20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Assessing Carmelo Anthony's Current Level of Play and his Overall Legacy

Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points on Saturday during Portland's 125-121 victory over Minnesota, and he moved past Hakeem Olajuwon into 13th place on the ABA/NBA career regular season scoring list. Anthony added 14 more points to his career total yesterday as Portland lost the rematch with Minnesota, 114-112, and he has now scored 26,971 career regular season points. Minnesota has the worst record in the league (9-30), so a 1-1 split is not great for Portland, a team that has aspirations to make noise in the playoffs.

Often, after a player reaches a statistical milestone one can expect the media to (1) ignore ABA statistics/ABA players and (2) get caught up in the moment and exaggerate the greatness of the player who reached the milestone. 

I have yet to see, read, or hear any coverage about Anthony that mentions the ABA players who remain ahead of him on the all-time scoring list. Three of the top 11 scorers in pro basketball history (Julius Erving, 30,026 points, eighth all-time; Moses Malone, 29,580 points, ninth all-time; Dan Issel, 27,482 points, 11th all-time) played in the ABA, all three of those players are in the Hall of Fame, and two of those players (Erving and Malone) are on the NBA's official 50 Greatest Players List. Erving, Malone, and Issel remain ahead of Anthony on the career scoring list, but the NBA and its media partners pretend that the ABA did not exist and do not officially count the statistics posted by ABA players (just to clarify, Malone officially remains ahead of Anthony even without counting his ABA numbers, which is why Anthony is being touted as the 11th leading scorer now, with Erving and Issel being ignored).

In contrast, the NFL does not pretend that Joe Namath's AFL numbers and accomplishments do not exist; in fact, the league embraces his legacy as the first quarterback to lead an AFL team to a Super Bowl win against an NFL team. The NBA's Orwellian preference to stuff the ABA down the proverbial memory hole is baffling and wrong. 

Anthony's career nearly came to an ignominious end after the Houston Rockets released him early in the 2018-19 season. Anthony did not play again in the NBA until nearly midway through the 2019-20 season, when Portland signed him. Since Anthony came back, we have been fed a narrative about the injustice that supposedly was done to Anthony and about how Anthony has revitalized his career. As is often the case, reality differs significantly from the narrative that we are being fed.

Even during his prime, Anthony did not have an impact on winning commensurate with his reputation. He was a big-time scorer--2013 scoring champion, 14 straight seasons averaging at least 20 ppg--who was not consistently efficient, who was not a great leader, and who was not a great rebounder, passer, or defensive player. Anthony was a productive scorer and he was not afraid to take pressure shots, so he spent most of his career as his team's number one option. After his skills began to decline, his coaches sought to reduce his role or possibly even use him as a sixth man. Anthony publicly mocked the notion that he would be a sixth man, so he had the same fate as other former All-Stars who did not realistically appraise their current capabilities: he ended up out of the league. To Anthony's credit, after a year of being out of the league, he changed his mentality and accepted that in order to return to the NBA he would have to be a third or fourth option and very probably come off of the bench, which is his current role in Portland. The teams that released Anthony were not wrong; Anthony was wrong, but now that he has adopted a more realistic mindset he is able to be a role player.

How well is Anthony playing? If you just listen to the media commentary, you might think that he is having a great season and that he is possibly even a Sixth Man Award candidate (an NBA Radio host said as much this weekend). This season Anthony is averaging 14.2 ppg while shooting .415 from the field (the third worst field goal percentage of his career), including .382 from three point range (better than his career mark of .350). That scoring average is the lowest of Anthony's career (not counting his 10 game "season" before Houston cut him in 2018-19, when he averaged 13.4 ppg). He is averaging a career-low 3.4 rpg and that number is not just a result of reduced minutes; he is averaging a career low in terms of rebounds per minute as well. Anthony's plus/minus number is -2.4. Portland is being outscored by .5 ppg overall, so the team loses ground with Anthony on the court. If you prefer "advanced basketball statistics," this season Anthony has a -1.7 Box Plus/Minus number, ranking sixth on the team. Unless Anthony improves, this would be the fourth straight season that Anthony posts a negative number in this statistic, after posting a negative Box Plus/Minus number only once in his first 14 seasons. 

I do not rely on plus/minus or Box Plus/Minus, but I am citing those numbers to supplement what the eye test reveals to anyone who has watched Anthony with understanding this year. An accurate and unbiased scouting report of Anthony would state that he remains a one dimensional player, a scorer who contributes very little as a rebounder, passer, or defensive player. Anthony does not have the explosive first step that he displayed during his prime. His three point shooting is a little better than it was during his prime. He is still capable of scoring in the post, but he does so less efficiently that he did during his best seasons. 

Anthony is a solid bench player, albeit a bench player with a resume that will likely eventually take him to the Hall of Fame. He has not revived his career so much as he has accepted his limitations and filled the sixth man role without public complaint. He is not the best sixth man in the league, but he is a decent sixth man who--like many other sixth men--is capable of scoring 20-plus points on a given night. If Anthony had accepted his current role three years ago after his skills had fallen off, he would have not bounced around until he ended up out of the league. 

Media members who I respect--most notably, Frank Isola--say that Anthony is a classy person who is always gracious to them. Perhaps that is why Anthony receives so much favorable coverage as his career winds down. I wish Anthony well and it is nice to see him accept his limitations, but appreciating his career and appreciating what he is doing now does not require us to exaggerate his overall accomplishments or his current level of play.

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 10:31 PM



Post a Comment

<< Home