Has the Carmelo Decline Started?

Carmelo Anthony is in his 14th year. By nature of the calender- Melo is 32- he is slipping out of his prime which for most NBA players comes after the age of 32. Then Father Time hits with all the finesse of a sledgehammer and former dominant players trickle into their dog years. This season Anthony is shooting a very similar percentage to his rookie year. In 2003-04, he shot 42.6%. This year, he is shooting 42.7%. This is the fourth year in a row Anthony’s field goal percentage has been lower than the year before. In 2013-14, he shot 45.2%. In 2014-15, 44.4%. The next season (last year) 43.4%. His 3-point shooting has remained fixed which begs the question, as he slows down athletically will he just become a three point shooter? Is Melo transitioning into a specialist?

This year, Melo is taking the second most threes in his career. He is taking the fewest amount of two point shots in his career. In 2006-07 Melo took 20 two-point shots. A decade later he is taking 13 two-point shots. Is he settling because he wants to? Or is the body guiding him?

Out of his 14 pro years, Anthony’s Personal Efficiency Rating (PER) has crossed the 20 point threshold 11 times. This is one of the three years it is not over 20. It has been 8 years since Carmelo has not had a PER over 20.

Need more evidence? Take his offensive rebounding. Offensive rebounding is about effort and desire and will. Desire and will remain constant but effort changes as players change. For the first time in his career Anthony isn’t averaging more than one offensive rebound per game. In 2012-13 he pulled down 2.0 offensive boards. Then 1.9. Then 1.8. Last season it was 1.4. This year it is 0.9. His career average is 1.8. It has affected his overall rebounding numbers which is tied for the lowest of his career, 6.0.

More alarming is that Melo is only averaging 2.9 assists per game. He is not facilitating at all. This was the story behind the Xmas Day loss. Everyone knew what was going to happen in the Garden once the Knicks tied the score and had the ball to take the lead. Carmelo held on, dribbled while surveying the court and Avery Bradley, a top rated wing defender, anticipating the Melo move that is available on game film from every Carmelo matchup, stole the ball and the game. Melo has never facilitated. His highest assist total was 4.2 and that was last season so we’re not talking as if he has suddenly forgotten he has teammates. It is the Melo game. But as every NBA scorer ages and declines they have to make a slight shift to facilitate more, not less.

It has been three seasons since Melo was a 25 point per game scorer. The binary evidence seems to indicate he has turned a page in his NBA career. HIs career average is 24.9 points per game and he is averaging 22.7 this year. Last year, it was 21.8. Of course none of this matters. Are the Knicks winning? Yes. But they are not winning consistently enough to put them in the conference finals with the Cavs. And Melo is playing the worst defense of his career.

It is never about one player, even as you need that one player to dominate his position and create mismatches and anxiety for the other team. The Knicks give up 107.9 points per game. That puts them 25th in the league. Melo, Derrick Rose and Courtney Lee have absolutely pathetic defensive ratings. All three players have been around the block and even if they are not blowing assignments (which they routinely do) they don’t have the speed anymore to keep up with some of the quicker (and younger) perimeter players.

When players age they are more dependent on their teammates, not less. Melo has the highest usage rate on the team. Rose and Porzingis usage rate is basically even. The good news is that Melo’s usage rate isn’t the astronomical 35.6% which was his career high in 2012-13. Following that year, it was 32.4% and then 32.2%. The presence of Porzingis has allowed Melo to ease up on the gas. Last season his usage rate was 29.7% and this season it is 28.8%, the lowest since his rookie year. So those who say he has not changed are wrong. Carmelo Anthony has changed. It doesn’t matter if age is the cause, Melo isn’t the ball stopper he once was.

But what about the Knicks?

Their problems arise out of not enough ball movement and standing around watching, not to mention inept defense.The Knicks bench is one of the worst in the league as far as point production. Their shooting guards are the worst in the league, 14.6 points per game average. Ditto their center. Joakim Noah is stealing money.

It’s the Carmelo paradox. With the exception of Porzingis, the talent is slightly above average. And yet Melo isn’t the same as he used to be. He can’t save a team anymore just by his presence. His superstar cache has faded even as his popularity remains the same. He is an older player now who has to adjust to how older players must play. More we and not me. Even when the game is on the line.

But is all this news to him? Does he still think he is the Carmelo of 2013-14, the 29 year old Melo: 27.4 points, 45.2% field goals, 40.2% from three (career high), 6.2 rebounds (career high), 84.8% free throws (career high), 113 offensive rating (career high).

He is not that person. He has to bury that memory. The new Melo needs to create first, think of himself second. It’s a better late than never lesson that will help the Knicks as they go forward in their push for a playoff spot.

 

photo via llananba