Why Carmelo Anthony Is the NBA's Best Loser

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Why Carmelo Anthony Is the NBA's Best Loser
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

At 21-36, the New York Knicks are sinking towards their seventh losing season in a decade. Anthony, however, will miss his first postseason in a Knicks uniform, despite a most valiant effort to plug the leaks.

Is he putting forth the most valiant effort of anyone on a lottery-bound team in recent memory?

Jog through the numbers and you'll see that he's on pace for a career year in his 11th go-'round, a few months shy of his 30th birthday.

Rebounds (8.6), turnovers (2.4) three-point percentage (.426)—you name a category and Anthony is probably posting his best numbers ever there. No worse than third best, promise.

He's been on a tear in his five games since the All-Star Break, scoring nearly 38 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting and a blistering 48.8 percent from three.

Yet, the losses continue to pile up.

Despite an offseason that saw other Eastern Conference contenders vastly outmaneuver New York, the team was still a consensus lock for the playoffs. So said writers at SI, Yahoo, SB Nation, ESPN and just about everyone else with an opinion.

Many did acknowledge the fragile nature of the Knicks' roster. But the biggest questions pointed at Melo. Would his high-volume shooting style remain a positive, or drag the Knicks into despair?

As CBS Sports' Matt Moore points out, the former happened:

It hasn't been Melo's ball-stopping that's hurt New York. In fact, Anthony may have put together his best overall season, if you value shot selection. He's attacked the rim, gone after his own rebound, stayed within the flow of the offense. That he's adapted this kind of game inside such a disaster of a season is a cruel twist of fate, like it belongs in an Alanis Morrisette song. It also provides evidence for those who say Melo's jab-step-to-heaven approach has never been a problem.

First Tyson Chandler, then Andrea Bargnani went down with injuries. Then J.R. Smith became the class clown of the NBA. Now the Raymond Felton saga threatens to increase the number of cameras and microphones surrounding all Knicks personnel by a factor of three. New York can do a whole lot more losing before April.

Where does Anthony's excellence put him among the other best losers of the last 20 years?

Guys like Stephon Marbury, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Kevin Garnett starred on some of the worst teams in recent memory, and still put up great numbers for multiple seasons. But none of them make this table with eight of the best individual seasons by players on teams with losing records since the 1996-97 season (and Melo's current campaign). Stats only include losses: 

Name Team  Year    G    Pts     FG Reb  Ast   PER (full season)
Carmelo Anthony NYK 13-14 36 27.9 .433 9.0 2.7 25.4 
Blake Griffin LAC 10-11 50 21.2 .479 11.9 3.1 21.9 
Monta Ellis GS 09-10 45 24.4 .435 3.7 5.0 16.7
Kevin Durant OKC 08-09 56 24.7 .466 6.0 2.7 20.9 
Paul Pierce BOS 05-06 47 26.2 .449 6.4 4.5 23.7
Tracy McGrady ORL 03-04 48 26.6 .410 5.7 5.1 25.3 
Jerry Stackhouse DET 00-01 49 28.4 .392 3.8 4.6 21.8
Antawn Jamison GS 00-01 65 24.8 .433 8.4 1.9 19.0 
Allen Iverson PHI 96-97 56 23.9 .401 4.0 7.1 18.0 

The other two players in bold, Paul Pierce in 2005-06 and Tracy McGrady in 2003-04, set the standard for studs mired in lottery status.

Pierce put the Celtics on his back long before Ray Allen and Garnett arrived. In that season, he set a Celtics record by scoring at least 30 points in 13 of 14 games in the midst of a larger stretch of 16 in 20. He topped 30 points 28 times that year and led the team in scoring in 56 of the 79 games he played.

The 2005-06 season was the best of Pierce's career from an individual standpoint. He set career highs in PER (23.7), points (26.8) and offensive win shares (8.3) as Boston went 33-49. His field goal percentage and rebound and assist averages were the third best he would ever post.

McGrady's last season in Orlando was simultaneously prolific and tumultuous. Head coach Doc Rivers got the axe after a 1-10 start, and McGrady feuded enough with the GM to get himself traded to Houston after the Magic finished in last place (21-61).

But T-Mac got his. The Magic won just two of the 15 games McGrady missed, and he was the team's high scorer in all but 14 games he played. Among the season highlights were his 29 games with at least 30 points and a career-high 28.2 scoring average. He dropped 62 points in a win over Washington.

Melo did that too.

Anthony really trumps them both. And the quality of his play goes beyond wins and losses:

He has been New York's highest scorer in 50 out of the 54 games this season—on pace to top everyone on the table above. And somehow he has .182 win shares per 48 minutes, close to the .184 he posted in last year's 54-win season and better than both Pierce's and McGrady's seasons. His .562 true shooting percentage and .505 effective field goal percentage are the third best of his career.

It's not just scoring that Anthony has been so adept at this season. He is on pace to have the most points generated by assists of his career, despite shooting 22 times a game, and is turning the ball over less than ever.

If you're not convinced, take a look at the plus-minus differentials. This season the Knicks are +13.2 better with Melo than without. Boston (+2.8) and Orlando (+5.3) were also better with their stars than without, but didn't miss them as much as the Knicks do Melo for the nine minutes per game he sits.

The biggest question is whether the Knicks will continue to employ Anthony's services next season and beyond.

Half of the players in the table above switched teams in search of greener pastures within two years, while four stayed put. Iverson was a rookie and stuck around for most of his career; the Clippers brought in Chris Paul to partner with Griffin; Kevin Durant became the second best player in the NBA; and Pierce went on to become the Celtics' second all-time leading scorer.

Nobody seems to know if Melo wants to return to New York, or even how he plans to decide:

 That conflicts with this:

Conventional wisdom and Dwight Howard suggest the smart money is for Melo to find the best situation to win a title: 

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