Carmelo Anthony vs. Joe Johnson: Who Is the Better NBA Player?
New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony and Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson are the top scorers on their respective teams. With the Knicks-Nets rivalry becoming suddenly legitimate, these two players will find themselves fighting for the attention of New York basketball fans.
The two players have had similar careers in a lot of ways. They are both prolific scorers who have some weaknesses in their games and are yet to see great postseason success.
Johnson—joining the Nets this season—will be playing for his fourth NBA team. In his 11 years in the league, he has reached the conference semifinals five times. However, he has failed to go any further.
Anthony has played on two teams—the Denver Nuggets and now the Knicks—and has reached the second round of the playoffs only once so far in his nine years as a player.
Who is the better player? And who will do more for New York basketball this season?
Offensive Production and Efficiency
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Johnson is a six-time All-Star and former All-NBA team member in large part because of his offensive prowess. He has scored more than 18 points per game and shot over 43 percent from the field for the past seven years in a row. That consistency has been a big part of his career.
The 2011-12 season was not his most prolific one as an NBA player. However, it was one of his more efficient seasons. His PER was 18.4, which is less than it has been in the past. He made up for that in part by taking less shots and missing less shots.
His 2011 true shooting percentage of 56 and effective field goal percentage of 52 were both well above the league average and his own career average. He totaled 18.8 points per game.
Anthony is a five-time All-Star and an All-NBA team member. His career has been less consistent, but his scoring runs have had higher peaks. In the 2006-07 season, he scored more than 27 points per 36 minutes.
Anthony's production has dropped off in recent years, due more so to decreased efficiency than anything else. His points per game, field goal percentage and PER have decreased for the past three years. Additionally, his true shooting percentage was below the NBA average in 2011.
One issue that has cut into Melo's numbers in recent years is that he has not adapted his game to his decreased efficiency. By decreasing his usage, he could become a more efficient player. However, his usage in 2011 of 32 percent was one of the highest in the league—seven percentage points more than that of Joe Johnson.
The style of basketball Carmelo plays—which relies on isolation and mid-range jumpers—does not work unless he is able to hit shots.
This is a close category, and ultimately it is a wash. In the past NBA season Johnson scored slightly less than Anthony while taking a lot less shots. The nearly four percent difference in true shooting says a lot, especially since Johnson is a guard and Anthony is a forward.
Both players are in for very different seasons in 2012-13. Johnson is starting with a new team, while Carmelo is playing on a roster that went through a lot of offseason upheaval. We will have to wait and see if either of the two can improve their offensive games with the help of new teammates.
Anthony will get to play with point guard Jason Kidd, while Johnson will get to play with point guard Deron Williams.
Passing and Ball Movement
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While Johnson is not known for putting up huge assist numbers, he is a better than average passer for a shooting guard. He is been called an "elite passer" by some and will potentially be even better now that he has Deron Williams in the backcourt with him.
On the other hand, Johnson has been accused of playing too much isolation ball in big games. He will need to learn to trust Williams and his other teammates on the Brooklyn Nets.
Looking at the stats, Johnson has been a solid passer throughout his career. His 4.4 assists per game and 21.4 assist percentage are both impressive for a shooting guard. His assist percentage dropped slightly in 2011-12, perhaps a symptom of the Atlanta Hawks' lack of chemistry last season.
During his ups and his downs, Carmelo has always been known—perhaps more than anyone else in the NBA—for isolation ball. He was criticized a lot in his time in New York for not passing enough.
That criticism was somewhat a result of the New York media spotlight. In reality, Carmelo was less of a ball hog last season with the Knicks than he has ever been in his career. His assist percentage of 21 was a career high by a wide margin and was a major improvement over his career average of 16 percent.
If he can continue this trend and pass even more, that would be a big help for the New York Knicks this coming season. His career average of 3.1 assists per game—which has held pretty steady since his rookie year when he had 2.8—could potentially go up if he makes that change.
Joe Johnson wins this one, but not by as much as you might think. He consistently passes more and gets more assists, however, Carmelo was improved in this respect last season for the Knicks. If new point guards Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton can get more ball movement going in the offense, Melo's numbers could improve even more.
Carmelo's best year overall was in 2008-09 with the Denver Nuggets, when future Hall of Fame point guard Chauncey Billups ran the offense. Having a point guard run the offense has the potential to take Melo out of isolation ball and make him more effective as a passer and a scorer.
Result: Advantage Johnson
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Johnson's defense in 2011-12 was not good, but not awful. His defensive rating of 105, though, was the same as his rookie season. His steals per game were below his career average of 1.0. In short, he was not playing as well as he has in the past.
While he will need to improve this year on team defense, he has done very well in isolation and post-up situations in the past. Last season he held opponents to under 30 percent shooting in isolation defense.
Anthony took a lot of heat this past season for his poor defense. While there is truth in the accusations, a lot of it is the extra attention of playing in New York. One could argue that last year was the best defense Carmelo has ever played.
He put up the best defensive rating of his career. He also set a career mark for steals per 36 minutes. I am not going to go so far as to say that he is a good defender or even an average one. However, his performance last season was not as terrible as one might expect.
This one is a lot closer than you might think. The intuition that Johnson is the better defender is understandable. Nevertheless, I am calling this one a draw. While Johnson has been stronger on the defensive side for most of his career, last year it was a wash.
It is entirely possible that Knicks head coach Mike Woodson will have Carmelo playing as well as Johnson on defense or better.
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At 6'7'' and 240 pounds, Johnson is a big man for a guard. His ability to rebound the ball is an advantage in his game and helps to separate him from other guards. His career 4.2 boards per game and defensive rebounding percentage of over 10 stand out.
Last season was a slight down year for Johnson with respect to rebounding. His defensive rebounding dropped to 9.2 percent. However, that is still reasonable for a shooting guard.
Anthony's 4.4 defensive rebounds per game is not great for a forward. However, he has done slightly better more recently and grabbed 4.7 defensive boards per game in 2011-12.
One issue is that while Carmelo spends a lot of time in the paint on both offense and defense, he does not take advantage of all the potential rebounds that are there. His 10 percent total rebounding percentage (both career average and last season) is low for a forward.
The result is that he gets a decent number of total rebounds but leaves a lot more on the court.
It is difficult to compare rebounding across positions. Johnson is the better rebounder with respect to position, but Carmelo is the better rebounder overall. For that reason, a very slight victory goes to Melo on this one.
Result: Advantage Anthony
The Final Tally
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The comparison between Anthony and Johnson is close on both ends of the court. They each bring a lot on offense and could potentially bring more on defense. The final results are as follows:
Offensive Production/Efficiency: Draw
Passing/Ball Movement: Johnson
Defensive Impact: Draw
Johnson final score: 1-1-2
Anthony final score: 1-1-2
The score is a tie. In my mind, the tiebreaker goes to Joe Johnson for one major reason.
The biggest difference between Johnson and Anthony is in the passing game. Johnson is a more able and more willing passer. The presence of Deron Williams is likely to improve Johnson in that respect and allow him to thrive more in the Nets offense.
I anticipate an increase in Johnson's passing effectiveness and thus his impact on the Nets offense. For that reason, he gets the early nod. We will get to see these two players face each other for the first time as rivals on November 1.