By the Numbers: Is Carmelo Anthony Missing Out on 'Superstar Calls'?

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By the Numbers: Is Carmelo Anthony Missing Out on 'Superstar Calls'?
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most common complaints echoed by many fans of the New York Knicks is that Carmelo Anthony "never gets any calls." 

In other words: There is a rather widely held belief among the Knicks faithful that Anthony is not as favored by referees as some of his superstar peers.

So let's put that to the test.

In the space below, we're going to investigate this claim to see whether or not it has any merit, and if it does, why that might be the case.

What We Will (and Won't) Be Using

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Before we get started, it's important to note that this investigation will not include any videos or screenshots of missed calls, followed by a loud proclamation, "[Insert star player here] would definitely have gotten that call!"

First of all, it's impossible to prove.

Second, it's even more impossible to disprove. Once that thought is in your head, no one will ever be able to convince you otherwise. Plus, it's anecdotal evidence, and that's not the best way to go about this type of investigation.

You can grab any number of videos or screenshots of calls that should have been but weren't made for nearly any star player in the league. It's just as common an issue for Cleveland Cavaliers fans and scribes and LeBron James, for example, and LeBron is often one of the players used in the "insert star player here" exclamation from above.

Refs can't call everything, after all. 

Instead, we're going to look at how often the Knicks' franchise player does get calls relative to his star peers around the league. If he comes up lacking in that area, we're going to search for explanations. 

Being that the league's top scorers are the players most often considered stars by fans, that seems like a fair group to use. It's not the only way to define a star in this league, but it is one of the more common ones—especially as it pertains to drawing fouls.

In every statistic cited below, we'll compare Anthony's foul-drawing capabilities to that of the other 29 players in the league's top 30 in points per game as of Thursday, Jan. 7. 

The Numbers

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

According to NBA.com's media statistics database, Anthony has drawn an average of 4.6 fouls per game, the 18th-highest mark in the group this season. When you standardize the foul-drawing stat per 36 minutes to account for the different playing-time loads each player has shouldered, Carmelo's total moves to 4.8 fouls, which bumps him up one slot to 17th among this group of 30 players. 

By way of comparison, DeMarcus Cousins leads the group with 8.3 fouls drawn per game. He's joined in the top five by James Harden (7.3), Anthony Davis (5.7), LeBron James (5.7) and Blake Griffin (5.6).

Cousins also leads with 9.0 fouls drawn per 36 and is joined by Harden (6.9), Griffin (5.8), Russell Westbrook (5.8) and both James and Isaiah Thomas (5.7).

The average for the group is 4.7 fouls per game and 4.9 fouls per 36 minutes, putting Anthony's figures slightly below average. His per-game rate is on par with players like Damian Lillard (4.7) and Kevin Durant (4.5), while his per-36 rate is comparable to those of Stephen Curry (5.0) and Brook Lopez (4.6). 

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Not all players get the ball as often during games or hold onto it for quite as long when they do. It stands to reason that the more often you have the ball, the more chances you have to draw a foul. Using the SportVU player tracking data from NBA.com, we can adjust Anthony's fouls drawn for both his number of touches and his time of possession.  

Adjusting Anthony's fouls drawn for his number of touches per game, he draws a foul once every 14.1 touches, 13th-best among the group. Adjusting his fouls drawn for how many seconds the ball is actually in his hands during a given game, Anthony draws a foul once every 41.7 seconds of possession, which also ranks 13th

By way of comparison, the top five in touches per foul drawn is made up of Cousins (7.6), Andrew Wiggins (8.7), Harden (11.4), Jimmy Butler (12.0) and Lopez (12.1). The top five in seconds of possession per foul drawn is Cousins (15.2), Davis (20.0), Wiggins (21.5), Lopez (21.8) and Paul Millsap (21.2). 

The average for the group is 16.3 touches per foul drawn and 59.0 seconds of possession per foul drawn, putting Anthony slightly above average in the former category and firmly above average in the latter. His touches per foul drawn are on par with that of James (13.2) and Kawhi Leonard (14.7), while his seconds of possession per foul drawn are comparable to Butler's (41.1) and exactly equal to those of Klay Thompson (41.7). 

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Of course, not all fouls are created equal. Fans generally don't care much about non-shooting fouls. They care about the fouls that result in their team's star heading to the free-throw line.

By multiplying Anthony's 5.8 free throws per game (15th among this group) by 0.44 (the common estimator for shooting fouls used by Basketball-Reference.com, among other sites) and dividing that figure by his total number of fouls drawn, we can figure out what percentage of Anthony's fouls drawn have sent him to the line. 

Using this calculation, we discover that 55.5 percent of the fouls drawn by Carmelo this season have been shooting fouls. The top five is made up of DeMar DeRozan (68.4 percent), Durant (66.5 percent), Wiggins (62.3 percent), Harden (62.1 percent) and Butler (61.1 percent).

Melo's rate ranks 14th among the group, slightly above the sample average of 54.8 percent and on par with players like Chris Bosh (56.1 percent) and Curry (55.2 percent). 

Of course, since free throws are what fans care more about, we can adjust the figures for touches and seconds of possession as well. Here, Anthony ranks 12th (touches per free-throw attempt) and 13th (seconds of possession per free-throw attempt), basically on par with where he ranked in those stats when adjusted for fouls drawn.

This makes sense, given that he's been slightly above-average at turning fouls into free throws. 

What Does It All Mean?

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

At this point, we can determine that Carmelo has drawn fouls this season at a rate that is basically average for a top scorer. He doesn't rank in the top 10 in any of the measurements above, but he doesn't rank in the bottom 10 in any of them, either. In fact, he ranks between 12th and 18th in every one of them. That's three spots on either side of average. 

This naturally invites the question of why he doesn't rank higher. Why isn't he in the top 10?

After running correlations for a few different statistics, one finally popped. 

Shot location. 

More than anything else, both fouls drawn and free-throw attempts were closely correlated with the percentage of a player's shots that come within five feet of the rim. This makes perfect sense. We know, according to a study done by 82games.com, that 90 percent of fouls and 62 percent of shooting fouls occur in the paint, and that shooting fouls are more likely to occur close to the rim. 

Anthony has attempted only 26.8 percent of his shots this season within five feet of the rim, according to NBA.com. That figure ranks 21st among the top 30 scorers in the league, on par with Brandon Knight (27.1 percent) and Curry (25.7 percent) and 4.7 percent below the sample average of 31.5 percent of shots.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Anthony doesn't take many shots near the rim; therefore, the 31-year-old doesn't draw quite as many fouls as other players who spend more time near the basket.

This is hammered home by the fact that he has drawn 0.96 fouls per shot attempt within five feet of the rim, tied for the ninth-highest rate of the 30 players in the sample. The top five includes George (1.46), Hayward (1.39), Harden (1.20), Bosh (1.14) and Kyle Lowry (1.10). (For what it's worth, LeBron ranks 30th, at 0.61. Maybe he really is the one who gets robbed.)

It's worth nothing that this is the only foul-drawing statistic in which Melo ranks inside the top 10, and it's the one most closely correlated to foul-drawing itself. It stands to reason that if Anthony simply attempted to get near the basket more often, he'd wind up drawing more fouls.

Barring that, he seems likely to get calls at a merely average rate for a top scoring star. This should at least give Knicks fans the numbers they need to back their collective stance.

Just remember how much better the stance would be if the superstar spent more time at the rim at this point in his career.

Statistics are accurate heading into NBA games on Thursday, Jan. 7.

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