Carmelo Anthony is in his 15th year. By nature of the calendar- Melo is 33- 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. Maybe that is why ESPN ranked Melo the 64th best NBA player. Maybe it is the Melo collective, his New York agony. Maybe it is that Carmelo’s last season was one in which he declined in almost every statistical category that matters except three point shooting. And this too hanging over his head: he has not made the Knicks better.
The disrespect that comes with being considered the 64th best player is relative to the Carmelo talented biography. In his prime, he was one of the scariest scorers, able to make shots effortlessly and from anywhere on the floor. But lately- and this probably led to the 64 number- he isn’t very efficient.
Last season, Anthony’s field goal percentage continued to go south. 2016-17 was the third year in a row Anthony’s field goal percentage had been lower than the year before. In 2014-15, it was 44.4%. The next season it was 43.4%. Last season, it was 43.3%. His 3-point shooting increased last season to 35.9% but it was nowhere near his high of 40.2% in 2013-14. Nevertheless, Melo attempted the second most threes in his career (5.7). He attempted the fewest amount of two point shots in his career.
In 2006-07 Melo took 20 two-point shots per game. A decade later he attempted 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. Last season was one of the three years it was not over 20. The last time that happened Barack Obama was running for president. His PER was 17.9 in 2016-17.
Need more evidence of an ordinary player? 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 didn’t average one offensive rebound per game. In 2012-13 he pulled down 2.0 offensive boards. Then 1.9. Then 1.8. In 2015-16, it was 1.4. Last season, it was 0.8. His career average is 1.8. No longer pulling down offensive boards affected his overall rebounding numbers which was a ten year low (5.9). Put it this way. Russell Westbrook, a point guard, averaged more rebounds than Carmelo Anthony. So did James Harden.
More alarming was that Melo only averaged 2.9 assists per game. He did not facilitate at all. On Xmas Day 2016 the Knicks played the Celtics. 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. But ball sharing is nothing new.
Melo has never facilitated. His highest assist total was 4.2 and that was two years ago 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 a long time 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 last year he managed 22.4 points. The year before it was 21.8. Of course if the Knicks had a winning product, Carmelo’s production and efficiency would be overlooked.
Basketball 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. Defense matters too. Last year, Carmelo had the worst defensive rating of his career and it wasn’t even close. Before last season his worst defensive rating was 2014-15 and 110. Last year it was 113. He can’t guard anyone.
Carmelo was ranked 29th in Real Plus-Minus. Ahead of him at 28th and 27th respectively were Terrence Ross (Raptors/Magic) and James Ennis (Memphis)
When players age they are more dependent on their teammates, not less. Melo had the highest usage rate on the Knicks last season. The good news is that Melo’s usage rate wasn’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. Two years ago, his usage rate was 29.7% and last season it was 29.1%, 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. 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 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 appearance.
Ranked 64 is a bitter pill to swallow- yes it is. But no one stays the same. Adapt or be irrelevant. How you age is the question for all once upon a time elite players. ESPN thinks Melo will age like that racehorse who can barely finish a lap without panting and slowing down and foam coming out his mouth.
Because Carmelo has started slowing down, he needs a change to the playbook. Pass first. Shoot second. Rebound. It will be rough in New York if Melo truly is the 64th best NBA player. For the playoffs, he needs to be the 20th best. He needs to do more. It’s not disrespect. It is the truth.
photo via llananba