known that the Knicks would drop this game, I wouldn’t have been too upset. The Nuggets have been a quality team for a number of seasons, and losing to them on the road would be no great problem. The problem is that I likely would have assumed that the Knicks entered the game with a better record than the 3-7 they sported as they entered the Pepsi Center this evening, a record made even more excruciating by the manner in which the Knicks have lost. Tonight’s loss was the Knicks’ fifth by five points or less, which doesn’t include the 21 pt blown lead in the game against Minnesota. The team is proving that it is good enough to make the game close, but also that they are still that play or two away from getting over the hump. Down by eleven points with just over six minutes left, the Knicks made up the difference in three minutes to tie the game at 109. From that point on, however, the Knicks missed six of their last nine shots, with only a Raymond Felton(19 pts 11 ast) three-pointer with one second left bringing the margin back to within two points. Quick thoughts from the box score:

  • If there was a positive to be taken away from tonight’s game, it was the continued emergence of Landry Fields into a bona fide starting guard in the NBA. Count me as among the optimists when it comes to Fields- he’s displayed an excellent ability to drive past his defender and finish at the rim, and his numbers tonight (21 pts on 15 fga and 17 reb) back up the data from the season thus far. Fields is an efficient scorer whom I’d love to see given more opportunities to display his previously-questioned-now-undeniable athleticism.
  • And the loser tonight? That distinction must belong to Roger Mason Jr., who managed an astonishing +/- of -11 in only six minutes of playing time. Mason looks nothing like the shooting guard who fearlessly fired three-pointers on San Antonio Squads earlier in the decade. His minutes could almost certainly be better divvied up between Fields and Bill Walker, giving Mason a nice seat next to Eddy Curry.
  • On the Nuggets side, rumored Knick-to-be Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points, requiring 21 shots to do so and turning the ball over five times. I leave it to you to decide if you’d be excited to trade for him.
  • Wilson Chandler contributed five blocked shots, keeping his average at an incredible 2.3 per game and putting him in the top ten in blocks per game in the NBA this season. Those critical of Ill Will’s efficiency may have been pleasantly surprised by his 23 points on 16 attempts, although one would like to see him corral more than one rebound.
  • Finally, Gallo’s shooting woes continued (6-19), though he did shoot 7-8 from the stripe to give him 21 pts.

All in all, the loss tonight puts pressure on the Knicks to take a game from the Kings in Arco Arena this Wednesday. If the Knicks are to truly be considered a playoff team in the East, it’s the type of game they need to win, not only to add a W to the win-loss column, but also to stop what is now a six-game losing streak.

Denver Win, The Good Side of Rebuilding

Tuesday’s victory over Denver was one the bright moments for Knick fans this year. Against one of the league’s best teams, New York kept it close for most of the game. They broke open a third quarter lead only to relinquish it in the fourth. But down the final stretch the Knicks held on to the lead for the victory. They even had a few calls go their way, including a David Lee charge that would have been his sixth foul, but was surprisingly reversed. And their most promising young player, Danilo Gallinari, held his own against one of the league’s premiere forwards. Gallo scored 28 points on 19 shots, and was eager to defend against Carmelo Anthony.

But what made this win even more enjoyable was that it was done on the backs of the Knicks fledglings. In the Denver game, more than half of the total minutes (129 of 240) went to players under the age of 25. The cliche is that fans don’t want to see their team rebuild, or even more strongly that you can’t rebuild in New York. However if rebuilding is what we’ve seen over the last few games, then what’s not to like?

Over the last 9 games, the Knick youngsters of Toney Douglas, Danilo Gallinari, Bill Walker, and J.R. Giddens has been given more playing time by D’Antoni. Douglas has hit 22 minutes in all those games, and started in the last 6. Gallo’s role has expanded and he’s played in 40+ minutes in 5 of those 9 games. Walker started in 4 games, while his ex-Boston teammate J.R. Giddens has played in all 4 games since coming back from injury. Three big questions from the preseason was: A. Could Gallo survive playing a big dosage of minutes? B. Could Toney Douglas become an NBA caliber rotation player? C. Could the Knicks find inexpensive talent for next year? From the results of the last 3 weeks, the answer seems to be yes on all accounts.

The Knicks have been winning during this rebuilding phase, as New York in 5-4 in this stretch. Having their young and inexperienced players do well with extended playing time gives Knick fans hope that these guys can form a solid supporting cast around whoever the team grabs in free agency this year. Winning is just the icing on the cake.

Knicks 125 Nuggets 128

From my perspective I don’t expect for there to be a lot of change in the end of games until the lineup changes. Again Chris Duhon, Hughes, and Harrington were among the top minute getters (along with Chandler). Again Harrington had a lot of points, but failed to get his teammates involved. Again Robinson played well without getting many minutes (36 minutes total). Toney Douglas spent the whole game on the bench, while Jared Jeffries saw 21 minutes of court time.

After tonight’s game, my wife asked “the Knicks seem to be losing a lot of close games, isn’t that a good sign?” I replied “good teams win a lot of blowouts, bad teams lose a lot of close games.” Perhaps this is just an extension of the “Guts and Stomps” theory, but I think it applies to tonight’s game. The Knicks had a last second opportunity to tie the game, but the refs didn’t call a foul on a Larry Hughes three point attempt. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it was the right call, because there would have been a lot of “ifs” for the Knicks to actually win this game. If the refs make the call, if Hughes hits all three free throws, and if the Knicks win in overtime. In other words, it’s more likely that the Knicks lose than win.

2010 Poll: Who Will Win the West?

Los Angeles Lakers (Vegas odds to win title: 5:2)
Unlike the East, the West has one clear favorite. Since trading for Pau Gasol, the Lakers have appeared in two straight Finals winning it all last year. Not content to let it ride, Los Angeles upgraded from Trevor Ariza to Ron Artest. This would be a gamble for most teams considering the Queensbridge native’s history, but Phil Jackson has always been able to keep individual personalities from ruining a team.

San Antonio Spurs (6:1)
In an attempt to keep up with the Lakers, the Spurs bolstered their roster in the off season. San Antonio added Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess which should give them a stronger rotation. But ultimately the Spurs will only go as far as their top 3. Last year the team suffered injuries to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and if they lose either of them (or Tony Parker) they’ll fall short of any title hopes.

Denver Nuggets (8:1)
The conventional wisdom is that teams that finish strong are likely to have a momentum that continues to the next season. This seems logical since many great teams go through phases of success before winning a title. However there’s little evidence to support that claim, and many teams just get lucky in a playoff series. The 2009 Denver Nuggets will probably avoid the fate of the 2007 Warriors or the 2008 Hornets, as they are likely to see the second round in 2010. However I think Vegas is way too kind to their odds, and I would bet against them to make the Western Conference Finals, nevertheless win a championship.

Last year per-minute stud Chris Andersen had a monstrous playoffs, however over the last 3 years each of the Denver bigs (Andersen, Nene, and Martin) has missed nearly the whole year due to injury. And while the other teams in the conference improved this summer Denver merely tread water, losing Kleiza and adding Ty Lawson. Unless they get another playoff boost from a great per-minute shot blocking/rebounder buried on the bench, they’re not likely going to be able to compete against the Lakers for Western supremacy.

The Field (starting at 10:1)
According to Vegas, the Trailblazers rank 6th in the West, however Portland deserves a higher ranking. They had the West’s second highest expected winning percentage last year (68.4%), which correlates well with winning percentage the year after. Portland also had the NBA’s best offense powered by their fantastic rebounding. The Blazers return with their rotation in tact plus Andre Miller. Although not the ideal fit for the team, Miller provides an upgrade over Bayless & Blake. They’re much better than their 12:1 odds would indicate.

Ahead of Portland are Dallas and Utah at 10:1. The Mavericks added Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, and Tim Thomas. Marion’s production slipped in Miami and Toronto, and Dallas is hoping that their offensive scheme will better fit his talents. Meanwhile the Jazz matched the offer sheet for Paul Millsap, and are hoping that they can collectively stay healthy. Finally the New Orleans Hornets swapped Chandler for Emeka Okafor, which could make them relevant in the West again.


Cleveland Down 3 to 1

With the Cavaliers down 3 to 1 to the Orlando Magic, now seems like a good time to look at the numbers to see what’s going on.

ORL 1.0 107.0 89.9 119.0 60.9 14.5 17.8 15.4
CLE 1.0 106.0 93.6 113.2 53.4 8.5 19.0 13.6
ORL 2.0 95.0 87.2 108.9 54.9 13.8 14.6 23.9
CLE 2.0 96.0 93.2 103.0 48.7 15.0 18.2 27.3
CLE 3.0 89.0 96.3 92.4 40.4 15.6 20.4 33.3
ORL 3.0 99.0 90.5 109.4 47.6 14.4 15.4 61.9
CLE 4.0 114.0 108.7 104.8 48.3 12.9 13.0 34.5
ORL 4.0 116.0 99.0 117.1 60.6 15.1 8.3 23.8
ORL TOT 417.0 366.4 113.8 56.5 14.5 14.0 29.8
CLE TOT 405.0 392.1 103.3 47.9 13.0 17.5 27.0

The overwhelming factor in this series is the discrepancy in shooting percentage. The Magic have won the eFG battle in every game, and for those familiar with four factor analysis know that shooting is by far the important element. And just like in the Nuggets/Lakers game you have to be really good to overcome such a deficit. Cleveland’s only victory (game 2) coincided with the smallest difference in shooting (-6.2% eFG), and they were superior in rebounding and free throws.

The Magic’s eFG during the season was 52.0%, and they’re averaging a more robust 56.5% against Cleveland. Meanwhile they are holding the Cavs to 47.9%. In fact Cleveland has only bested their regular season average of 51.9% once (Game 1). So Orlando is getting it done on both ends of the floor. If Cleveland is looking for a scapegoat, they can point the finger at their backcourt. Mo Williams is shooting a paltry 36.6% (23-71, 6 3PM), while Delonte West’s eFG is a mediocre 48.9% (20-46, 5 3PM). LeBron James (55% eFG, 56-110, 9 3PM) will need more help from the pair if he’s going to dig his team out of a 3-1 hole.

Lakers, Nuggets, and Four Factors

Last night I was unable to watch Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Although the best way to analyze a game is to watch it and then compare the visual with the statistical results, sometimes that isn’t possible. For instance nobody watches all 1,312 regular season games, so everyone tends to rely on statistics to fill in the blanks. Of course it’s important to know which stats to use to best understand the action. When looking at the team level, there’s nothing better than the four factors. So I decided to calculate them for last night’s game.

TEAM | PTS | POSS |   OE  |  eFG |  TO  | OREB |  FT
DEN  | 106 | 94.9 | 111.7 | 48.7 | 14.8 | 27.5 | 36.7
LAL  | 103 | 95.5 | 107.8 | 49.4 | 16.7 | 25.5 | 35.1

I don’t know the exact number, but I recall crunching the numbers over the course of the season and found that in a majority (around 90%) of NBA games, the team that has the advantage in eFG ends up winning. So it was a bit surprising that the Lakers lost despite the shooting edge. This is likely due to Denver shooting almost as well (less than 1% difference) and winning all the other categories. The Nuggets turned the ball over slightly less, hit the boards better, and did slightly better from the free throw line.

Looking at the play-by-play illustrates how this minor advantage gave the Nuggets the win. With 5 minutes to go the score was tied at 95, but down the stretch Denver won in offensive rebounds (1 vs. 0) and free throws (7-8 vs. 3-6) while staying even in turnovers (2 vs. 2). While some games are won with the dramatic shot, sometimes it’s the little things that propels a team to victory.