Why Carmelo will continue to struggle in Houston

Carmelo Anthony

There has been a lot of Carmelo hate lately. Conversely, this has led to a weird Carmelo revival. People are suddenly defending the star forward and claiming that NBATwitter has been too hard on him. Is there any truth here?

It would be a challenge to find some serious basketball pundits who have denigrated the entire career of Melo. Rather, people are just predicting that Carmelo is on the back 9 of his career. In fact, the guy may be on the last hole…

To continue the golf metaphor, perhaps Melo can pull off a final hole-in-one. What is more likely, however, is that Anthony continues to struggle. After all, how many times have we seen players take a steep decline in production? Sometimes it happens in a blink of an eye. One year, you’re hitting good percentages from the field, the next year you’re dealing with age-induced injuries and trying to find your rhythm. It’s natural.

Should we be reading the tea leaves with Carmelo Anthony? I certainly am. At least, I am confident in saying that his time in Houston will replicate his time in Oklahoma City. Before I get deep into my explanation, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.

In OKC, Carmelo played alongside Russell Westbrook, a ball-dominant guard with one of the highest usage rates in the league. His other co-star, Paul George, commanded a large percentage of the offense as well.

In Houston, Carmelo will play alongside James Harden, a ball-dominant guard with one of the highest usage rates in the league. His other co-star, Chris Paul, commands a large percentage of the offense as well.

See my point? The Westbrook-George duo combined for a usage rate of 59.8 percent. Last season, the Harden-Paul combo combined for a rate of 60.6 percent.

Am I going to make the old-man-on-the-porch/basketball-fundamentalist argument that there isn’t enough ball to go around? Kind of. As I have stated before, Carmelo relies on getting to the line to be an effective scorer. That means he needs the ball. Allow me to quote myself:

“For 12 out of the 15 seasons he played, Carmelo shot either at or below league average for field goal percentage. Surprising, I know. He is always within a couple of percentage points of the average, but tends to be slightly below…

Now let’s discuss three point percentage. Again, Melo saw himself finish at or below league average for 11 out of 15 seasons. 10 of these seasons were actually below league average. To be fair, Melo did not start hoisting a high volume of threes until his 2010 season. So, what do the stats look like from that point on?

…For 5 out of those  seasons, Melo shot at or below league average. “

In other words, Melo is an average shooter for his career. Blame this on the putrid teams he played on in New York. Blame it on shot selection and bailing out his team. I don’t care. The numbers are the numbers. He’s played on good teams and bad ones. In terms of skill, he is a brilliant shooter with a wonderful stroke. In reality, however, when the lights come on, Carmelo is a statistically average NBA shooter.

So what is my number one reason he will struggle in Houston?

 

1. Free Throw Rate

We know that Melo has picturesque shooting form. Yet, his shooting percentages do not reflect it. Despite this, Melo has been an effective scorer for much of his career. Notice the difference between shooter and scorer.

Why did Melo maintain efficiency prior to the OKC years? Great question.

I decided to look at Carmelo’s career averages for every year except the one he spend in Oklahoma. What were his averages?

Melo shot 45 percent from the field, which is about the league average depending on the year. From three he shot 34.6 percent and did so on 3.5 attempts per game. These averages are, well…average. In fact, his 3-point percentage is slightly below league average (usually 36 percent.)

So how was he efficient? Carmelo took 7.2 free throws per game and drained 81 percent of them. That’s about 6 extra point from the stripe per game, which is very impressive and would rank in the upper-echelon of the league. To see the stats, click here or look below.

melo stats.PNG

The advanced stats paint an even clearer picture. For that same time period, Carmelo had a free throw rate average of 37.1 percent. That means that for every 100 shots he takes, he also takes 37.1 free throws. Compare this to James Harden, often the league leader in free throw attempts. Harden had a skyhigh free throw rate of 50.2 percent last season.

As their usage percentages already indicated, Harden and Paul need the ball in their hands. A lot. Harden needs it to do one of the three things he does incredibly well: drive & dish, shoot off-the-dribble threes, or get to the line. CP3’s usage rate is also very high.

What was Anthony’s free throw rate in Oklahoma City? It was 16.5 percent, which was 19 percentage points below his career average and by far the lowest of his career! See the correlation here? It is no wonder he had a challenging season in OKC. Melo never got the chance to play his game.

The same will surely happen in Houston, as Melo does not truly fit into coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense…which leads me to my next point.

 

2. How does Carmelo fit in?

D’Antoni’s offense predicates itself on two distinct offensive philosophies:

1. High pick and roll. There are 3 shooters on the perimeter, at least one in the corner, often two. Capela sets a screen and Harden/ Paul reads and reacts. If the defense is drawn in, the ball handler finds the roller for a lob or kicks to an open shooter. If the defense stays home, the ball handler gets to the rim for a bucket or foul. Boom.

2. Isolation basketball. If the defense doe their job for 16-17 seconds, Harden or Paul will take their man one-on-one.

Think I’m oversimplifying this? Guess again. Read what Jared Dubin of The Ringer had to say about this:

“38 players finishing at least two possessions per game out of isolation, per NBA.com, there are only two averaging more than 1.2 points per play: Harden at 1.24 and teammate Chris Paul at 1.23. “

Yeah, that’s pretty damn good.

What’s more, Harden finished in the 95th percentile for isolation plays. It figures that 35 percent of his offense came this way. Paul finished in the 90th percentile and 29 percent of his offense was generated in iso.

Carmelo? Well he finished in the 58th percentile for isolation plays while using it 18 percent of the time. If you think that D’Antoni is going to defer to Carmelo during iso plays, guess again. He has two of the best iso scorers in the league, and neither of them are go by the alias “Hoodie Melo.”

Of course, we also know that the Rockets take a ton of threes. I mean, they take an ungodly amount of triples. They took 50 percent of their field goals from deep last year. The next closest team were the Brooklyn Nets (surprising, right) at 41 percent.

Wait a second, Carmelo is a great 3-point shooter, right? Why can’t he just take 7 threes per game? Allow me to answer.

As stated earlier, Melo is an average 3-point shooter at best. This can still be an asset however, the Rockets will surely ask him to take 7 threes per game. The guy he is replacing, Trevor Ariza, took 6.9 triples per game last year. Things should work out, right?

I’m not sold.

Carmelo first started truly making triples a part of his game at age 26. This is the year he got shipped from Denver. It is also the first year he took over 3 threes per game. I was generous and decided to get his 3-point attempt rate average starting from age 26 and lasting through his last season in New York (or, his first season before OKC.)

Melo had a 3-point attempt rate of 23.9 percent. This means that out of all of his shots, he took 23.9 percent of them from beyond the arc.

In OKC, Melo saw his 3-point attempt rate jump to 40 percent, the highest of his career by 10 percentage points! Needless to say, things did not work out for Melo in Oklahoma. Last year in Houston, Ariza had a 3-point attempt rate of 70 percent. Wow!

Will Melo be expected to take 70 percent of his shots from deep? No. But, we know the Rockets jack up threes. If Melo is asked to take 55-60 percent of his shots from three, will it work? I’m skeptical. This would be a drastic change for a man whose entire career had allowed him to pound the air out of the ball instead of catching and shooting. But, speaking of the Ariza guy…

 

3. Uhhhh defense…dummies

The Rockets finished 6th in defensive rating last year. If you think they simply tried to outscore opponents, you were watching closely enough.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Carmelo is a horrible defensive player at this point of his career. In fact, Bleacher Report once listed Carmelo as the second worst small forward defender in the NBA. What’s worse is that this ranking came in 2017. Do we think Melo is going to become a better defender in 2018-19? Nope.

But what about Trevor Ariza? Just how important to this Rockets team was he. Upon first glance, the metrics do not wow you. Yet, watch him pass the eye test. Ariza can switch onto multiple defenders, is a high-IQ player and gives effort.

Watch him switch onto Jordan Bell, a springy big, and then cover the ground to take a charge from Draymond Green. Will Carmelo do that for the Rockets next season. We all know the answer to that. Yet, these are the types of plays that win teams games.

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Next up, watch him play defense on Kevin Durant AKA the best pure scorer in the league right now. How many guys can actually keep stride with KD and then contest him into a miss? Good luck, Melo.

kd d.gif

Close your eyes for a second. Imagine D’Antoni gameplans for Carmelo’s defensive woes. So, he decided to stick him on Jordan Bell during the postseason matchup versus the Warriors. Now imagine Steph Curry bringing the ball up the court. What does he do? He simply points to Bell to set a pick. Melo is switched onto Curry. Ouch.

This will happen repeatedly in Houston. Teams will exploit Melo until he gets played off the court. Be prepared, Rockets fans. Between his defense and inability to adapt to playing with other high usage players, things could get very rough down in Houston.

 

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This is it. We can do this, ladies and gentlemen. Free agency is winding down, the NBA draft has been done for what seems like ages, and summer league is wrapping up as well.

Now more than ever, we need thought provoking NBA content. Well, say no more fam.

 

1. Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young

When I first glanced at this roster, I threw up a little in my mouth. But then I took a deep breath, dry heaved some more and decided to look again. Things aren’t as bleak as they seem.

Trae Young, John Collins, Taurean Prince, Kevin Huerter. The Hawks have the start of something promising or at the very least, intriguing. Is anyone on this roster truly untouchable? Probably not. Still, with management trading back and still drafting Trae Young, all signs point to him as being the least likely to be traded.

 

2. Boston Celtics – Jayson Tatum

The rookie standout is the obvious answer here. Do the Celtics want to trade any of their core? Nope. Still, I cannot imagine Danny Ainge trading Tatum for any realistic option out there right now. (Anthony Davis cannot come to the Cs via a DPE rule.)

Tatum’s duel with LeBron in the game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final is something we could see in a 30 for 30 one day. The kid is that special.

 

3. Brooklyn Nets – Jarrett Allen

Just when I thought I was done throwing up…

All jokes aside, the Nets are finally headed in the right direction. They own their future picks and have acquired then developed some good prospects. Spencer Dinwiddie revived his career in Brooklyn, and other reclamation projects await.

Jarrett Allen has looked like a good gamble so far. There is a reason he only played 20 minutes per game last year but, his per-36 minutes suggest a bright future lies ahead.

Per 36 Minutes Table
Season Age Tm G FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK PTS
2017-18 19 BRK 72 5.8 9.9 .589 0.1 0.4 .333 2.8 3.7 .776 9.7 1.2 0.7 2.2 14.7
Career 72 5.8 9.9 .589 0.1 0.4 .333 2.8 3.7 .776 9.7 1.2 0.7 2.2 14.7
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/16/2018.

4. Charlotte Hornets – Miles Bridges

So this is the question: What makes Miles Bridges more untradable than Malik Monk?

Monk had a disappointing rookie season. Sure, he showed flashes during the last month or so of the season. Yet, Monk proved to be more of a project than what scouts originally thought.

Bridges may not project as the safer long term prospect however, he has a two-way ceiling higher than Monk’s. Offensively, Bridges looks to be equally as dynamic as Monk, despite these two having different skill sets. It is on the defensive side of the ball where Bridges separates himself, as he has the potential to defend four positions on the court.

 

5. Chicago Bulls – Wendell Carter Jr.

I struggled with this selection as well. Lauri Markkanen set rookie records for three-pointers last year. Plus, Coach Hoiberg ran a bunch of the offense through him, something that displayed Markkanen’s playmaking ability. So why did I side with Carter Jr here?

Lauri Markkanen may learn NBA defensive spacing but, he simply lacks to physical tools to be an effective two-way player. With the game getting quicker, I can imagine future playoff scenarios where Markkanen gets played off of the court. Who does Markkanen guard when a team like the Sixers trots out Embiid, Simmons, Redick, Fultz and Covington. Carter Jr won’t ever get played off of the court. His three-point stroke and playmaking look to be just as good as Markkanen’s as well.

 

6. Cleveland Cavaliers – Collin Sexton

Has anyone made an “I wanna Sexton you up” meme yet? No? Great.

Cleveland has players that are the opposite of untouchable. They should be looking to gain value for Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and others. Yet, Sexton remains untouchable. The former Alabama guard is a locker room blessing. Sexton can reset the culture in Cleveland while becoming their point guard of the future. Cedi Osman was in contention here as well.

 

7. Detroit Pistons – Andre Drummond

If I were the GM of the Detroit Pistons, Andre Drummond would not be untouchable. That does mean I would be looking to unload him however, I prefer my centers to be able to switch pick and rolls, as well as space the court. Yet, Drummond is probably the most unlikely player Detroit is willing to part with.

Blake Griffin was a Stan Van Gundy guy, not someone new management particularly wanted. I am not suggesting his trade value is high enough to warrant a move but, crazier things have happened. This summer, Drummond has posted videos on his Instagram account draining threes. Perhaps he will bring this skill to the Pistons this year, and truly earn this hypothetical untouchable title.

 

8. Indiana Pacers – Victor Oladipo

I won’t get into too much detail about this because Josh Eberly of HOOPmag already did it for me:

9. Miami Heat – Josh Richardson

Why not first time All-Star and former All-NBAer Goran Dragic? Dragic can opt out of his contract after next season and will be a 33-year-old point guard. If anything, Miami should be tryingto ship Dragic off to a fringe contender looking for that next piece.

Bam Adebayo came to mind here but, paint protecting rim runners are becoming easier and easier to find nowadays. 24-year-old defensive wings who drain 37% of their threes and hit 45% from the field are not easy to find, however. Throw in Richardson’s cheap contract and Miami has a piece they should hold onto.

 

10. Milwaukee Bucks – Giannia Antetokounmpo

Ask Tim Hardaway Jr to explain this one.

11. New York Knicks – Kristaps Porzingis

Want to know how many NBA players shot 39% from deep last year while also blocking 2.4 shots per game? One. Don’t overthink this one, people. Kevin Knox will be an awesome player and is on a cheap deal. Frankie Smokes is already an elite perimeter defender with promising offensive development. Still, KP is the way to go here.

 

12. Orlando Magic – Mo Bamba

Rookies seem to be dominating this list, and I do not know if I am comfortable with that.

Aaron Gordon took a step forward with his three-point shooting ability last season yet, he still has so much more to develop if he wants to truly take advantage of his elite athleticism. With both Bamba and Jonathan Isaac looking great in summer league, I would move off of Gordon for a top-20 pick.

Jonathan Isaac has shown promise lately however, he does not have the ceiling that Bamba has. Bamba is the most boom or bust player of this bunch, but Orlando needs a star and Bamba is worth making untouchable.

 

13. Philadelphia 76ers – Ben Simmons

Let the debate begin!

I love Embiid’s game and potential. In my opinion, he has a higher ceiling than Simmons. Embiid could be an MVP and  DPOY winner. Yet, I like my untouchable players to be on the court. Out of 328 possible regular season games, Embiid has played 94 of them. Folks, he has only played in 28 percent of his games. Unfortunately, 7’1″, 260 lbs centers tend to progress towards injuries, not away from them.

Ben Simmons has an MVP ceiling as well. At one point during his career he will be the best passer in the game. Defensively, he can be elite too. Simmons has all the tools to be transcendent and a gambling man will bet that Simmons will find a way to fix that jumper. Factor in his health, and Simmons is my pick here, although I would not trade either.

 

14. Toronto Raptors – No one

Why should anyone on this roster be untouchable? Toronto is at a crossroads. With LeBron out of the East, they need to take a risk and go all in.

I have been a fan of the “DeMar for Kawhi” fake trades. Kawhi is simply a better player than DeMar DeRozan and would raise Toronto’s chances of winning. If the team can package Lowry and other assets for an upgrade, do it. Could they need to sell off OG and other young prospects for an experienced difference maker? Go for it.

If not now, when? Toronto has a very small window to win. If there is a move out there that makes them better for even one season, they must do it.

 

15. Washington Wizards – Bradley Beal

Surprised you, right?

Bradley Beal had a better year than John Wall last year, straight up.

Per Game Table
Rk Player Season Age GS FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% eFG% FT% TRB AST STL BLK PTS
1 Bradley Beal 2017-18 24 82 8.3 18.1 .460 2.4 6.5 .375 .527 .793 4.4 4.5 1.2 0.4 22.6
2 John Wall 2017-18 27 41 6.8 16.3 .420 1.5 4.1 .371 .466 .726 3.7 9.6 1.4 1.1 19.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/16/2018.

 

I will take Beal’s numbers here over Wall’s any day of the week. Plus, Washington should be looking to move off of Wall’s contract. John Wall will be paid $37 million dollars in 2019-2020. Compare that to Beal who will be making $10 million less! Remember when I was throwing up earlier…

…John Wall will be making $43 million when he is 31-years-old! That type of money cripples franchises from making other important acquisitions. The point guard position is the saturated one in the game today, making Wall expendable in the long term. Bradley Beal is the guy to hang onto.

Can Mario Hezonja reach his potential in New York?

Mario Hezonja

Out of the prospects carefully selected by the Orlando Magic in the 10 years leading into the 2018 draft spectacle, only Aaron Gordon (2014) and Jonathan Isaac (2017) remain a part of the team.

Be it through substandard form or simply not wanting to stick around, the rest are gone. Mario Hezonja added his name to the list of players that have bolted from Florida this summer, a list that includes an All-Star in Victor Oladipo and solid pieces like Courtney Lee and Domantas Sabonis.

The 23-year-old was a polarizing figure in his three seasons for the Magic, who often seemed (rightfully) underwhelmed with the production their former fifth pick was providing. They demonstrated their displeasure by declining the Croatian’s 2018-19 team option, allowing him to make his way to the Big Apple on a 1-year, $6.5 million deal.

With a dearth of young talent, Orlando may have been wise to try and hang on to Hezonja, but that’s in the past. Now, the Knicks – who have had trouble developing stars of their own – get a crack at molding the disappointing lottery pick into a stud.

He may have a below par player for the majority of his career,  but in the final knockings of his Magic career,  the 6-foot-8 wing showed some of the promise that fans had expected from day dot. Over the final 10 games of the season, Hezonja was finally let loose, averaging 13.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game while shooting a very respectable 37.7 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

Take those numbers, and add in the elite-level 100.9 defensive rating that he was pumping out during that time frame, and it’s easy to see the very real 3-and-D upside that Hezonja possesses. That’s the version of him New York Knicks fans want to see.

When speaking with Stefan Bondy from Daily News, new Knicks head coach David Fizdale gave a ringing endorsement of his new man – despite his sub-par first three seasons.

“It’s so easy to write a kid off after a couple years. But any one of you and me when we were 18 to 21 were jerks. Let’s be real about that,” Fizdale said. “So a lot of times we discard these players and this kid still has a lot of things as he showed at the end of the year. Although he had struggled, it finally started to pick up.”

With a healthy Kristaps Porzinigis, a defensive stud in Frank Ntilikina and this year’s lottery pick Kevin Knox likely littering the starting line-up, Super Mario forecasts to replace Michael Beasley as New York’s bench gunner. If New York opts to go small and start Knox at the power forward position, Hezonja may just find himself in the starting unit come opening night.

A starting role might be exactly what Hezonja needs. He was given minimal opportunities in Orlando, starting just 41 out of a possible 219 outings. 30 of those appearances came in 2017-18, and he looked like a whole other player when he was given the starting nod. The 23-year-old averaged 14 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in the first five, which should give Knicks fans great hope about his future.

The best part for New York general manager Scott Perry is that even if Super Mario isn’t quite as super as they expected, they can simply let him walk next summer when his deal expires. If Hezonja does slash through that ‘bust’ label, the Knicks will be in pole position to re-sign him. Win-win.

 “No judgment. I’m not going to look back at your past for any negatives. I want to start from scratch and develop you and play you … That’s all he was asking for was a fresh start and being a place where he was valued and people cared about him. I think it’s going to be a good relationship.” Fizdale told Daily News

With a run of form behind him, a coach who has his back and a big role to fill, Mario Hezonja looks like he is on track for his best season yet. Spike Lee is going to like this kid.


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