Carmelo Anthony's Antiquated Offense


The Oklahoma City Thunder have stormed to the fifth seed in the west after kicking off their season looking like a fringe playoff team. The Thunder have positioned themselves at the fifth seed in the west after a stretch of 20 wins and just eight losses effectively offset their 8-12 record to start the year. A major part of the solution was painfully obvious, or should I say, it was painful and obvious. Obvious, in that, we learned Carmelo Anthony is better used as a complementary player these days, which makes you wonder if making the trade was worth it to begin with. (The Knicks are seven games under .500 now, but it wasn’t long ago that they looked like a sixth seed, and we were wondering if Enes Kanter was the best player in the deal. For real.) Painful, in that watching the game pass him by is symbolic of the childhood of those who grew up watching him. Still, we find the Thunder back at square one: a losing streak. Anthony’s declining offense has been a glaring weakness, even if he shows flashes of playing like his former self.

Melo’s jump shot hasn’t gotten much worse, and in all fairness, he was never exceptionally efficient to begin with. His mid-range game is one of the best in recent memory, but his tendency to kill the pace of a game while sizing up his opponents has not aged well in the modern NBA. Look, there’s nothing wrong with being a midrange specialist. Demar DeRozan and CJ McCollum are evidence that it can work, but you know what those guys also do? Get to the rim. You wanna know what Melo never does? Get to the rim.

In waiving his no-trade clause to join the Thunder, Melo also agreed in part to play the power forward position. Obviously, he isn’t exclusively being used at that position, but this is actually the perfect time for Melo to play as a big man, as more and more guys of his size (Jae Crowder, for example) are playing minutes as a four. As it turns out, your strong forwards can guard their tall forwards. Yet, Melo has completely abandoned his interior game.

Per Cleaning the Glass, 14% of Melo’s field goal attempts are at the rim (within four feet of the basket) this season. This is the lowest number of his career, and something that he has steadily moved away from starting in the 2010-11 season. Between the 2003-04 season (his rookie year) and 2010-11, about 41.5% of Anthony’s shot attempts would come at the rim in an average year, excluding his 27 games with New York at the end of 2011, which was his first half-season with them. In fact, as soon as he joined New York, he started taking fewer shots near the basket.

Year Team % of shots within 4 ft
2011-12 NYK 37%
2012-13 NYK 32%
2013-14 NYK 25%
2014-15 NYK 27%
2015-16 NYK 27%
2016-17 NYK 17%
2017-18 OKC 14%

14% puts Anthony behind 96% of all players listed as “Big” on Cleaning the Glass. (Update: he’s now listed as a forward, putting him behind 98% of all other forwards) Anthony isn’t a traditional big man, but why has such a strong asset of his game disappeared? On his limited attempts inside, he’s hitting 64% of his shots, compared to 37% of all made threes. On paper, that would make him slightly more efficient as an inside scorer than an outside shooter, which is interesting given the context that Oklahoma’s trio of stars were the most inefficient scorers in the league among players taking 15 or more shots per game as of December 16. Is it possible that Anthony, age 33, is feeling too old to be clashing in the paint anymore? We have to consider that as a real factor now, right? Early 30s isn’t terribly old in basketball years, although the only remaining player from the 2003 draft who still looks young is LeBron James (honorable mention: Kyle Korver).

Carmelo being re-purposed as an explicitly non-interior player wouldn’t be an issue if his playstyle adapted to being the spot up shooter that his team needs. Although, being that specific is overthinking it; his offense has fallen off a cliff. It’s really that simple. Per basketball-reference, since January seventh (a loss to Phoenix), Anthony is shooting 39% from the floor on 16 attempts per game, and 29% from three on six attempts per game. He had a great stretch before that, but he’s soared past any sort of regression to the mean and straight into the dumpster. It’s a bad sign for a team that wanted to reload on the fly and stay competitive with Russell Westbrook as a cornerstone piece.

If this experiment bottoms out, Paul George can walk this summer, but Carmelo can (and will) opt into the last year of his deal with $27 million. The Thunder are lacking enough depth as it is and will owe Westbrook, Anthony, and Steven Adams over $90 million next season. Replacing Paul George with another $20 million player would only land them in the same situation they are now unless they can find some serious value in the scraps of the free agent market. (i.e. Tyreke Evans earning $2.9 million while averaging 20/6/5 for Memphis) (i.e. The absolute opposite of paying Kyle Singler five million US dollars to play basketball).

I’ve noticed that the most dedicated Thunder fans have an undying trust in Sam Presti to make the right deal (which is crazy because the Brooklyn Nets existing are the only reason why the James Harden trade isn’t the most monumentally bad trade ever). If Presti is the prodigy that his fans claim him to be, I expect there to be some serious wheeling in dealing in the coming years. Otherwise, the “we’re competitive because we still have Westbrook” window closes and it’s back to the drawing board.

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