Meloball Under Fire (Again)

photo from nba.com

The great Howard Beck wrote an interesting column in today’s New York Times, analyzing the struggles of Carmelo Anthony versus the Heat and in his entire postseason career. He points out Melo’s crappy shooting percentage in this series and his dismissive postgame remarks that suggest a lack of awareness. Beck drives everything home with this bullet:

In nine postseasons, Anthony is 16-36 — the worst record among active players with at least 50 playoff games. He has won a first-round series only once, in 2009. Since then, he has lost 11 of 13 playoff games. If the Knicks lose Sunday, it will be Anthony’s third time getting swept in five years.

This point was brought up during the Game 3 broadcast too. Beck and probably many others are willing to pin the blame of these postseason failures on Carmelo’s “hero ball” style of play:

Playing Meloball — in which Anthony dominates the offense, usually in ball-pounding isolation sets — got the Knicks through a critical late-season period, without Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, with a 9-4 record. Anthony was brilliant in that stretch, shooting high percentages and collecting 30-point games while the defense did the rest.

But we are now seeing the limitations of Meloball. It can win 45 to 50 games (as it did in Denver) (Eds note: In Denver, Melo’s last three season win totals were 50, 54, 53), but it cannot beat a team as talented and disciplined as the Heat.

Stoudemire hardly saw the ball in the first two games of this series. The Knicks’ 3-point shooters are not getting open looks, because the ball is not moving.

Anthony is a great scorer. He is not yet a great player, because he does not consistently elevate his teammates. He averaged a modest 3.6 assists per game this season, and has a career average of 3.1.

By contrast, consider his close friends from the 2003 draft class: Wade has averaged 6.2 assists per game for his career, and James 6.9. Both Miami stars can control a game through their playmaking alone. The same goes for Kobe Bryant (4.7 career average), when the mood strikes.

Here’s what I find interesting about this:

In an article devoted to criticizing Melo, Beck pays him the huge compliment of a comparison to LeBron, D-Wade and Kobe. Peel away the layers and what we have here is the notion that if Carmelo could do what he does now, and then add elite playmaking to it, he’d be an all-time great. It kind of begs for a, “Well no shit.”

Players who make All-Star teams and fail to go deep into the playoffs usually get ripped for it. Kevin Garnett understands — after seven seasons in the NBA he had a playoff record of 7-19 (.269, worse than Melo’s .308) and a reputation for a player who couldn’t carry a team into the playoffs. His seeming fault–a reluctance to take over games as a scorer–was quite different from Melo’s, but the “first round and out” pattern developed and memes took over. What actually turned out to be the case was that Garnett just needed better teammates like his superstar peers already had. With Cassell and Sprewell, Garnett could carry a team deep into the playoffs. With Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, he could perennially contend for title rings.

In 2009, Melo’s Nuggets were loaded with quality veteran players and made it to Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals — a breakthrough for Melo similar to KG’s in 2004 with Sam & Spree. Both Melo and Garnett ran into a Lakers Buzzsaw that was too much to overcome. Melo’s subsequent struggles differ greatly from Garnett’s ascent in Boston. Melo wanted to play in New York City, and that ultimately meant gutting that team of its roster depth in the trade to acquire him. His current Knicks team has a lot of bad players logging big minutes. Mike Bibby doesn’t belong in the NBA. Baron Davis probably doesn’t either. Landry Fields is a 10th Man playing 5th Man minutes. Iman Shumpert, even before the unfortunate injury, was considerably-overrated, mixing defensive tenacity with unreliable offense. Melo’s supposed sidekick, Amar’e Stoudemire, is a shell of his old self and couldn’t be a worse fit for a Meloball Offense. And make no mistake about it, Meloball is this team’s best option, so STAT might be coming off the bench to earn his remaining $65 Million. (!!!) Melo’s actual sidekick, Tyson Chandler, is very good (recently announced as Defensive Player of the Year and blew away the field-goal percentage title) and those two will together have to carry the team as far as it can go, until STAT is off the books.

It isn’t that Meloball doesn’t work in the playoffs. It’s that Melo falls in the “everybody but LeBron” category of players that need lots of other good players with them in order to win playoff games. New York went 18-6 with Mike Woodson; a winning percentage that would have landed them the 2 Seed if it were the whole season. If the Knicks were playing literally any Eastern team other than the Heat, they’d probably be in a competitive series that they might win. LeBron, a DPOY candidate in his own right, locks down on Melo’s isolation scoring and there isn’t anything left. What works against 28 other teams doesn’t work against this one. But let’s not get too carried away. Give Melo a better teammate or two, and a more favorable matchup, and his “ball” can get the Knicks past the first round and blow up another basketball narrative.

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2 responses to “Meloball Under Fire (Again)

  1. Meloball looked pretty good yesterday. I realize it was one game, and that NYK is going to lose this series, but you could see the value of having a guy who can get his own shot and carry a team. The Knicks literally didn’t have a point guard after Davis blew out his knee – Bibby doesn’t count – and, if anything, Melo took his game to another level. That skill is especially important in the playoffs and gets too little weight, at least among the growing analytics community.

    • Yeah, Melo going for 40+ against the best small forward defender in the league is UNSUSTAINABLE, but fun to watch when it happens. My point is that Meloball in its purest form (yesterday) only comes out when the situation requires, and that situation is not a good one for his team’s chance at success. Remember that game (I wanna say Game 3?) versus Boston last year when he dropped like 48 and was being quadruple-teamed 35 feet from the hoop? (Or something like that.) Obviously that isn’t an ideal situation but when Jared Jeffries and Toney Douglas are his sidekicks, there isn’t much choice.

      When he played with good teammates in Denver, his scoring would drop some and his team would win more. Things just need to be in their proper context. The Knicks ain’t winning this series, but that has little to do with Carmelo Anthony unless you want to blame him for forcing that trade. That’s a different conversation.