The Carmelo Anthony Myth


Overall the Internet is a good thing for basketball fans.  It allows us to stay connected to, not only the game, but to each other, allowing discussion and dissection at levels that were virtually impossible before online chats, forums, blogs, and YouTube highlights were available.

But as with most things, with the good, so comes the bad.

The dark side of the Internet for not only basketball, but all sports, is that we tend to over analyze things on a game by game basis. This access often forces us into a mentality where we only remember/accept/put stock into what we have seen most recently.  Part of that mentality is the tendency for certain opinions on a player to grow and grow until they are either greatly exaggerated, or just completely unfounded.  This is something we see constantly with Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, and scores of other players.

You remember when people picked apart Lebron’s game and decided he was not clutch?  Yeah, that seems pretty ridiculous now doesn’t it? Unfortunately these types of hardline mindsets have taken hold over every nook and cranny of the virtual NBA world.  You are either collectively loved or scorned, there is rarely an in between.

Last week, when the next generation of basketball stars tipped off at the United center in Chicago, I couldn’t help but think how long it would be before the high praise for Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle turns into scorn? Right now we see the positive parts of these young players’ games, but in a few years, after we have collectively made up our minds about how we think they should play, we will look at these young talents very differently.

Bill Simmons calls this his 90% theory.  What Simmons means is that with certain players (Russell Westbrook, Carmelo anthony, Josh Smith, and Dwight Howard all being great examples) we tend to overlook the fact that 90% of what they do is beyond exceptional and makes them some of the games best players.  Instead, we shift our focus to the 10% we do not lik, and over analyze these negatives until the point we are convinced that Lebron is not clutch, or Dwight Howard is not someone you would want on your team.  In Carmelo’s case, take your pick – he doesn’t pass enough (false), he’s a terrible defender (false), and, of course, he doesn’t rebound (glaringly false).

Often other players’ shortcomings are overlooked, since we usually decide right away who we like, and who we do not like.  For example, outside of the realm of NBA nerds you rarely hear talk about how awful James Harden or Kyrie Irving are on defense, perhaps this is because they are young and we have not yet had the time to focus on the warts of their games… or maybe we just like these guys.  How many times have you heard that Carmelo is not a “winner” because he hasn’t had a lot of playoff success? Probably a lot.  In reality, Carmelo took a team to the Western Conference Finals and has been past round one three times in his career.  I’m not saying Carmelo should be praised for this, but how many times have you heard it mentioned that Chris Paul (who we’ve decided we love) has NEVER taken a team past the second round- ever.  You don’t, and if you are following this article you understand why I believe that is.

Just like we do with celebrities, we decide what athletes are good and bad.  Eventually, we reach a point where there is literally nothing Lindsey Lohan can do that would have you not think she’s a total train wreck.  Of course, in Lindsey’s case a lot of the criticism is warranted, but not nearly to the level we like to pile it on.

Which finally brings us to the Carmelo Anthony myth.

Much in the way Rudy Gay was last years NBA whipping boy, Carmelo Anthony has filled that role for many NBA fans for a long time.

But why?

Is it really true that Carmelo will never win?  I mean how do we know this?  Who makes these decisions?

A few short years ago, you could have said the same things about Paul Pierce before he got the help he needed.  You also could’ve said the same about Dirk Nowitzki, as many did.  Kevin Garnett was older than Carmelo when he left Minnesota, and at that time, the perception of KG was that he couldn’t win in the playoffs.  Seems ridiculous from where I’m standing now. And let’s not forget that LeBron didn’t have what it takes to win, until he rattled off back-to-back titles and now has his sights on a third.

Lets start with Carmelo’s defense, and why the perception surrounding his play defensive game has reached a toxic level, which makes it almost impossible for the collective viewing public to see the truth.

A lot of the success a team or player will have on the defensive side of the ball comes down to effort.  While it might sound easy to go all out on every possession, it’s clearly not.  There’s a reason the best defensive teams in the league are sub-par offensive groups (Bulls, Pacers).  It’s not because these teams cannot score, it’s because so much energy is being used at one end of the floor.  As simple as that may sound, it is absolutely true. Only the truly exceptional teams (usually NBA champions) can play at a consistently elite level on both sides of the ball.

Analyzing defense has always been a tricky thing to do.  This is why so often we simply believe what we are told.  Similar to offensive lineman in football, not many of us focus in on these battles taking places in the trenches.  We hear enough people say that player X is the best center or left guard in the NFL, and we accept it.

This is very similar to the ways in which most of us view NBA defense.

Sure with some players it’s easy to see.  When Anthony Davis or Roy Hibbert are blocking 5+ shots a games, the impact is easy to see with the naked eye, however for most players it is not.

This does not only apply to the viewing public, but also to these who are supposed to be in the know, evidenced by Kobe Bryant making First Team All-NBA Defense during the 2011-2012 season.  Before I get a flaming bag of dog poop left on my doorstep by Laker fans, let me be clear: Kobe has been an elite perimeter defender in his career.  Currently, he’s not even close.  Some of this might be due to age, but most likely it is due to the fact that the Lakers were lacking talent, and Kobe was forced to shoulder the load for LA.  This led the Black Mamba to have one of his best offensive seasons as a pro, but anyone watching will tell you that Kobe wasn’t only horrible on defense that year, he hardly (I use hardly very generously) even tried.  But when all was said and done Kobe was a first team all NBA defensive pick simply because we were always led to believe he belonged there.

Sorry for straying from Carmelo there, but this is all related.  Perception is everything in the NBA, and the widely accepted perception on Carmelo Anthony has forever been that he does not play defense.

Lucky for us, modern NBA analysis allows us to view the game in ways we never could in the past.  Advanced stats, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, are making it easy for us to quantify a players value in any given area, where in the past we were mostly reliant on the eye test.  This is not to say that the eye test is not still extremely important, because it is.  I am simply saying that the stats available today make it easier for us to reinforce these points.

One of my favorite stats that has come to light over recent years is offensive and defensive rating.  These stats will tell us how many points a team or player produces per 100 possessions, or on the defensive side of the ball, how many points are allowed per 100 possessions.  Pretty straight forward, right?

Currently Carmelo Anthony has a Defensive Rating of 101.7, meaning that for every 100 possessions Carmelo Anthony is on the court, opposing teams score an average of 101.7 points.  The league average is 103.1.  That might not sound like a big difference, but it is.

Here’s a list of just a few players Carmelo Anthony is ahead of in Defensive Rating:

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis, Avery Bradley, Iman Shumpert, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, John Wall, and believe me when I say the list goes on and on and on.

And with the exception of LeBron, Howard, and Wade, Carmelo was ahead of all these players last year as well.

Now believe me, I am not trying to say that Carmelo is an elite defender, because he’s not.  I’m simply stating the facts, which are that Melo is not even close to being the terrible defensive player he is made out to be.  Actually he is slightly above average.  Of course this myth could be dispelled by people actually watching a game and digesting what they see, but that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it?

Another common misconception surrounding Carmelo Anthony is that he is not a good rebounder — an idea that has always left me puzzled.

Once again, we will go to the numbers, seeing as it’s nice to deal in facts.  Another one of the stats that modern player tracking is allowing us to capture is rebounding percentage.  For those who are unaware, rebounding percentage is the percentage of total rebounds a player obtains while he is on the floor.  Once again, pretty simple, no secret formulas here.

Carmelo Anthony is currently averaging 9.5 rebounds per game, so to even have to go to the numbers seems a bit ridiculous, but as many of you know, ‘Melo haters are unrelenting, which is why I’m here to arm you with unquestionable facts.

Anthony’s current rebound percentage is 13.7%, which puts him above players such as LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Kevin Durant, Anderson Varejao, Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh, Marc Gasol, JaVale McGee, Kawhi Leonard, Brook Lopez, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul George.

Once again, while Melo is certainly no Dennis Rodman, he is a very good rebounder, and should be recognized as such.

I considered tackling the arguments made against Carmelo being an efficient player, but as with most of these critiques, the truth is so obvious, and so easily obtainable, that I do not even feel the need to address this other than to say that for a high volume shooter Carmelo’s shooting percentage of 45% from last season (right in line with his career average) is higher than most of the players the general public chooses to praise.  Last season Carmelo has a significantly higher shooting percentage than James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, John Wall, Kevin Love, and once again Paul George.

But rarely, if ever, do we hear about any of those players inefficiencies, with the exception of maybe Russell Westbrook, who for whatever reason the Internet has also chose to hate.

As I mentioned previously, I am not making the case that Carmelo Anthony is a perfect player – he is not.  He is though, one of the games best talents, and should be recognized as such.  Because of the ever swirling news cycle, where we hand out hall of fame plaques on a per game basis, this has gotten lost on Carmelo, leading many NBA fans to brush aside the 90% of Carmelo’s game that makes him one of the most dominant forces in the league, and only focus on the few negative aspects that further the collective agenda against him.

For anyone who has chooses to line up on the anti-Melo side I’ll say this.

Basketball is just a game.

It is not here to cure disease, or end world poverty.  It is here to entertain us. Period.

So sit back, and enjoy one of the greatest basketball players in the world while you still can.  Because up until this point, many of you out there have chosen to ignore him.