Breaking Down How Opposing Teams Must Defend Carmelo Anthony to Shut Him Down
Carmelo Anthony is a scoring machine.
The New York Knicks forward averaged 28.7 points per game in 2012-13, good enough for him to displace Kevin Durant as the NBA's scoring champion. And that means every team other than New York is entering the 2013-14 campaign with a certain question clanging around in its metaphorical mind:
How in the world do you shut down 'Melo?
Well, the answer is simple.
Instead, you have to defend him in a certain way so that you can have a chance at slowing him down with an outside, minuscule shot at actually shutting him down.
And if you let him get rolling with his jab to the step-back, you're already toast.
Don't Let Him Touch the Ball
The easiest way to stop Anthony is simply to keep him from touching the ball. Well, "simply" might be overstating it, because that's far easier said than done.
There are a few different ways to do this, and none of them is particularly simple.
If 'Melo is in one of those moods where he runs around a lot and tries to free himself for jumpers, it's all about hanging with him. He'll use a bunch of screens to work his way open on the perimeter, and the Knicks will often screen the screener to confuse the defense.
But no matter how many people are setting picks, Anthony's defender has to keep up with him. And the same goes for when he's working without any screens.
In the first play of the highlight reel up above, you can see Josh Smith committed the cardinal sin for the Atlanta Hawks. He was tasked with guarding 'Melo, and yet he left him open so that he could attempt to play mediocre help defense for his teammates.
Shutting down Anthony trumps everything else. It's better to let the bigs worry about the driving lane and stay on the tough assignment. In fact, that whole highlight reel is filled with rather horrific defense on Smoove's part.
He just doesn't understand the whole concept of staying with his assignment.
On the flip side, that's perfect defense against Anthony.
Paul George fought through Tyson Chandler's screen and was able to poke away the entry pass. He understands the No. 1 principle when guarding the reigning scoring champion: You. Cannot. Let. Him. Get. Clean. Looks.
That much emphasis is necessary.
But, what happens when Anthony is playing in the post? After all, that's arguably the area of the court from which he's become most deadly.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the forward posted up 470 times throughout the 2012-13 season and scored 0.92 points per possession. That's a mark that was exceeded by only 32 players throughout the Association, a rather impressive number since Anthony isn't primarily a post-up player.
The best way to stop 'Melo from going to work in the post is—once again—to avoid letting him touch the ball. And you do that by fronting him.
See how the Heat are consistently fronting 'Melo in this sequence of plays from the 2012 postseason? They weren't letting his teammates make easy passes, and the result was that Anthony didn't touch the ball as often.
All of this boils down to one basic principle. Anthony is less effective when he doesn't have the rock in his hands. He's going to score when he's involved, so lower the involvement as much as possible.
But, what happens if he does get the ball?
Keep Him Going Baseline
Sometimes playing against Anthony is like going up against a washing machine. You know that you're going to be on spin cycle the entire game.
The man who averaged 28.7 points per game in 2012-13 has been twirling past defenders for a long time.
He's done it with the Denver Nuggets.
And, of course, he's done it with the Knicks.
Although the pull-up jumper off the dribble has become Anthony's go-to move—that quick release is just remarkable—the spin into the paint is still one of his trademarks. He loves to fake baseline and then finish right around the rim after going into whirling dervish mode to get around his defender.
You can see this proclivity for shots at the rim and just off the baseline displayed in this shot chart from Basketball-Reference:
If you look carefully, you'll notice that there's quite a bit of red on the baseline itself.
Sure, he makes shots from that area of the court with some degree of frequency, but he still struggles there more than anywhere else. Defenders have to play the spin and force him into those leaning baseline jumpers.
Even if he starts hitting them, it's important to keep forcing those looks.
This can be done either by having man-to-man defenders position themselves so that he spins directly into them instead of around them or by throwing an extra man at 'Melo in an effort to double-team him away from the center of the court.
Be Roy Hibbert
Stand Your Ground
'Melo is a bully.
He's not going to steal your lunch money. He's not going to push you into a puddle. He's not going to make fun of you in front of your friends.
But when he gets the ball, he's going to back you down as often as possible. The closer Anthony gets to the basket, the more potent he gets. That might not be reflected in his field-goal percentages, but he draws more contact and does more damage when he's able to work into the interior of the defense.
That's why the biggest key when Anthony gets the ball is to stand your ground.
If he's going to beat you with contested jumpers, that's something you can live with. Those are lower-percentage shots, and when the Knicks forward is hitting them, he's having one of those days on which he's completely and utterly unstoppable.
Instead, it's key to take away everything else, something that Landry Fields does quite well in the video below.
In these clips, 'Melo is admittedly just missing shots and having one of his rare off nights. Those are makeable looks in some situations, but it's still important to note that Fields' harassment threw the scoring champion off his rhythm.
He didn't "shut him down," as the video claims. He just slowed him down.
And he did so by standing his ground. You can see that so well in one of the plays from the video that I just have to slow it down for you.
Fields began the play in absolutely perfect guarding position. Look at the angles created by his back and legs. They're flawless, and that allowed him to hold ground against 'Melo and simultaneously prepare to move quickly enough that he could go in either lateral direction or chase down a backdown dribble.
Fields absorbed the contact and didn't fall completely off balance. In fact, it was still enough of a deterrent that Anthony pulled up instead of continuing his path toward the rack.
And because of Fields' positioning, he was able to recover and contest the jumper, one that came with 11 seconds left on the shot clock.
It's a perfect example of maintaining position and recovering against Anthony, but it's not the only application of the "stand your ground" maxim.
That also applies in the literal sense, as you can see in each of the first two plays displayed below.
When you're playing against 'Melo, you cannot afford to fall for his pump fakes. He's tremendous at faking with the ball and getting a defender in the air (a.k.a. leaving the ground. Get it?). From there, he can finish around him or draw contact and work his way to the charity stripe, from which he shot 83 percent in 2012-13.
Just look at how he abuses Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass at the beginning of the video. Defenders can't afford to fall into that trap. Contest shots, but don't do so without hesitation against 'Melo.
Remember, forcing a jumper is the ideal outcome of any possession that involves the league's top scorer.
Will Carmelo Anthony win another scoring title in 2013-14?
And at the end of the day, it's all about picking poisons. Teams aren't just going to stop Anthony entirely, which means they have to choose the desired outcome.
That requires a certain degree of adaptability as well. If something is working for 'Melo, take it away for the rest of the game. Make adjustments rather than following a strict game plan.
You need all the help you can get when attempting to shut down this particular forward.
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