News of Carmelo Anthony's apparent desire to flee a good situation in Denver, and the incessant reports of possible trade partners and scenarios for the Nuggets, has been dominating the NBA headlines for weeks. That will likely be the case until either a deal is worked out, or until the season actually starts.
Once play starts, all talk around the league will probably go back to the Miami Heat—how many games will they win, how will Team X fare against them on a given night, etc.
For now though, we're stuck with 'Melo.
This begs a question—is Carmelo really an elite player in the league?
In a futile effort to stave off the the cries of "hater" that will likely be directed here, let me first say that I do not care where Carmelo plays. I do not have a horse in this race. I also do not have anything against the kid personally. I also will state very clearly that he is a player that I enjoy watching—been that way since his season at Syracuse.
I'll start off with my personal definition of an elite player.
First, I would say that an elite player is one that any team should want to build a team around. Shaq, Kobe, Garnett, Duncan, Wade, and LeBron—these are all players that are/were, without question, franchise cornerstones. The right management team would always be able to build a championship team around these guys.
Second, I want a player to show improvement year-over-year. I want to see something new in the arsenal almost every season that shows his dedication to his game and to winning. Every great player used to do this—it's not as common anymore.
Next, I need a player to excel in at least two areas. Scoring and rebounds, scoring and defense, assists and defense—an elite player can't just bring one thing to the table.
Last, I want an elite player to be an "on my back, Boys!" player. When things look tough, you know that Elite Player X will make the big plays, on offense or defense, that can carry you to victory. You want a leader, not merely a rah-rah guy, but that guy that leads by his play on the floor.
Now, on to Carmelo Anthony.
There is no question that he is a vital member of the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets endured eight consecutive losing seasons before drafting Carmelo third in the 2003 NBA draft. Since then, they have made the playoffs in each of his seven seasons.
How much of that is attributable to Carmelo? All of it. It's pretty simple. Carmelo can get a team to the playoffs. Take him off your team without having an adequate replacement, and you will suffer.
In terms of what Carmelo brings to the party, the answer is simple: scoring. It's what he does, he does it pretty well, but it's all he does.
Yes, I said just "pretty well."
Carmelo Anthony had one of the best seasons of his career in 2009-10, finishing third in the league in scoring with 28.2.
Sounds good, no?
Carmelo is a volume scorer. He can get hot, but he's not terribly efficient.
Among just NBA small forwards, Anthony ranked 13th in field goal percentage. You read that correctly, 13th. He finished behind not just LeBron and Kevin Durant, but also Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Gerald Wallace, and more.
Each of those players named scored over 17 points per game. Make Luol or Gerald the featured player in an up-tempo offense, and you would have to think that they could score around 28 as well.
Anthony is also just plain bad behind the arc. His 31 percent mark put him at 48th among small forwards. Wouldn't you ban him from taking three-point shots at that point?
Okay, Anthony scores pretty well. He can put on the occasional amazing scoring display, but overall, he's not terribly efficient. Are we sure that's all he brings to the party?
His rebounding numbers (right around 6 per game for his career) are in the "incidental contact" range. An NBA player who stands 6'8" can pick up six boards a game by accident. Especially on a free-shooting team like the Nuggets where rebounding opportunities abound. Gerald Wallace, LeBron, and Luol Deng all outperform 'Melo in this area.
How about assists? Again, just fifth among small forwards. His three per game do not stand out as a strength.
Double-doubles? Nope. Again just fifth, again behind Gerald Wallace, Durant, LeBron, and Luol Deng.
How about defense? Carmelo Anthony does not have, nor he has ever had, the reputation as a "lock-down" defender. He is just starting to look like he's working on improving his body (dropping the baby fat), but he does not have elite strength or speed. Anthony has also not shown the simple desire to shut down the opposing team's best perimeter player.
The bottom line here folks, is that Carmelo Anthony, while hyped into the LeBron/Wade category, is far from an elite player. He is not only not in the class of those two young players, but I would venture that his value to a team could be replaced relatively easily.
If I were an NBA GM and a player like Carmelo Anthony fell to me in the draft, I'd be ecstatic. While not a cornerstone player, he's a high-scoring small forward. That in itself has value.
The Carmelo valuation gets trickier in terms of trade discussions. Exactly what is a player like him worth? Should I sell the farm to acquire a Carmelo Anthony?
That answer really depends on the team I have.
If I'm the Bulls, and I already have a Luol Deng, I wouldn't even dare consider anything more than Deng and a draft pick in exchange for Carmelo. Talk of shipping out Deng and Joakim Noah just to get Anthony is just silly-talk.
The same would apply to teams like Charlotte who already have the wildly underrated Gerald Wallace, and even the Knicks who have an adequate player in Wilson Chandler.
No, I did not just say that Wilson Chandler is as good as Carmelo Anthony, but in terms of "weak link" positions, small forward is not one of them for the Knicks.
You need at least one elite player on your team nowadays to win the NBA championship. You also need at least one player in the Top 10 of his position. You could also go with multiple players in the Top 10 at their respective positions instead of having an elite player. If you already have that equation (Chicago), you don't need Carmelo.
If the only thing standing in between you and championship aspirations is scoring, by all means consider putting together a reasonable package for Anthony. Just don't think he is a player you build a team around and make the mistake of buying high.
Carmelo can score. We've known this for his entire pro career. A troubling fact that must be factored in when deciding how much to give for Anthony is that he has been essentially the same player for five years now. His shooting percentage continues to hover around 45 percent. His three-point shooting remains terrible. His assists and rebounds stay average. Where is the growth?
So, to answer my own question: Is Carmelo Anthony really an elite player?
No, just an above-average scorer.