Carmelo Anthony

Why Carmelo will continue to struggle in Houston

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.

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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.

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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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