Where in the World Is Carmelo Anthony?

Back in his prime, Carmelo Anthony was a 25 points per game scorer, and even with his steep decline the previous several seasons, he still boasts a career average of an even 24 points per game. Those days are obviously long gone, but many argue he should still be sought after by an NBA franchise. I’m unsure why people believe he can still contribute, other than a sense of nostalgia for a former star, or a sense of brotherhood amongst NBA players1, but it was obvious in his last two seasons with two different franchises that he cannot make much of an impact on the outcome of a game anymore.

In 10 games with the Rockets last season, Anthony scored a career-low 13.4 points per game, on a career-low 12.1 shot attempts per game, yet somehow only shot .1% better than he did as a full-time starter for the Thunder in 2017-18. That’s abysmal, especially when he also had a career-low in assists per game with 0.5, as well as shot 32.8% from behind-the-arc on a career-high 6.4 three-point attempts per game. He’s only shot above 37% from behind-the-arc in four seasons, and only two of them came when he attempted five or more three-point attempts per game, so he’s already putting himself at a disadvantage in today’s NBA by having an unreliable three-point shot. I am aware people will overlook that putrid stat line by pointing to the three games that were obviously outliers during his short stint as a member of the Rockets, so let’s actually take a deeper look into those games.

Two of these three games featured him coming off the bench, where many argue he would be best utilized. One of them came as a starter, which made some fans hopeful he could still start in the NBA, but his follow-up performance saw him go 2-for-12 from the field, including going 0-for-2 from behind-the-arc, as well as zero assists and a measly eight points, and that’s before we factor in the fact the Rockets lost that game by 19 to the Portland Trail Blazers. The two games preceding this one, as well as the one succeeding this game, are the three games people point to when making a case for Anthony, so I’ll focus on those instead. In all three of these games, Anthony scored over 20 points, but yet, they only won one of those games.

First, we’ll discuss the game at the Utah Jazz, where Anthony had a stat line of 22 points on 9-for-17 from the field, however, he could’ve actually had a higher shooting percentage had he not gone 3-for-8 from behind-the-arc, once again proving his weakness from scoring in that area of the court. In addition to those rather impressive scoring numbers, he chipped in with an additional two assists and seven rebounds, so the fact that the Rockets lost this game by 11 is more on the fact that James Harden had a usage rating of 42% in this game, not to mention a higher defensive rating than an offensive rating, which is just inexcusable for him. The game after that would be Anthony’s first start for the Rockets, and the Clippers reacted accordingly by running whoever was the intended scorer against Anthony. The previous game gave Anthony a plus/minus of -5, not bad when the Rockets lose by 11 and Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker had plus/minus’s of -18 and -10 respectively, but against the Clippers, that number would balloon up to -17, and give him a defensive rating of 130, compared to an offensive rating of 131.

Advanced stats and something as simple as a plus/minus shouldn’t be the be-all-end-all for how valuable a player is, but when taking a simple look under the microscope, they can often help paint a picture of what a player is doing on the court. In his first of two starts for the Rockets, Anthony was simply putting up empty scoring numbers largely put together by Chris Paul. His decent 8-for-18 shooting was largely a product of him going 6-for-10 behind-the-arc, something he would nearly repeat two games later in the final game used as an example of Anthony’s ability to contribute meaningful basketball. He went 6-for-9 from behind-the-arc against the Nets in the only win the Rockets had during this small sample size, but once again, this was largely the result of Chris Paul. His eight assists against the Clippers and 11 assists against the Nets fill in the blanks for how Anthony was able to get in the flow of the offense, and honestly, if not for Paul’s ridiculous 32 points on 12-for-27 shooting, as well as seven rebounds, I doubt the Rockets would’ve even won that game against the Nets.

What exactly is Anthony’s impact then? Not much of anything really. His empty scoring numbers don’t correlate to winning basketball games, as his 9-for-12 shooting in that game against the Nets only allowed the Rockets to win by eight, and even then you have to give Paul the lion’s share of the credit for that win, so what exactly is Anthony doing out there? His rebounding percentage last season hovered around his career average of 10.3% with a 10.2%, his usage rating and turnover percentage decreased, but yet, his offensive and defensive win shares decreased, and his offensive box plus/minus plummeted to a dreadful -3.1, and it already was at -1.9 from 2017-18. He’s never been known for his defense, but his -2.8 defensive box plus/minus is by far the worst of his career, so once again I ask, what is Anthony’s impact on a basketball court?

I already noted his poor defensive skills, but let me humor you with his passing abilities. 2015-16 was the best year for Anthony in that department, as his 4.2 assists per game and 21.9% assist percentage were both career-highs, and he was even able to keep his 2.4 turnovers per game and 10.6% turnover percentage below his career averages of 2.7 turnovers per game and a 10.7% turnover percentage. 2011-12 was the only year even comparable in this department, as he had 3.6 assists per game and a 21% assist percentage compared to 2.6 turnovers per game and a 10.8% turnover percentage. Every other season sees both his assist and turnover per game averages incredibly close to each other, as well as his percentages. Even in 2006-07, when he had the second-highest assists per game of his career at 3.8, it was offset by 3.6 turnovers per game. He’s never been one to facilitate, and even as a member of the Rockets when he wasn’t expected to, he somehow got worse by averaging 0.5 assists per game to 0.8 turnovers per game.

Repeatedly asking what is Anthony’s impact on a basketball court does seem rather brusque of me, but I just want to stress how much he’s really declined in his last four seasons. He’s simply unable to contribute at the one thing he always relied on, and it’s made him black hole on the court. His rebounding hasn’t fallen off, but if that’s all you can rely on him to do, you can certainly find better rebounders who will give you a better defensive showing than a 35-year-old Carmelo Anthony.

These screenshots from BasketballReference.com are a collection of many times Anthony has placed in the top 20 of the NBA in any particular season for every advanced stat. Unsurprisingly, it’s a short list, as only PER, turnover percentage, usage rating, offensive win shares, and overall win shares are worth tallying for an overall career placement. Being eighth all-time in usage rating isn’t something to be proud of when you have no rings, one appearance in a Conference Finals, a career playoff record of 25-47, a career field goal percentage of 44.9%, and only career minutes and points per game as career per game averages to boast about in all-time accolades. He’s spent his career racking up total counting numbers, and it’s only due to those, as well as his record2 three Olympic gold medals, that he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Nobody is interested in Anthony anymore, and even though I just spent this entire article criticizing his game and how he doesn’t fit in with he NBA anymore, it’s sad to see him go out this way. I wanted him to be drafted by the Detroit Pistons, my hometown team, and seeing him put up big scoring numbers in Denver and New York often made me incensed with the Pistons for passing him in the ’03 draft. He could’ve been the perfect scoring option on a defensive-heavy, veteran-led Pistons squad that had just won the championship that very season. Who knows how many championships they could’ve won with a young Anthony filling it up in the scoring department, even with conservative-minded Larry Brown as the head coach. Perhaps balling out in Beijing could improve his stock, but that country has its own problems with the media right now; one that I have my own thoughts about.

Editor’s Notes

  1. The Athletic – 9/23/2019 – Charania’s Inside Pass: Carmelo Anthony still on the outside looking in, Chris Paul trade rumblings and more NBA notes
  2. For a basketball player

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