Carmelo Anthony is having a monster season scoring the basketball. His 29.8 points per game leads the league by nearly a point. He has at times seemed unstoppable and has clearly been the offensive catalyst for a Nuggets team that currently leads the league in scoring and sports the second best record in the Western Conference.
Charles Barkley called Carmelo “the best flatout scorer in the NBA.” Kenny Smith went on record as saying “nobody scores more easily than Carmelo.”
‘Melo was one game away from tying Allen Iverson’s record for consecutive games to begin the season with 20 or more points. His streak ironically came to an end against the 76ers in Iverson’s much-hyped return, as Carmelo was held to 14 points.
You get the point. Carmelo has finally arrived. Or so I thought.
I have seen something unsettling about Anthony’s performance over their last two games that should make Nuggets fans at least a little bit nervous and should make the rest of the league lick their chops with glee.
In the contest against the 76ers on Monday night, Anthony's season-low 14 points only tells half the story. He only connected on five of his 21 mostly ill-advised shots, and in doing so seemed somewhat desperate and overwhelmingly frustrated by Philly's physicality.
Anthony didn’t have an easy bucket all night and was greeted by more than his fair share of contact inside the paint.
‘Melo was obviously wearing his frustration on his sleeve by the end of the night, as he hopelessly jawed at the refs, which drew him a technical, and blatantly moped as he walked up the court. On several trips up the floor, he barely made it past half-court before the 76ers scored easy transition buckets.
In the waning seconds of their impressive come-from-behind victory, Anthony had already stepped off the court, heading towards the locker room as his teammates greeted Allen Iverson to congratulate him on his return.
Anthony bounced back in the following game against the Bobcats and returned to the high-scoring star we have come to expect. But, in doing so, he displayed some of the same worrisome behavior that he demonstrated against Philly.
With just under a minute remaining, and the Nuggets still within striking distance, Carmelo picked up his second technical in as many nights after disputing a questionable call on a Gerald Wallace jump shot.
It wasn't as though his technical cost the Nuggets the game, but it still demonstrated his propensity to become flappable when pushed.
The game was not all that different from the 76ers game, really. The Bobcats were just as physical against Carmelo and forced him into frustration. The only difference was that the refs were giving 'Melo the calls they weren't giving him the other night.
Thinking back to Carmelo's second-lowest scoring game of the season, when he scored 20 points on November 10 against the Bulls, one common denominator becomes apparent—tough and physical defense.
In that affair, Luol Deng but a body on Anthony all night, forcing him into tough shot after tough shot. Once his frustration reached the boiling point, he inevitably resorted to settling for long and contested jump-shots. He ended up making only eight of 22 shots that night.
When the Nuggets are at their worst, they are one-dimensional and predictable. Anthony pounds the ball into the ground near the three-point line, while four other Nuggets stand around watching—inevitably ending in a bad shot, a defensive rebound, and a wasted possession.
The Nuggets currently lead the NBA in free throws attempted per game at 32.8, and when they aren't getting the calls they're accustomed to and when they are getting outmuscled, they resort to this stagnant, ineffective offense. The onus here should start and end with Anthony as the leader.
Sure, his scoring numbers might be up this year, but his production in the other categories hasn't been nearly as impressive. For Carmelo truly to become MVP-worthy, he must not let himself succumb to his frustrations.
When he plays loose and within the offense, he is a much better all-around player. In fact, in games where he has shot under 45 per cent from the field, he is averaging 1.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds a game. In games where he has shot over 45 per cent, he is averaging 3.8 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game.
This tells me that when he's shooting better from the field, he's also involving his teammates more as well as crashing the boards more effectively. This is a very telling statistic when you put it within the context of my critique.
Put a body on Anthony, get into his head. Get into his head, force him to take long, low-percentage jump shots. Force him to take long jump shots, and teams can make the Nuggets' offense stagnant, improving their chances of victory on any given night.
So 'Melo, please try to remember to keep your wits about you, even when provoked. You're a leader on this team, and your teammates are influenced by your actions and your body language.
So play loose, and flash that golden smile. You make everyone around you better when you do.