Did Melo Resurrect the Nuggets?

Posted on September 12, 2007 by

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A few weeks ago I examined the impact Larry Bird had on the Boston Celtics in 1979.  In 1978-79 the Celtics won 29 games.  The following season the Celtics won 61 games.  Much of this improvement, although certainly not all, could be linked to the outstanding rookie performance of Larry Bird. As Table One indicates, the Celtics improvement in the late 1970s marks the fourth biggest one-year leap by a franchise since 1973-74.  

Table One: The Most Improved Teams since 1973-74

Typically these leaps are associated with a specific player being added to the roster.  For example, the Spurs have made the two biggest leaps.  In 1989-90 the team added David Robinson and improved by 35 wins.  In 1997-98 the Spurs added Tim Duncan (and a healthy David Robinson) and improved by 36 wins. And certainly the Celtics leap fits this pattern. What of the other teams on the list?

Did Carmelo Resurrect the Nuggets?

The Denver Nuggets, after winning only 17 games in 2002-03, took Carmelo Anthony with the third choice in the 2003 NBA Draft.  With Carmelo added to the roster, the team improved 26 games in the standings.  Anthony also led the Nuggets with 21.0 points scored per game.  So was this leap all about Melo?

When we look at Anthony’s productivity – both during his rookie season and in the next three seasons – it is hard to see how Carmelo could have been the one player who resurrected the Nuggets.

Table Two: The Career Performance of Carmelo Anthony

Table Two compares Anthony to the average NBA small forward.  When we look at Carmelo’s rookie season we see a player that was below average in terms of shooting efficiency, steals, blocked shots, assists, and turnovers.  Yes, Anthony could score.  But this was primarily because he took a large number of shots, not because he was particularly good at getting shots from the field to go in the basket.

Now he was not bad at everything.  Anthony was a slightly above average free throw shooter and rebounder.  But these small advantages were not enough to offset his many negatives, and consequently his WP48 (Wins Produced per 48 minutes) was only 0.032.  Such a mark is well below the average WP48 of 0.100.

Anthony’s second season saw a very similar pattern. In his last two seasons, though, his shooting efficiency has surpassed the average mark.  His ability to grab rebounds, though, is now below average.  Consequently, given his disadvantages with respect to turnovers, steals, and blocked shots, he has yet to produce at an above average level in his career. 

If Not Carmelo, Who Was Responsible?

Okay, Anthony has not been a great player in his NBA career (although he is a great international player, a point I will make in a near future post).  So if Anthony did not spark Denver’s improvement, exactly who was responsible?

To answer this question we need to look at who was on the roster of this team in both 2002-03 and 2003-04. 

Table Three: The Denver Nuggets in 2003-04 and 2002-03

The team in 2002-03 was led by Donnell Harvey (hard to believe, isn’t it?), who produced 5.1 wins in 1,613 minutes.  Obviously if your most productive player only produces 5.1 victories (and is Donnell Harvey), your team is not going to win many contests.

The next season the Nuggets were led by two players who posted double digit Wins Produced totals.  Surprisingly (well, if you read the previous section, maybe not surprisingly), neither player was named Anthony (or Carmelo or Melo).

No, the two players who led the 2003-04 Nuggets were Marcus Camby and Andre Miller. 

Camby was part of the 2002-03 team and actually led that squad in WP48.  But when you only play 616 minutes you are not going to generate many wins.  The next season Camby managed to post a career high in games played. Although he still missed ten contests, he appeared often enough to produce 14.2 wins.  Camby has posted a career WP48 of 0.258.  So Camby producing wins when he plays is fairly typical.  What is not typical is Camby actually playing.  Again, he has missed at least 10 games every season he has played, and has actually appeared in only 71% of all possible regular season games (about 58 per season) during his career.

The other leader of the 2003-04 Nuggets was Andre Miller.  Like Camby, Miller is also a very productive player.  Unlike Camby, though, Miller consistently plays, appearing in at least 80 games each season he has played in the NBA. In 2002, Miller joined the Nuggets as a free agent proceeded to produce 12.4 wins with a 0.204 WP48.  

Okay, let’s summarize.  The data clearly indicates that Melo – although a great scorer – has not been a tremendously productive player.  In addition, Miller and Camby combined to produce 26.6 wins in 2003-04, a mark quite similar to the team’s overall improvement.  Consequently, it looks like the story in 03-04 was the health of Camby and the signing of Miller, not the drafting of Anthony.

Let me close with one last note on Anthony.  Melo left Syracuse after his freshman season (by the way, he was quite good at Syracuse).  Had he stayed at Syracuse for four seasons, Anthony would now be entering only his second NBA season.  Again, to date he has not been a great NBA player.  But given his age, maybe he can improve.  Yes, that is a big maybe.  But young players have been known to get better in the NBA, and the calendar tells us that Melo – a veteran of four NBA seasons — is still a “young” player.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

Wins Produced and Win Score are Discussed in the Following Posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say