The Days OF Carmelo Being Relied On To Be An Elite Player Are Done

Updated: January 25, 2019
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There was an extended period of time where Carmelo Anthony was one of the best players in the NBA, and was capable of carrying teams much further than they would have gone without him. But those days have long passed, with most NBA teams seeming to be aware of that fact when avoiding Anthony in this year’s trade market. That avoidance may have signified the end of Anthony playing for a team contending for the NBA Finals.

Before being traded to the Chicago Bulls, it was asked whether or not Anthony could help a contending team after a trade. Given that the Bulls have stated that they don’t plan on playing Anthony at all, there is still a chance that he will land on a contender before the end of the season, either through a pre-deadline trade or Anthony being waived if a trade partner can’t be found. Those contenders should be wary of bringing Melo on board, though.

Statistically, Anthony isn’t valuable enough or efficient enough to justify spending the kind of money that he would command as a free agent or to give up any legitimately valuable assets to get him. He put up back-to-back years of career-high Player Efficiency Ratings as a member of the New York Knicks in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. Since then, Anthony’s PER has declined in every season he’s played. He went from being a top-10 player in PER in his two best seasons to falling outside of the top-20.

In 78 games with the Thunder last season, his 12.7 PER put him below the league average of 15 for the first time in his career. And in limited action this season with the Rockets, Anthony’s 11.2 PER is even further below average. At age 34, a decline in Anthony’s effectiveness is to be expected. But to consistently decline over a five-year period is a sign that Anthony’s decline has more to it than age.

As a whole, Anthony’s style of play just hasn’t lent itself to the new era of the NBA. In a league that prioritizes ball movement and three-point shooting thanks to the success of the Gregg Popovich-led Spurs and the Golden State Warriors dynasty, Anthony’s preference for shooting long two-point shots in isolation settings would slow down offenses in a league where going fast is the name of the game.

Carmelo Anthony was a prolific scorer at his peak, scoring 28.7 points per game in the 2012-2013 season and 27.4 points per game in the 2013-2014 campaign. And he continued scoring over 20 points per game for the rest of his tenure with the Knicks. But advanced metrics show that his decline continued throughout his final years in New York and that it hasn’t stopped with his other teams.

Looking at win shares, the number of wins attributed to a player over the course of a season, Anthony was in the top-15 in the league in both the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons. But after those seasons, Anthony never found himself in the top-20 in that metric again. He only eclipsed five win shares once after the 2013-2014 season, and still finished nearly three full win shares outside of the top-20 for that season despite being one of the highest paid players in the league.

And it’s not as if Anthony has ever been a good enough defender to make up for his declining efficiency. Looking at defensive win shares, Anthony has never amassed more than 3.0 defensive win shares in a season, with that career-high coming in the 2007-2008 season with the Denver Nuggets. From Anthony’s tenure with the Knicks and beyond, his best defensive win share season was a 2.6, about 1.5 defensive win shares short of being a top-20 defender in the league. During his time with the Knicks, players like Steph Curry and Mike Dunleavy have broken into that top-20 despite those players not being elite defenders by any stretch of the imagination.

The fact of the matter is that Carmelo Anthony has never been much of a defender, and his ability to put the ball into the basket was his main redeeming quality as a player. Once that ability started to diminish, his value as a player became less and less. And that is without getting into any of the recent team chemistry issues that Anthony has been associated with.

Anthony has been asked about transitioning to a bench role for a contending team. While his time as an elite scorer who can put up close to 30 points per game with a high usage rate appears to be over, his ability to shoot the basketball could make him extremely effective as the focal point of a reserve unit. But Anthony has said publicly that he has no interest in coming off of the bench, even if he has since softened that stance.

He could have been a valuable reserve with either of his last two teams, the Houston Rockets or Oklahoma City Thunder. With each of those teams having their star players, such as James Harden in Houston and the Russell Westbrook and Paul George duo in OKC, it was clear that Anthony was never going to be as heavily used as he was when he was trying to win on his own with the Knicks.

And that is where Anthony’s desire to play for a contender and the thought that he might be moved to one falls short. Anthony just had the chance to play for a team that was a game away from knocking off the Golden State Warriors in last year’s Western Conference Finals. But instead of being willing to accept a role off of the bench for that contender, he didn’t seem fully comfortable with the idea. Why would things be any different with another contending team?

Carmelo Anthony’s career will go down as one of the best that didn’t end with a championship. And as long as he refuses to come off of the bench, it is a guarantee that he wouldn’t be able to help a contender enough to get the ring that has eluded him.

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