Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant Prove Scoring Less Is More

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during the first half at Staples Center on December 29, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Gross/Getty Images)
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As the NBA continues to step out of the statistical stone age, players like Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant are being looked at in a whole new way when it comes to scoring.

Whereas before, points per game was the be-all and end-all of scoring metrics, efficiency has now taken center stage. And if you think about it, it makes sense to consider the cost of shot attempts. Possessions are precious, and it’s critical for teams to determine what kinds of field-goal tries they should be focusing on.

That means there’s an increased emphasis on taking shots from efficient areas, like around the bucket or in the corners, and less attention paid to who’s actually doing the shooting.

Sure, everyone wants to see superstars go for 40, but the league is starting to learn that sometimes, when it comes to marquee scorers, less is more.

In keeping with that idea, let’s take a closer look at how the “less is more” trend in scoring analysis applies to Anthony and Bryant, both of whom are having terrific scoring years.


The Truth About Carmelo Anthony

It’s become popular to laud Anthony for improving his defensive effort and playing more unselfishly this season, but the real difference in his play has been his field-goal accuracy.

That’s not nearly as fun to think about as a total personality overhaul, but it’s true.

Anthony’s shooting an excellent 48 percent from the floor and a blistering 44 percent from long range, with the latter figure representing a career high. As a result, he’s putting up his best scoring average ever.

There’s no question that Anthony is doing a good job of facilitating from the box and the elbows. And it’s also clear that he’s putting forth consistent effort on D. But the real difference in his game has been his efficiency as a shooter.

Prior to this year, Anthony has always had a reputation as something between a chucker and a slightly overconfident scorer, depending on your perspective. But now he’s showing that the only difference between being a selfish gunner and a potential MVP candidate is a good conversion rate from the field.

If and when his shooting percentages start to regress to his career norms, it’s going to be very interesting to see if Mike Woodson changes the way he uses Anthony. Certainly he’ll want to consider talking to Melo about spending less time outside the arc and more time on the block.

Even now there’s reason to believe that the Knicks are better when the ball’s moving around the perimeter and multiple players are getting shots. That kind of chaos leads to missed assignments and open threes, which was a recipe for the Knicks’ success in the early going this year.

In fact, Anthony tends to play more minutes and take more shots in New York’s losses than he does in their wins. That could be an issue going forward, but the more immediate problem is the sheer number of triples Anthony is attempting.

Currently Anthony is tossing up 6.2 threes per game, which is more than twice his career average. If that 44 percent shooting starts to trail off, you can bet Woodson will have a long discussion with Carmelo about the “less is more” idea.


Kobe Bryant and the Mystery of 30

While Carmelo has successfully subscribed to the “more is more” scoring plan so far, there is some pretty robust data that shows Kobe Bryant would be best served by the opposite approach.

The Lakers are now 6-13 when Kobe Bryant scores 30+ points, 6-3 when he scores 20-29 points and 3-0 when he scores 0-19 points

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 2, 2013

Stats like the ones that seek to equate Bryant’s high scoring outputs to Laker losses are always tricky. Obviously there’s a correlation between Kobe going for 30 and the Lakers losing.

But is there causation?

The short answer, at least this season, is “maybe.”

Think about it. Bryant is putting up a career-best percentage from the field and is shooting the three with more success than he has since his rookie year. If he were shooting somewhere down around 40 percent from the floor, there’d be a strong argument that his 30 points were coming at the cost of potentially better looks for his teammates.

But 21.8 shots per game is acceptable if they’re going in at a 48 percent clip.

So while there’s not clear proof that Kobe’s big scoring totals lead to losses, there is evidence that the Lakers are much better when he couples big assist numbers with his scoring.

In Laker wins, Kobe registers six assists per game. But in their losses, he dishes out just 3.6 dimes per contest. Based on that discrepancy, there’s a good argument that Kobe’s assists are more valuable to the Lakers than his points. It’s counterintuitive, especially because Kobe’s field-goal percentage is higher than his team’s as a whole, but the numbers are compelling.

Less really might be more when it comes to Kobe’s scoring.



It might be hard to come to grips with the fact that high-volume scoring from one player—even if it’s also high-efficiency scoring—might not be the best thing for a team’s success.

But based on our analysis of Anthony and Bryant, it does seem clear that their teams are more successful when the big guns shoot less.