Is Carmelo Anthony's NBA Title Path Blocked Forever?
There are three types of superstar players who never win it all:
- Those who never have the right supporting cast around them.
- Those who have a weakness that makes it impossible for them to go all the way.
- Those who are the victims of better players.
Carmelo Anthony has all three of these working against him, so it’s almost impossible to see him winning a title.
Insufficient Supporting Cast
First, there’s the issue of his teammates. The New York Knicks are constructed in a way that prevents them from having any realistic chance of winning a title.
Philosophically, they are going against history by trying to win while relying on three-point shooting.
The Knicks are phenomenal from deep. They shattered the NBA record for treys made in a season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
However, reviewing the data reveals success from deep doesn’t translate into winning titles.
The best three-point shooting team to win a championship is the 1995 Houston Rockets, who made the 46th most threes in NBA history. The Rockets are also the only team to win a title and lead the league in that category in the same season.
If the Miami Heat defeat the Pacers, they (17th) or the San Antonio Spurs (35th) would break that record. The winner of Miami vs. San Antonio would be just the second team in the top 100 in league history to win the title.
So you get the idea. History doesn’t favor the Knicks' philosophy.
Eventually a team has to win four out of seven against a good defensive team, and good defensive teams know how to close out on the perimeter, challenge jump shots and get defensive rebounds. Gimmick offenses built around three-point shooting end up losing in the playoffs.
Historically, it’s evident: You don’t build titles around three-point shooting. That’s part of the problem with the way the Knicks are constructed.
The Knicks also have other constraints that are working against them. Along with Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler are taking a large chunk of the cap. Next year, the trio will make $57 million, the equivalent of this year’s salary cap.
The Knicks are locked into $75 million total in salaries next year, and that’s assuming they don’t re-sign J.R. Smith or Chris Copeland. They are probably paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $80-$85 million. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room.
The bottom line here is the actual bottom line—money. The Knicks have no money to improve, and they were (at best) the third best team in the East this year. Miami and the Indiana Pacers, which are in the conference finals, are clearly better. Indiana beat the Knicks, and Miami is the reigning champion.
Of course, one could argue that the Knicks are going to have Stoudemire next year, but we have yet to see the Knicks play Anthony and Stoudemire together with success, whereas we’ve seen Rose be successful with the Bulls.
The Brooklyn Nets went through a midseason coaching change and adapted to Joe Johnson being added to the team. Other teams, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards, which have promising young talent, could be a year or two from contending as well.
The Knicks are already looking at dropping to fourth or fifth in the conference and perhaps even further. And there’s little way for them to improve.
They are a team rolling in actual money, so the tax payments may not matter much in regard to profitability, but severe limitations are in the cap rules. That hinders the Knicks' ability to improve. In reality, they have probably already peaked.
But wait. There’s more.
The Knicks are older than most of our national monuments.
They had one player, Iman Shumpert, who was under 27 this year, compared to six players who were at least 35. Players don’t generally improve once they are over 35.
Getting younger quality players is going to be difficult without money and with the restrictions facing New York in regard to trades. The Knicks also owe their 2014 and 2016 first-round draft picks to Denver from the Anthony trade, and their next four second-round picks are owed to various teams, so it’s hard to see them improving through the draft.
They do have Oklahoma City’s second-round pick in 2014, but that’s not worth a whole lot either.
It’s hard to figure how Anthony’s supporting cast is going to improve. How is the team going to change its identity from one that relies on inevitably streaky three-point shooting? How are the Knicks going to get younger?
These questions may not have answers other than "they’re not."
If that’s the only answer, Anthony is not going to win a title with the Knicks.
Carmelo Anthony Is Carmelo Anthony
The second issue that Anthony faces is that he is Carmelo Anthony. He has a style of play that makes the players around him worse and less productive.
Is it coincidental that Stoudemire and Smith had their best games while he was out?
Anthony loves to take the ball in isolation, which takes other players out of the game. It stops ball movement and adversely impacts the team. He ran a ridiculous 612 isolation plays last year and used another 239 plays as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll.
Sure, he’s effective and was the league’s leading scorer, but that much domination of the ball has a negative effect.
Smith is worse with Anthony on the court. With one ball to go around, you are going to see a reduction in individual scoring with two scorers on the floor at the same time, but according to NBA.com (subscription required), Smith’s scoring dropped from 31.7 points per 48 minutes without Anthony to 22.3 points with him. That’s a very steep drop-off, much greater than you’d expect.
You also see a drop in his shooting percentage of about one percent, both overall and from deep. While that’s not drastic, you expect to see that drop in overall production correspond with an increase in efficiency, as defenders should be applying more attention to Anthony. That Smith’s efficiency goes down at all is disconcerting.
We see a similar thing with Stoudemire, who was both less productive and less efficient when he shared the court with Anthony last year and this year. The same goes for Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton.
Pretty much everyone is worse with Anthony on the court, and it always seems to have been that way.
He is a black hole that absorbs the ball and takes his teammates out of rhythm. It’s why their shooting gets worse while he’s on the court.
Whether it’s been role players like Andre Miller and Chauncey Billups or superstars like Stoudemire and Allen Iverson, Anthony has never seemed to make anyone around him better. For the most part, he’s made everyone around him worse.
He already has an insufficient and aging cast. Making them worse is no way to win a title. Sure, the Knicks are better with him, but they are less than the sum of their parts.
Anthony Is a Victim of LeBron James
The greatest players create synergy—they make teams greater than the sum of their parts, and one of those players is playing right now with the Miami Heat, LeBron James.
I have invented two clubs from NBA history. One is the “victims of Jordan,” and the other is the “victims of Russell." These two legends accounted for almost two decades of NBA titles, and some great NBA players either have none or almost no titles because of them.
Elgin Baylor is one of the greatest players in history. He’s the prototype upon which the likes of David Thompson, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and now LeBron James have been built. Sure, they vary and evolve, but he was the original. And he never won a title because of Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics.
Baylor’s Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers lost to Bill Russell’s Celtics seven times, and they lost to the Knicks the eighth time. Ironically, after Baylor retired, the Lakers started their historic 33-game win streak and finally won the title.
John Stockton is the greatest pure point guard in NBA history, but he never won a title. He lost in the NBA Finals twice to Michael Jordan. So did his teammate, Karl Malone.
Charles Barkley, another of the truly great players, never won because of Jordan.
Sometimes, it’s not about the players or the teams—it’s about the one player in the league who transcends all others. It’s feasible that Anthony, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and others will be just joining another club, the victims of James.
The third problem for Anthony is that he’s not LeBron James. Even if by some miracle, the Knicks solve their salary-cap woes and Anthony has an epiphany and makes his teammates better instead of thinking every play should be an isolation for him, he’s still not James.
James is just better.
Anthony will never win a title because the Knicks aren’t good enough. They aren’t going to get better by changing the roster. And Anthony isn’t going to make them better. And even if he does, he’s never going to be better than James.
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