Carmelo Anthony is a starting forward in the All Star game, despite playing for a team that leavens empty promises with broken dreams. Despite how his old team got dramatically better after trading him. Despite how he’s shooting near 40%. And despite those despites, Charles Barkley was shushed on Inside the NBA for naming Josh Smith as a possible alternative to Melo, the mainstay. Apostasy!
There has been a bit of revisionist history regarding the Anthony trade, by the way. It is now known as the Great Denver Talent Haul. Way back in 2011, this was not the case. The Knicks had killed the Nuggets by procuring this deal. Denver had sadly been forced to swap “50 cents on the dollar,” thus dooming Colorado’s Pepsi Center to be the NBA’s haunted, vacant, blood-sloshed Stanley Hotel. All role players, no playoffs, makes George Karl a…
Well we know it worked out in the exact opposite manner. Now the Knicks look haunted, the Nuggets look liberated, and Mike D’Antoni’s seat is hot enough to curdle a diamond. And yet, there is a hesitancy to radically reassess our valuation system. The new story is about how the sum of Denver’s parts exceeded a single star’s worth. And while there is certainly merit to this trope, why aren’t more people asking whether Carmelo Anthony is even a star? Is it possible that Denver’s as much cured of Melo as they are well-compensated for his absence?
Carmelo Anthony is a one-way offensive player, whose new team is flailing on that end. Right now, he has a career high usage rate of 30.8 and the Knicks are 24th in offensive efficiency. Denver is second in offensive efficiency, all without his help. They also are fifth in defensive efficiency.
Let’s look at Josh Smith’s situation and compare. JS might be the best defensive player at his position, and I don’t believe this to be a radical statement with Garnett in sunset years. His PER is a mere 1.89 below Anthony’s mark, but Smith holds the ball far less often at a 23.0 usage rate. The Hawks are better on offense (ranked 8th) and defense (4th) than the Knicks currently are. Atlanta has also won nine out of twelve games since Al Horford went down for the season. Josh Smith has helped a 16-and-7 team hold the fort in troubled times.
While I don’t expect fan voters to stop rewarding perimeter volume shooters, I want an opinion like, “Josh Smith is better than Carmelo Anthony,” to be less scoffed at among pundits. Defense matters. It is an important aspect of basketball, though frustratingly abstract at times. Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala just might be much better than the scorers we hold in higher esteem.
Now, the narrative is about how the Knicks only need a point guard, an animating force that would finally allow Carmelo’s obvious star to rise. Well, stars who shoot efficiently, play defense, and pass the rock can manage just fine without such help. The Heat were a terror with Mike Bibby as starting point guard, the Lakers have traditionally been decent with Derek Fisher. In Dallas, Jason Kidd plays point from his rocking chair. Maybe we should stop focusing on what factors hinder a star we all “know” to be great. Maybe we should start parsing why he isn’t a star in the first place, and why someone like Josh Smith or Andre Iguodala is.
Worth mentioning that Carmelo Anthony has been on some very good Denver offenses. Not necessarily elite units, but decent nonetheless. So yes, Anthony can be a contributor, or at the very least, exist among healthy contributions. My issues are:
- Should “a star” be so situation dependent?
- Were we wrong to ascribe the success of those teams to Melo? (Denver has trafficked in underrated players like Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, Nene Hilario)
- Why are people so sure that Anthony’s contributions are better than those of say, Smith or Iguodala?