Is Carmelo Anthony an elite player?

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Thumbnail image for Anthony_game.jpgTom Haberstroh of ESPN.com (insider required) makes a fairly convincing case that he’s not:

At first glance, Anthony seems like a member of the NBA’s elite, largely due to his scoring prowess. But a deeper look at the points column and elsewhere in his game reveals a player who lives on an undeserved reputation more than his actual impact on wins.
It’s tough to argue with his 28.2 points-per-game average in ’09-10, but in the game of basketball, how a shooter gets his points is more meaningful than the raw number itself. To see that, we need to peel back the layers…
…after stripping out the inflationary effect of fast pace and boiling down Anthony’s numbers to a per possession level, his scoring punch looks pedestrian. How pedestrian? Anthony’s career offensive rating, an efficiency measure that calculates how many points a player produces per 100 possessions he uses, checks out at 107, which sits right at the league average. For reference, 2003 draft-mates James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have earned 114, 111, and 113 lifetime offensive ratings, respectively.

There’s much more in the full article, which I encourage you to read if you have insider. The value of players with ultra-high usage rates and average to below-average efficiency statistics is extremely hard to gauge — call it the Allen Iverson paradox, or the Monta Ellis effect. 

What it generally comes down to is a chicken-or-egg question; are these players selflessly sacrificing their efficiency by creating shot opportunities that none of their teammates would have been able to, or are they taking possessions away from their more efficient teammates? 
The Nuggets have certainly surrounded Anthony with talented teammates over the years, but the synergy between Anthony and his teammates hasn’t always been there. The Nuggets do a good job of setting Anthony up with easy looks around the basket, but their offense also devolves into what the Nuggets themselves refer to as “random offense,” which generally involves Anthony taking the ball in isolation or standing on the wing and watching one of his teammates take the ball in isolation. That’s not the way to get the most out of Anthony’s talents, and his efficiency numbers reflect that. 
The question is whether the way Anthony plays now is the way he wants to play or the way the Nuggets’ system forces him to play — if the Nuggets (or another team) can work more ball movement into an Anthony-centric offense, he might earn the max deal he’ll almost certainly get after all.