Please welcome new Chasing 23 Contributor Daniel Douglas.
Basketball , once stripped of its gaudy jerseys, mainstream hip-hop songs leading into and out of televised games, grating arena announcers, even more grating commentators and mildly sauced local celebrities made up and Vera Wang’d out at courtside, is a game of individual domination.
Granted, the tete-a-tete showdowns we see in the NBA are not as savagely intimate and brutal as boxing, nor are they as structured and impersonal as baseball, but it is a game of personal attack and defense.
Therefore, when looked at from this perspective, Carmelo Anthony must be one of the top five players in the NBA, right? Or rather, he has one of the five most refined, dynamic skill sets? I’d go so far as to say the only person equally as versatile, though in a completely different sense is Dwayne Wade.
There’s a mastery and precision to Melo’s game: he is a mixture of drives, step backs, pull-ups, three-pointers and dunks. And he uses these weapons intelligently, according to the soft spots in the defense. Therefore, looked at from the suffocating, intimate singularity of two men vying for individual domination, I can think of very few players so adept at dropping the ball through the hoop in so many varied ways.
Then however, once I step back, beyond the sweat, the body heat, the squeaking shoes and look down at Carmelo, the picture becomes more bleak as I realize that the scoring I so love from Carmelo, is all that Carmelo could do.
If LeBron James is the ideal physical prototype of the NBA Basketball Player, then the one-dimensional Carmelo Anthony is the clay before he was molded. But before this reads even more like a Next Top Model scouting report, let me bring this back in. It’s a miracle that Carmelo can do what he does offensively without once, assumingly, using the MSG fitness facility. Unfortunately, he’s only able, or willing, to expend energy when the ball is in his hands or in transit to his hands, which, okay, is good for his ego, pocketbook and marketability but kind of sucks in relation to winning the actual games he’s being paid to win.
The Knicks are pretty lousy defensively as is – even with the second best defensive Center in the league, Tyson Chandler – but with Melo (a man, mind you who has never eclipsed 100 steals or 50 blocks in a season or, if you’re more sabbermetrically inclined, 3.0 Defensive Win Shares) so defensively disinterested, it appears he thinks a mere stern look will alter his man’s shot, the season could turn ugly (uglier) for the Knicks.
But this isn’t really about the Knicks. It’s about Melo. And you. And me. And whichever Sportscenter windbag reaches nirvana because a player siphons a third of his team’s shots so he can prove to doubtful fans he can still average 30 points a game.
Melo’s a good rebounder for his position (10th place among SF for rebounds per 48 minutes) but doesn’t often pass (3.1 APG) or take even halfway decent care of the ball (3.0 TPG for a 1-1 assist to turnover ratio). So by my count, I have him as an exceptional scoring threat who is average to abysmal at everything else.
Yet, ask anyone, and they will tell you Carmelo Anthony is one of the best players in the NBA. According to the ESPN NBA player rankings, Melo is the 12th best player in the league while his similar high scoring, sedentary, and disinterested teammate Amare Stoudamire is 13th.
How do you have two of the top 15 players in the NBA and post a sub-.500 record, as the Knicks have since acquiring Melo? How did Denver get rid of the 12th best player in the league and get better?
Well, the answer is, because the Nuggets got better players, despite what we may think.
We’re obsessed with scoring, which makes sense. The object of the game is to put up more points than your opponent, so it stands to reason that the best person will be he who scores the most points for his team. It’s logical, i but it’s so damn wrong.
Scoring is great, for viewers and players (there’s nothing more selfishly satisfying than seeing your shot snap the bottom of the mess) but, if you’re on the other side of the ball, the swish should be as equally horrible as it is gratifying for the shooter. Yet it’s not. It’s treated – not just by Melo I should add – as a minor irritant, a small disagreeable outcome, that doesn’t quite matter so much in the scheme of things. Which, abstractly speaking, it doesn’t. However, by that token, neither does scoring. The relationship is a perfectly equal one; two segments of the same pie, except we’re only looking at the segment adorned with glitter and Smarties pieces.
Melo gets his points, usually with reasonable efficiency – he has shot better and less, before this season, than the man most consider the unquestionably greatest-player-to-ever-force-himself-on-a-hotel-staffer Kobe Bryant – but his team spends games disinterested and miffed, knowing the only time they’ll see the ball is when Melo catches his breath on the bench or flings an unsuspecting pass at their heads when he’s trapped by defenders. The Knicks average only 18.6 assists per game (24th) and the next leading scorer aside from Melo (24.1 PPG on .396 shooting) and Amare (17.7 on .422) is Iman Shumpert who has taken 171 less shots, and surprisingly missed nearly as much.
Look, Melo is one of the better scorers in the league and one of my favorite players to watch. But if he wants to win, to drive deeper than the first round of the playoffs year after year, he’s going to have to commit to doing the shitty things as well.
He won’t. And the Knicks will continue to lose. And Melo will continue to be praised. And we’ll blame his teammates. And he’ll get another max contract. And we will watch. And we will wonder why, with all the offensive talent Carmelo possesses, he can’t win.
I just told you why. But nobody’s listening.