You didn't need to attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to understand that Carmelo Anthony is putting up ludicrous numbers this season. You also don't need a doctorate in NBA metrics to comprehend how terrible the New York Knicks have been in 2013-14—a quick peek at the standings would suffice.
But, as we approach 'Melo's impending free agency this summer, there's a topic worth investigating: Is the former a direct result of the latter? Put differently, is Anthony simply posting bloated stats nightly as a product of his supporting cast's futility?
Does the individual success really mean much at all?
Anthony's value to his Knicks team is inarguable. Without him, New York would find itself buried even deeper in the East than it is now. While Anthony's prowess this season can't be denied, the debate of whether or not he'd be prospering this greatly on a more competent team is worth delving into.
A Little Help Here?
In terms of PER, the only rotation Knicks performing at league-average caliber (above 15.0) are Anthony, Tyson Chandler (18.0) and Amar'e Stoudemire (17.7). Despite those marks, those who have watched the team's progression this season would admit that Chandler has struggled through a relatively disappointing season, and that Stoudemire, of course, can't be relied on very heavily at this stage.
Using another metric that normalizes to a league average, Basketball-Reference's win shares per 48 minutes (where .100 is approximately average), we find that just three rotation Knicks come in over the threshold: Anthony (.173), Chandler (.157) and Pablo Prigioni (.135).
The only non-post player (sorry, Amar'e and Tyson) to put up a higher true-shooting percentage than Anthony this season is Prigioni, who launches just three shots on average, at .634. The next closest to 'Melo's .562 mark is Tim Hardaway Jr. at .546, then Andrea Bargnani at a paltry .510.
Below is Carmelo's shot chart on the season. Beneath it is the Knicks' combined shot chart including attempts from every player besides Anthony.
Furthermore, looking at the team's on/off numbers from NBA.com (subscription required), the Knicks are getting outscored by more than 12 points per 100 possessions with Anthony resting—no Knick even comes close to matching that number, and it explains why Mike Woodson has ran 'Melo out for a league-high 39 minutes per game. Anthony is also one of only four Knicks to post a positive on-court net-rating.
There's no getting around it. Aside from Anthony's contributions this year, the Knicks have gotten nothing.
A Different Story
It's not an uncommon tale in the NBA. You'll find brutal teams with nothing to play for, spearheaded by one particular player putting up career marks. Oftentimes, you'll see that player then move on to a better team, only to regress back to league norms.
The Knicks got a taste of this when Al Harrington averaged 20 points in New York over the 2008-09 season. Elton Brand posted a PER over 20 in each of his first eight years with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers, but reached the playoffs in just one of those campaigns. Danny Granger's five-year run as Indiana Pacers leading scorer culminated with just one winning season and a combined 183-211 record. The list goes on and on.
For players in the league's top talent percentile, it's easy to take personal performance to the next level when there aren't any other bright spots for the team to turn to.
Though this may resemble Carmelo's 2013-14 campaign on the surface, digging deeper will reveal a more complete picture.
To find the difference between Anthony and the league's various cellar-dwelling studs of years past, all you need to do is compare this year's stat line to the one he posted in 2012-13.
Though it seems like ages ago to Knicks fans, last season's team managed to win 54 games and entered the playoffs with the East's second-best record. Anthony posted numbers on par with the ones he's put up this season, but this debate surely wasn't brought up then, when the Knicks appeared to be a powerhouse.
|Carmelo Anthony 2013 vs. 2014|
'Melo has followed up his remarkable 2012-13 campaign with nearly identical numbers, implying two things: Last season was no fluke, and his 2013-14 production isn't merely a product of his poor team.
One could argue that Carmelo's rebounding numbers are, in fact, a result of this year's team, however. Tyson Chandler has missed significant time, and Andrea Bargnani—who's had the worst rebounding season from a big-minutes 7-footer since... Andrea Bargnani in 2010-11—has manned the center spot in Chandler's stead.
The argument would sound something like this: With a rebounding center in the middle for most of the year, 'Melo's boarding numbers would return back to career averages.
Which, according to NBA.com's on/off numbers, isn't true.
While Chandler has shared the court with Anthony this season for 1,012 minutes, Anthony has grabbed 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, which would rank as his third-best rebounding mark over a full season, and just shy of his per-36 career-high of 7.4.
Anthony has put in never-before-seen hustle and work on the boards, and it's showed on the stat sheet. It's unfair to take that away from him.
To the Contrary...
Anthony's dominant season has truly been his most admirable, given the bruised and battered condition of the entire organization.
In his third full season with New York, the team's front office has failed to surround Anthony with a competent enough supporting cast to contend with the class of the East.
As a result, Anthony has now wasted two brilliant seasons of his prime. The owner has cycled through three general managers since 'Melo has arrived, with a fourth potentially on the way in the coming days.
The franchise is in an unprecedented state of unrest, and Carmelo has still managed to play the best basketball of his career.
'Melo has been a rare—and at times, the only—Knick to devote everything he's got this year. Coming from a player with a reputation as inconsistent as Anthony's, it's hard not to sympathize with him as he's come around so profoundly, only to have his teammates give nothing in support.
Anthony's season—which would be MVP-caliber under other circumstances—is not the result of your typical hollow stats so often found on lowly teams like New York.
It's not 'Melo playing for himself. It's 'Melo leaving everything out on the floor in the face of adversity, as he's realized no one else around him is willing to do so.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
Stats gathered from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.