Friday, January 31, 2014

Melo isn't scoring more or winning at all, but 2014 is easily his best year

It only took 10 years, but Melo has finally put it all together!
On January 24, 2014, Carmelo Anthony did the unimaginable: he temporarily distracted me from ruminating on Justin Bieber’s painfully predictable DUI. Carmelo accomplished this miracle by recording 62 points (on an insane 66% shooting) along with 13 rebounds and 0 turnovers (NSFW XXX: basketball porn).

Melo’s scintillating performance inspired me to first practice my jab step and then reflect deeply on what has been the most bizarre season in Melo’s divisive career; specifically, I laughed uproariously to myself about how Melo’s 2014 serves as the quintessential case study to elucidate two misunderstood NBA truisms.

    1. A player can improve his productivity without improving his scoring total or efficiency 

    2. Evaluating the performance of an individual by looking at his team performance is      
        noisy at best, misleading at worst and almost always just plain asinine.  

So how does Carmelo’s 2014 season illustrate the above axioms? Come along with me, charming reader, as we explore this question by playing the 2nd best game ever invented (1), “3 truths, ball don’t lie:”

Truth #1: This season, Carmelo’s scoring rate and efficiency are right around his career averages.

Truth #2: Carmelo’s Knicks are playing poorly and not meeting (unrealistically high) expectations.

Truth #3: Carmelo Anthony is undoubtedly playing the best ball of his career…and it’s not even close.

Wasn’t that fun?! We can play again soon (promise!); but first, let’s reconcile the coexistence of these 3 seemingly conflicting truths and then explore how they demonstrate that Carmelo’s having his best year despite not improving his scoring and playing for an underperforming team.


Truth #1: This season, Carmelo’s scoring rate and efficiency are right around his career averages.

Whether you prefer conventional or advanced statistics (or swing both ways), the numbers tell a similar story: aside from his fantastic 3-point shooting percentage (regression much?), Melo’s 2014 scoring numbers are only slightly above his career norms. To wit, before he went off for his big night, Melo’s scoring rate was at exactly his career average (24.8 points/36 minutes) and his efficiency hadn’t really changed, with both his True Shooting percentage (TS%) and effective field goal percentages (eFG%) barely edging out career norms

Truth #2: Carmelo’s Knicks are playing poorly and not meeting (unrealistically high) expectations.

Although some knew better, the general consensus was that this Knicks team, coming off of a 51-win season, was at the bare minimum a top-6 playoff team who might even steal a game or two off the Heat or Pacers. Well, we’re more than halfway through the season and the discrepancy between the Knicks’ projected win totals and their actual record is massive, leading many to determine that the Knicks (and subsequently Carmelo) have underperformed, particularly since the team plays in an Eastern conference that is so decrepit the league is considering canceling it next season in lieu of 80’s reruns (kidding… I hope).

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that these expectations were unreasonable to begin with (2) and that injuries, particularly Tyson Chandler’s annual injury vakatsye (3), have cost the team wins. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that the Knicks have greatly underwhelmed the mainstream media and fans this season and moreover, that anyone who chooses to measure a player’s performance according to his team’s performance would have to conclude that this is far from the best season of Melo’s career. 

Truth #3: Carmelo Anthony is undoubtedly playing the best ball of his career…and it’s not even close.

Carmelo Anthony is one of the more polarizing players in recent NBA history. For the majority of fans and pundits, Melo is perceived as an elite scoring savant who combines elegant footwork, overpowering physicality and a soft shooting touch to overwhelm any and all defenses. When he’s at his best, like he was during his 62 point outburst, Melo’s amalgamation of power and grace manifests in a dominant player who can seemingly score at will.

For statheads, however, Melo has long represented all that is misunderstood about peachball. Sure, he’s always scored a lot of points, but Melo has historically done so with middling efficiency and without offering much additional value to his team. 

This year, however, has been different. Melo’s overall productivity (WP48) in 2014 is 155% better than his career average and 56% better than his 2nd best year! 

What’s particularly strange about this improvement (aside from the fact that it’s happening at an age at which players tend to decline) is that Melo has done it not with his offense, but by doing everything else better:

 Bold = Career Best

As the above table illustrates, Melo has upped his productivity to a career high not by scoring more or more efficiently; rather, Melo’s upped his productivity by improving his possession stats - you know, those “little” things that determine who wins and loses. 

So the next time an ignorant coward proclaims that basketball is strictly about “getting buckets” or that player X can’t be that good because his team is underperforming, tell said dum-dum that they are moronic, then calmly point to Melo’s bizarro 2014 season as exhibit A of their naiveté. 

1. For those who are curious, studies show that the best game ever was actually Mario Tennis for N-64. It’s science.  

2. This is what happens when you lose players who produce wins and replace them with players who are so bad they produce negative wins.

3. Don’t get me started on the asshats who use injury-prone players’ absences as an excuse for a team’s poor performance. Tyson Chandler has a history of injuries and an enormous body - it’s safe to assume he’s going to miss games every year for the rest of his career, so plan accordingly and quit complaining! As far as I’m concerned, this rule applies to the following impact players: Tyson Chandler, Ginobili, Wade, Eric Gordon, Curry and Bogut. Leave your recommendations in the comments section or tweet at me!

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