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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Assessing Carmelo Anthony's Legacy

On Monday May 22, Carmelo Anthony officially announced his retirement. Anthony last played in the NBA on April 5, 2022, when he scored 10 points on 3-10 field goal shooting as his L.A. Lakers lost 121-110 to the Phoenix Suns. NBA fans could be forgiven for thinking that Anthony had already retired--but his departure from the game had not yet been made final and official. Anthony ranks 11th on the ABA/NBA career scoring list with 28,289 points, and he ranks 37th on the ABA/NBA career scoring average list (22.5 ppg). He won the 2012-13 scoring title (28.7 ppg), and he averaged a career-high 28.9 ppg in 2006-07, the first of two times that he ranked second in scoring. Anthony ranks 78th on the ABA/NBA playoff career scoring list with 1914 points, and he ranks 40th on the ABA/NBA playoff career scoring average list (23.1 ppg). Anthony participated in the playoffs in 13 of his 19 seasons.

Anthony made the All-Star team 10 times (2007-08, 2010-17). He played for six different franchises (Denver, New York, Oklahoma City, Houston, Portland, L.A. Lakers), and he earned All-Star selections with two of those teams (Denver and New York). Anthony made the All-NBA Second Team twice (2010, 2013), and he made the All-NBA Third Team four times (2006-07, 2009, 2012). He finished in the top five in MVP voting once (third in 2013). Anthony was selected to the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team in 2021.

Anthony never ranked in the top 20 in a season in rebounding, assists, steals, blocked shots, or field goal percentage. His main skill set strength was that he could score from a variety of areas on the court. He was not a plus defender, and he was not close to elite in any skill set area other than scoring. Despite being a post up threat, Anthony never shot better than .492 from the field, and he shot worse than .450 from the field in 13 of his 19 seasons. The versatility that Anthony displayed while leading Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA title as a freshman did not manifest itself during Anthony's long NBA career. 

Anthony spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets before the Nuggets traded him to the New York Knicks near the end of his eighth season (2010-11). Anthony earned seven of his All-Star selections and two of his All-NBA selections as a Knick, but he never led the Knicks past the second round of the playoffs. The Knicks won just one playoff series during Anthony's time with the team, and Anthony's overall playoff series record was 3-13. His teams went 28-55 in the playoffs as he shot .414 from the field.

After the Knicks went 31-51 in the 2016-17 season, they traded Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a draft pick that later was used to select Mitchell Robinson. Anthony averaged a then career-low 16.2 ppg in his one season with the Thunder, who then traded him to the Atlanta Hawks as part of a multi-team deal on July 25, 2018. The Hawks released Anthony five days later, and he then signed with the Houston Rockets as a free agent.

In Carmelo Anthony and the Houston Rockets: Subtraction by Addition, I wrote the following after the Rockets signed Anthony:

Anthony won an NCAA title as a freshman at Syracuse when he was a basketball prodigy who could physically overwhelm less talented players. He won a record three Olympic gold medals as a member of Team USA, but his contributions to those victories have been somewhat overhyped in the mainstream media. I gave Anthony a C- minus grade in my Team USA report card for the 2008 Olympics, noting, "Team USA outscored the opposition by 86 points overall when Anthony was on the court and they outscored the opposition by just 25 points when Anthony was on the court during medal round play. Among the five players I tracked, Anthony is the only one who had a negative on court rating for an entire game--and this happened twice: Angola outscored Team USA 46-42 when Anthony was on the court and in the gold medal game Spain outscored Team USA 49-38 when Anthony was on the court. It is no coincidence that Anthony was not in the game for the last eight minutes of the fourth quarter of the gold medal game; throughout the Olympics, Anthony was often on the bench when Team USA made its best runs and when he was in games during such runs it was generally James, Wade and/or Bryant who shouldered most of the load." Anthony performed similarly during the 2012 Olympics, after which I graded him B- and commented, "Anthony is a shoot first player--in both NBA and FIBA competition--who can rebound when he is so inclined but is indifferent at best defensively. When he shot well he provided instant offense but it is noteworthy that when the score was close he was often on the bench; he scored just eight points on 3-9 field goal shooting versus Spain in the gold medal game as Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul did the heavy lifting." During the 2016 Olympics, Anthony again struggled in the gold medal game, finishing with just seven points on 3-7 field goal shooting.

So, the idea that Anthony is a proven winner based on his championships won at the NCAA and FIBA levels but has just been in bad situations in the NBA is a distortion, to say the least. The NCAA is obviously not nearly as competitive as the NBA, so leading a team to an NCAA title is no guarantee that a player can lead an NBA team to a title. Elite FIBA play is more competitive than NCAA play--but Anthony was a role player for Team USA behind, at various times, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade.

After the Rockets parted ways with Anthony, I wrote an article titled Houston Rockets Abort Ill-Conceived Carmelo Anthony Experiment, and I explained why I was not surprised that Anthony proved to be a poor fit with the Rockets: 

Who could have imagined that Carmelo Anthony would not be a good fit for the Houston Rockets? Only anyone who understands basketball via skill set analysis and informed observation, as opposed to relying on "advanced basketball statistics" or reputation or hype or the endorsements of some of Anthony's NBA buddies (including Chris Paul, who has recently said that Anthony is not just a teammate but rather he is "family").

Carmelo Anthony has demonstrated throughout his NBA career that he is a poor leader--he has enjoyed his best individual and team success when paired with one or more stronger personalities who ran the locker room--and that he has a limited skill set: at his best, he was a very potent one on one scorer from certain areas of the court, but he has always been a poor defender, a reluctant passer and an inconsistent rebounder who is more interested in offensive rebounding than defensive rebounding. None of the above factors suggests that Anthony in his prime could be the best player on an NBA championship team, and those issues have been compounded in recent seasons by the undeniable fact that Anthony retains unrealistic beliefs about his current capabilities even as his one dimensional skill set displays continuous, significant decline.

The above paragraph is what an "old school" scouting report summary of Anthony's game would look like. In my 2018-19 Western Conference Preview, I wrote, "Anthony has a career-long pattern of rarely advancing very far in the playoffs; he is a shoot-first (and second and third) player whose efficiency is declining and whose willingness/ability to contribute in other areas decreases each year. Even if they had stood pat, the Rockets would probably not have won 65 games again; that was an aberration and they are due to regress to the mean. Adding Anthony, though, will probably subtract about 10 wins, while also making this team a less potent playoff force."

The Rockets started the season 4-6 as Anthony averaged career-lows in scoring (13.4 ppg), free throw percentage (.682), assists (.5 apg) and steals (.4 spg) while shooting just a bit above his career low field goal percentage of .404 from last season (.405 this season). The supposed immense challenge of playing alongside Russell Westbrook was the excuse widely provided for the failure of the Carmelo Anthony experiment in Oklahoma City last season, even though last season just continued the steady downward statistical progression that Anthony has suffered for several seasons. This season in Houston would be different, we were sagely informed, because James Harden and Chris Paul would be willing and able to get the ball to Anthony where he can be most effective. Left out of that "analysis," however, was an answer to the obvious question: Where, exactly, is an over the hill, step slow, one dimensional gunner "most effective"?

This is just one illustration of the difference between Real Basketball Analytics and what often is portrayed as basketball analytics. If you have watched Anthony play throughout his career and if you understand basketball then you can see that even Anthony in his prime probably would not have been a great fit for Mike D'Antoni's offense that is predicated on the point guard monopolizing the ball and everyone else being ready to shoot when/if the point guard passes the ball; prime Anthony was at his best when he could go one on one but that is not an option for forwards in D'Antoni's offense.
On January 22, 2019, the Rockets traded Anthony to the Chicago Bulls, who waived Anthony on February 1, 2019. Anthony was out of the NBA until Portland signed him on November 19, 2019. Anthony averaged 15.4 ppg in 58 games with Portland during the 2019-20 season. He stayed with Portland for the 2020-21 season as a bench player, averaging 13.4 ppg.

In a March 15, 2021 article titled Assessing Carmelo Anthony's Current Level of Play and his Overall Legacy, I summarized Anthony's career:

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.

Nothing that Anthony did with the Lakers in the final season of his career (2021-22) altered the above assessment; he averaged 13.3 ppg as a bench player for the Lakers.

Based on his NCAA title and FIBA resume alone Anthony would be inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame even without considering his 19 year NBA career, but it is more than a slight stretch to rank him as one of the top 75 NBA players of all-time or to anoint him as the best player in Nuggets history: the latter list was topped for a long time by Alex English, who in recent years has been surpassed by two-time regular season MVP Nikola Jokic. I would also rank David Thompson ahead of Anthony on the all-time Nuggets list. 

In terms of both skill set and accomplishments, Anthony ranks well behind the premier forwards of his era, including LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Jayson Tatum, and Jimmy Butler.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:41 AM



At Wednesday, May 31, 2023 10:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scoring remains by far the best skill to have in basketball though. And that's why Anthony was for most of his career and usually easily the best player on his teams. Anthony could score from everywhere on the court, including getting to the line often and shooting at a good FT %. Being the best player on your team for almost 15 years and scoring 20ppg+ for 14 straight seasons is quite impressive. He's probably barely in the top 75, but hard to not put him in there. 11th all-time in scoring. His 10 AS selections are a tie for 36th all-time.

At Wednesday, May 31, 2023 1:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Scoring is important but championship teams defend and rebound at a high level. Anthony did not add much value in those areas, and he was not a good leader.

I explained in detail in my 75th Anniversary Team article why I did not include Anthony in my 75 Greatest Players List.

At Wednesday, May 31, 2023 1:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Anthony even one of the five greatest Nuggets? If he was not better than English or Thompson, was he better than Dan Issel? Dikembe Mutombo? Kiki Vandeweghe? He was certainly not better than Jokic. Was he even better than Murray?

It will seem preposterous at first to ask but are we sure that his scoring is more valuable than the defense provided by a Bobby Jones or Marcus Camby? Or the defense + playmaking of a Fat Lever?

At Wednesday, May 31, 2023 5:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I would take Issel, Jones, and Lever over Anthony. Issel was just as good at scoring, was a better rebounder, and was a better leader/teammate. Jones played both ends of the court at a high level. Lever was an excellent point guard who was a triple double threat.

Mutombo and Camby were defensive specialists who could not take a team very far without being surrounded by players who can score. They are better team guys than Anthony, but their value would be minimized if they were on a bad team that could not score. A scorer like Anthony could lift a mediocre team more than they could, but Anthony could not lead a team to a title (nor could Mutombo or Camby).

Murray has been hit with injuries and yet to reach his prime, so I would not rank him ahead of Anthony yet.

At Wednesday, May 31, 2023 6:12:00 PM, Anonymous TR said...

I’ll always wonder what Carmelo would have looked like on my hometown Pistons, had they not taken Darko Milicic before him in the 2003 Draft: veterans there to keep his ego in check, playing a sixth-man, instant-points-off-the-bench role. Carmelo’s footwork and midrange game were marvelous and they will be my favorite memory of him.

But like your post indicates, David, I don’t think he had the vitamins and minerals to be the best player on a great team - which would be fine, except he didn’t realize that until it was too late. The way he forced his way out of Denver, his refusal to truly lead in New York, and the way he hopscotched around the league for the last few years of his career will be in my biggest memories of Carmelo. What a shame!

At Wednesday, May 31, 2023 8:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Anthony would have benefited greatly from starting his NBA career surrounded by veteran players who could have helped him understand how to be a winning player.

At Wednesday, May 31, 2023 9:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always thought that in another life, Anthony could have been the GOAT sixth-man. That's what his skills really catered for, to come off the bench, quickly push the lead/erase a gap by 10 points, force oppositions to bring their starters back on and wear them out. The same kind of way Quin Snyder used Jordan Clarkson in Utah when Clarkson won 6MOTY (Clarkson also not being a great defender or rebounder).

Of course, basketball has a lot of big egos, and the sixth-man role doesn't really get the respect it deserves despite excellent players like Havlicek, Kukoc, McHale, Ramsey etc making winning impacts in the role. Bit of a shame really, as I think in a sixth-man role Anthony's skills could have really contributed to team success.

At Thursday, June 01, 2023 10:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Anthony had the skill set but not the mentality to be a great sixth man. He had to be forced to accept that role in his declining years, and he would not have accepted the role during his prime years.


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