Why ESPN's NBA Rank Dropped the Ball with Carmelo Anthony at No. 17

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks reacts after the Knicks won 89-87 against the Miami Heat in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 6, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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We all know by now that Carmelo Anthony isn't an especially good wing defender, he's no LeBron James when it comes to distributing the ball and he won't necessarily fit into every system as seamlessly as you might like.

None of that suggests he's no longer one of the the 15 best players in the NBA.

But how could 104 of ESPN's experts be wrong? 

When it comes to Anthony, very easily. Every conceivable flaw in this guy's game has been magnified in New York and broadcast to all manner of expert and amateur alike. Plus, in a world where player efficiency ratings are so often treated as the absolute measure of a player's worth, Anthony took a slight hit last season.

Carmelo typically shoots the ball at a 45 percent rate or better, but that dipped to 43 percent last season thanks in large part to a slow start in Mike D'Antoni's system.

This is one of those things James Dolan probably should have seen coming. Anthony was never the right fit for a playbook that was diametrically opposed to a scorer so well suited to serving as a one-man half-court offense.

Things changed after D'Antoni and the Knicks parted ways, though—which makes you wonder if these ESPN experts did as they were told and rated "the current quality of each player" [emphasis added].

Perhaps they were so busy looking at those season stat lines that they forgot about April, which is really the only stat line that matters here (unless you're going to read into five postseason games against the Miami Heat).

Anthony's efficiency picked up dramatically in the final month of the regular season, making the most of new head coach Mike Woodson and making the Knicks look the best they'd looked in a long time.

His shooting hovered around 40 to 41 percent in January, February and March before jumping to nearly 50 percent in April, a month in which he averaged 29.8 points—twice surpassing 40 and twice scoring 39. We weren't just seeing the 'Melo of old; we were seeing him play some of the best basketball of his career, often from the power forward position.

Some might argue that no amount of scoring efficiency can compensate for Anthony's suspect defense, but it's worth noting that his defense also began to improve under Woodson.

It looked even better when he was at power forward, where he was able to rely on his strength rather than having to keep up with quick scorers on the wing.

When someone gets a reputation for not playing defense, it tends to stick around. In Anthony's case, any number of myths have managed to stick, including this one from The Denver Post's Mark Kiszla:

Rebounding? Anthony is more likely to eat only blood pudding in Great Britain than acquire a taste for crashing the boards.


His 6.3 rebounds per game last season ranked seventh among small forwards. Per 48 minutes, he averaged 8.8 of them, not an especially far cry from the 10.2 LeBron James averaged over that same span.

In fact, he collected 1.6 boards on the offensive glass to LeBron's 1.5 despite over three fewer minutes per game.

That's a telling figure when it comes to Anthony's effort or willingness to "crash the boards." After all, James didn't have a guy like Tyson Chandler to clean the defensive glass, so you'd really expect him to pick up an extra board or two every night. Anthony averaged 7.6 rebounds during his last season in Denver, which further attests to the fact that the bigs in NYC have simply reduced the number of rebounds available to Anthony in the first place.

But even if you aren't sold that Anthony gets an unfair rap or that his April was ignored, how can you possibly justify ranking Dirk Nowitzki ahead of him at this point?

Dirk played a half-minute less than Anthony per game in 2011-12, but the seven-footer averaged just 6.7 rebounds per contest. Despite playing as one of the two biggest Mavericks on the floor at any given time, be just barely snagged more rebounds than Carmelo.

His statistical contributions on the defensive end (0.4 blocks and 0.7 steals) trailed Anthony's, and he's just as much of a liability in every other respect—if not more so given the costs of having to hide a big man on the defensive end.

On the offensive end, it's true that Nowitzki shot a bit more consistently than Anthony (though Anthony's April was far superior to any one of Dirk's months).

It's also true, however, that Nowitzki has played under the same coach for four years. He wasn't asked to play a radically different role this season, and he's never been asked to do anything but what he's good at doing.

You can't say the same for Anthony.

Here we have a case in which analysts are at one and the same time paying both too much and too little attention to the numbers. They're ignoring the most relevant numbers, and they're ignoring salient considerations that simply aren't expressed by the numbers.

Maybe we shouldn't put Anthony in the top 10 just quite yet, but he should certainly be higher than No. 17.