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A Melo journey through years, teams and point guards

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Shudder with horror as I recount some of Carmelo Anthony’s teammates.

Carmelo Anthony attempts to hide from his terrible PGs.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

If you’re like me, you’ve heard about the manifold problems Carmelo Anthony could bring to the Rockets. Apparently adding Anthony at the veterans’ minimum salary might well be the worst thing the Rockets could possibly do. Most point to a bad season in OKC as a sure sign that more bad will inevitably follow Melo to a new team. (Just as it did with Victor Oladipo.)

Many critics point to Anthony’s inefficiency as a scorer, and seem to largely blame him for problems last season in OKC. Perhaps, but former MVP Russell Westbrook has a lower career TS% than Melo. Carmelo was a couple of percentage points below Westbrook’s TS% in 17-18, but it was close.

It’s fairly universal to say it was a bad season for Carmelo. But nobody seems to follow that up. With the exception of a couple of TDS regulars I’ve literally heard no one ask (roughly) “Well, if inefficiency was OKC’s problem, and Anthony is roughly as efficient as Westbrook, he can’t really be The Sole Cause of All the OKC Issues, can he?” The cast of characters there has changed a ton in the past couple of years, with bonafide stars coming and going. But the results? Pretty much the same. Many pundits’ choice for #2 in the West right there, folks, bet accordingly.

Others seem to take a statement or two Anthony has made and use it construct a sort of axiomatic system of rigid behavior.

If Carmelo still views himself as a starting player, star, and former scoring champ, then he can’t possibly set picks, shoot within the offense, or buy into the Rockets defense.

That kind of thing. Because that obviously follows.

I’m not interested in refuting that kind of thing, because it can’t really be done. Observers and critics have built a massive speculative negative case around Anthony, with the only real points of evidence being his high self-regard and career stats. Just how compelling are his last few seasons of stats? I’d say, not especially.

I’m going to attempt to build a speculative positive case over a few articles. Perhaps you won’t find it convincing, but as I went through this exercise I’ve become much more excited about Carmelo joining the Rockets. It could just be “Talking Yourself Into Something Dumb”, but remember, this is some low stakes stuff by NBA standards, given who is really paying Carmelo (i.e. not the Rockets).

I’ve commented that Carmelo has never played with PGs as good as Chris Paul or James Harden. I hadn’t realized until I did this how very right I was.

The TLDR version - the best PG Carmelo has played with is Andre Miller, in years 11+ of Andre’s career, or alternatively, Chauncey Billups, also in years 10+ of his career. Melo last played with a guy of that caliber in 2010. Yes, 2010. James Harden and Chris Paul are each better than either Miller’s or Billups’ peak or average as a PG.

I’ve more or less chosen to give Melo something of a mulligan on 2017, so that lets Westbrook off the hook too, but no measure of PGs, besides raw assist totals, have Russell all that near Harden, let alone Paul, in my view.

As I delve into Carmelo’s career I was struck, painfully, by the rosters around him since leaving Denver. Carmelo entered the NBA as a big SF, one able to bully smaller wings on the block. Now he’s a smallish to normal sized PF. But whatever he is, he’s not a primary ballhandler. He can’t decide, like James Harden, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Damien Lillard or John Wall that this time, this play, he’s just going to bring the ball up and score it. Someone has to pass Carmelo the ball. Every time. Let’s look at who that has been over the years in increasing detail.

2003 - Andre Miller - an actual very good PG in his late prime. He averaged 6.1 AST that season and Carmelo averages 21ppg as a 19 year old rookie.

2004 - Andre Miller - Carmelo and Nene are good for 6.9 AST for Miller. Anthony goes for 20.8ppg.

2005 - Andre Miller - Carmelo really gets cooking at 26.5 ppg and Miller goes for 8.2AST.

2006 - Melo’s last Miller Time - Carmelo averages 28.9ppg, Miller shoots to 9.1 AST, but is traded, because he’s slow, old and sort of annoying, I guess, despite being excellent at his job. Anthony Carter and Steve Blake take on primary PG duties, and hey, Carter goes from a career number around 2.2AST to 5.5 per game, while only playing 5 more minutes. Steve Blake sees his second highest AST total of his career, and the highest with serious minutes, at 6.6. It seems likely that Anthony and George Karl’s offense have something to do with this. Blake and Carter would return to far more usual and pedestrian numbers on other teams.

It’s amazing how the assist and points increases track here.

2007 - Anthony Carter (5.5AST) and Chucky Atkins (2.2) were the primary PGs in Denver in this season from what I can tell. They got to about 7.7AST between them. Melo goes for 25.6, but also logs more AST than Atkins, at 3.4, and pulls down 7.4 boards, with a .568TS%. Denver wins 50 games. I hope those guys sent Melo something nice for his birthday. Consider how many unassisted points Melo is scoring now.

2008 - Denver evidently concluded that Carter and Atkins weren’t enough, and brought in 11 year pro Chauncey Billups, who played 36 minutes and averaged 6.5AST, along with 17.9pts. Denver wins 54 games. A good decision.

2009 Billups (5.6AST) again, with Carter and young Ty Lawson in the mix. Denver wins 53 games. 28.2ppg for Melo at a stunning 33.4% usage.

2010 The Knicks Trade Season and Melo Meets MDA. If anyone remembers this year, Carmelo and his trade demands hung in the air like an especially tenacious fart. In late February of 2011 it finally happened, the Knicks capitulated and got the player of their dreams, and his own. It cost them most of their picks and young talent to do it. Billups and Carter go to New York with Anthony. Ty Lawson stays in Colorado. Melo averages 25.6ppg. Melo and the Knicks go to the playoffs.

2011 This is the lockout season, with 66 games played. The world is exposed to rampant Linsanity. Linsane or no, Baby Jeremy Lin is by far the best Knicks PG out of a cast of: Iman Shumpert (yeah people once thought he might be a PG), the remains of Mike Bibby, the expanding remains of Baron Davis, and Toney Douglas and perhaps some guys from Rucker Park. (New York had young Ray Felton, but he was sent to Denver. Don’t worry, we’ll see Ray again. Billups departed for LA.) New York goes to the playoffs, and Melo scores but 22.6 points per game, his lowest since his second year in the league.

MDA is fired for failure to get along with Melo, coach a team that was largely stripped of talent to get Melo, being annoyed by the whole NY media thing, or something. Mike Woodson takes over, a man who well understands that Superstars Get What They Want. (I predict Woodson’s career will be re-evaluated at some point, with him being recast as some sort of Eisenhower of the NBA; a man who could sometimes keep raging prima donnas on task.)

Jeremy Lin after a lot of talk and no action from NY is poison-pilled away to the Rockets in the offseason.

2012 Carmelo,having an entire team to himself, balls out, consuming an astonishing 36.5% of possessions at a .560TS%. Melo, JR Smith and a cast of (very) well-seasoned veterans drag the Knicks to 54 wins. Melo’s PG is the reacquired Rotund Ray Felton at 5.5AST. The corpse of Jason Kidd in year 18 of his career makes a sepulchral appearance, and Melo scores a career high 28.7.

It’s interesting to note here that the defensive win share +/- for Melo, pre New York, had always been about -1.1ish, with some years being almost neutral. This basically doubled when he went to New York and began what some might describe as a diva act. As Melo also did fairly well at this later on in NY, it could be that he can be average on defense if he tries.

2013 The Pain Begins. James Dolan believes Phil Jackson isn’t just a guy who attached himself to generational talents, he’s a top executive as well. (Spoiler: he’s not.) Ray Felton is back and he’s Ray Felton (and he really seems to stalk Melo), Pablo Prigioni plays 20 minutes a game (at 36). There are guys like Benno Udrih, Chris Smith and Torre Murphy involved at PG as well. Melo scores 27.4 pts a game, plays almost 39 minutes and usages plummets to 32.4%. Knicks win 37 games, and it’s all Mike Woodson’s fault. Who’s the second best player on this team? Andrea Bargnani? Tyson Chandler? JR Smith? 37 wins is going to look mighty good soon.

2014 The Pain Gets Worse. Phil Jackson brings in noted veteran coaching savant Derek Fisher to right the ship that Mike Woodson guided to a despicable 37 wins, despite a roster that might be described as “pitiable”. Jackson and Fisher make it worse immediately. This is a truly awful roster, with JR more or less checking out. Your PGs are Jose Calderon, Langston Galloway, Pablo Prigioni, Shane Larkin and Alexy Shved. The Knicks, under Fisher’s savvy guidance, win 17 games. Melo scores 24.2 on 32% usage and .531 TS%.

2015 Famous Former Lakers Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis wring 32 wins from this team, but the big news is Kristaps Porzingis, an electrifying rookie, and kudos to Phil for that pick. Calderon, Galloway, Jerian Grant and Jimmer Fredette are your PGs. Yes, they really are. Do I even really need to tell you AST totals and PTs at this point? It doesn’t look good, how could it? Look at the roster.

2016 Melo plays a season with Phil Jackson constantly needling him in the press, and feeding his tame writers “scoops” about Melo, suggesting that if Melo really loved New York, he’d leave, or retire, waive the no-trade clause Phil agreed to, or carry Kristaps piggy-back down the court so his legs wouldn’t get tired and broken. Despite Phil’s urging, Melo plays in 74 games. Phil has signed Derek Rose and Joakim Noah to large deals. Carmelo uses 29% of possessions, but Rose tries hard to match him at 26%. How do you think this all went?

Jeff Hornacek gets 31 wins out of this team, largely from Porzingis, Melo and Courtney Lee and the shocking weakness of the Eastern Conference. Melo’s main PGs are Derek Rose and Brandon Jennings. No, really, they are. The Knicks are on their seventh coach in seven years.

2017 Melo capitulates and waives the no-trade clause Phil Jackson gave him, and later berated him for, to go to OKC, instead of Houston, as Knicks management had promised him. Shockingly, forcing Carmelo’s hand at the last minute to trade him to OKC doesn’t work perfectly. PGs are Russell Westbrook, about whom much has been said, and, somehow, Ray Felton. Melo is less efficient than Westbrook, but its close, and he still manages 16pts a game, on 22% usage.

Poll

Could Melo perform better with better PGs and teammates?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Duh.
    (275 votes)
  • 11%
    No, because he’s already been with the undisputed best of everything, in OKC.
    (48 votes)
  • 12%
    There’s only one ball! Wait, what year is it?
    (55 votes)
  • 11%
    If only infant Luka Doncic could have been there with him in 2003. Mavs in three!
    (48 votes)
426 votes total Vote Now