The Non-NBA Melo

Posted on September 16, 2007 by

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This is how Mike Krzyzewski summarized Carmelo Anthony’s play for Team USA: 

“I love Carmelo,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a winner and he’s a heck of a competitor. He plays with courage at both ends of the court.” He added that Anthony “was the biggest surprise last year, arguably the most important player.”

And this is how Carmelo describes himself:

“I can adjust to all types of games,” Anthony said. “I don’t need the ball to be effective. I can go in there and get some rebounds, get some assists and get some steals and score when I have to. I don’t really have to go out there and score 30, 40 points for this team to win. I can do the little things.”

When we look at Carmelo in the NBA, it’s hard to understand either perspective.

Table One: The Career Performance of Carmelo Anthony

As noted a few days ago – when the above table was originally posted – Anthony has not produced many wins in his NBA career.  Contrary to Carmelo’s assessment of his own game, his lack of wins production in the NBA is tied to his inability to do much beyond scoring (which he doesn’t always do efficiently).  In the NBA he has not consistently been above average with respect to rebounds or steals, although he has been quite prolific with respect to turnovers.

The Non-NBA Melo

So is Coach K just confused?  I think not.  Krzyzewski has witnessed Carmelo in two settings – college basketball and with Team USA.  And in these two settings, Anthony has been very good.

Table Two: Carmelo in College and with Team USA

Relative to an average NBA forward, Anthony was exceptional in college and with Team USA.  What drove his exceptional performance, though, was not his ability do the “little” things.  For the most part, Carmelo has been great outside the NBA because outside the NBA he is a very efficient scorer.

To see this, consider his scoring efficiency in the NBA.  From two point range Carmelo has made 47.8% of his shots, which is not too bad (not too great, either).  From three point range, though, he has been dreadful.  From beyond the arc Carmelo has only made 27.9% of his shots, which is well below average.  Despite his inability to consistently make these shots, Anthony has averaged more than two shots per game from three-point range in his career.

Why Anthony keeps taking shots he can’t consistently make is an interesting question, but not the question I wish to ask.  Here is the question I wish to ask: What would Anthony’s productivity in college and with Team USA look like if his shooting efficiency in these settings was at the same level we see in the NBA?

In college Anthony posted a 0.305 Win Score per minute, a mark that would rank towards the top among small forwards in the 2007 NBA draft. However, if Anthony’s shooting efficiency in college was only what we saw in the NBA, his Win Score per-minute would only have been 0.270.  This is still good, but this past year players like Dominic McGuire, Reyshawn Terry, and Morris Almond – three players who will probably never play for Team USA — did better.

Turning to Team USA we see that shooting efficiency was again the story.  In 2006 Anthony posted a 0.305 Win Score per minute (yes, the same mark he posted in college).  But with his NBA shooting efficiency, this mark falls to 0.144, which is below average for an NBA small forward.  In sum, it was his ability to hit shots at a more efficient rate that allowed him to be, in Coach K’s words, Team USA’s “most important player.”

The data says that Anthony – even with his improved shooting efficiency – was not the most productive player in 2006.  In 2007, though, Anthony did post the highest Win Score per minute on the team (although because he played power forward, his PAWSmin was just a tad below what LeBron James offered). 

Table Three: Team USA in 2007

Had Anthony maintained his NBA shooting efficiency he would have scored 60 fewer points this summer.  Such a drop in points production would have resulted in a Win Score per-minute of 0.286 and a PAWSmin of 0.071. Both marks are above average for an NBA player, but relative to his teammates on Team USA, only Chauncey Billups and Mike Miller failed to offer a PAWSmin of 0.071 or higher. 

Yes, Anthony did rebound at an above average rate this past summer and in college (although he did not with Team USA in 2006).  But the primary reason why he plays so well outside the NBA is that outside the NBA his shots tend to go in.  This is especially true from three-point range, a shot that is easier both in college and in international play.

So should Denver fans be encouraged by what we see with Team USA? Unless the NBA is willing to move the three-point line closer to the basket, I am not sure Carmelo’s stellar play in Las Vegas is going to translate into improved play in the NBA.  Of course if he would just stop taking shots from NBA three point-range we might have a different story.  But after four years we have seen no signs that Anthony can resist launching bombs. And since Anthony really doesn’t consistently do “the little things”, I think Anthony’s inability to resist temptation is going to continue to cause his productivity in the Association to fall short of the description offered  by Coach K.

The 2004 Olympics

My analysis of the non-NBA Carmelo left out the 2004 Olympics.  Anthony was on Team USA in 2004, but he only played 47 minutes in seven Olympic games.  His performance in these limited minutes was also quite bad.  From two-point range he only shot 29.4%.  From beyond the international arc he only hit two of eleven shots, for a conversion rate of 18.2%.  Given such inefficiency it’s not surprising to see a Win Score of -10.0, which is of course quite bad.

It’s interesting to note that Anthony was not the only one who couldn’t shoot in 2004.  Allen Iverson, his teammate in Denver, led Team USA in minutes played in 2004.  The Answer, though, only shot 36.6% from beyond the international arc and 38.8% from two-point range.  One story people told when The Wages of Wins first came out – and Malcolm Gladwell re-counted our analysis of Allen Iverson in The New Yorker — was that Iverson really was a great player but unfortunately he has always been surrounded by bad teammates that forced him to take bad shots. 

The 2004 Olympic experience contradicts this assessment. Even with teammates like Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Shawn Marion, The Answer still couldn’t hit shots consistently.  This leads me to conclude that Allen Iverson shoots poorly because he shoots poorly.  Yes, sometimes the answer really is just that simple.   

– DJ