Originally, this piece was going to be about how the saga of Carmelo Anthony coming to New York was finally over: The drama, the incessant and conflicting reports, the grueling amount of hype that would just not stop until Anthony was a Knick (or a Net). However, with the shocking news that the New Jersey Nets made a deal to acquire Deron Williams on the same day that Melo was slated to make his Knicks debut, the content of this piece had to be revised.
The Knicks brass woke up on Wednesday morning feeling like they had a tiger by the tail, poised to finally introduce their new star to his adoring public. Right around lunchtime, when news of the Williams deal broke, most of the Knicks upper management personnel were probably sick to their stomachs. That’s because although his star may not shine as brightly as Anthony’s, Deron Williams is the better player and he cost the Nets less to boot.
Don’t get me wrong—the Carmelo trade was good for the Knicks for a number of reasons and their fans should be glad they made it. Yes, they gave up some solid pieces in Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler and no one wants to give up draft picks, but they were able to keep Landry Fields which is a big win for them.
Getting rid of Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph might have been a little overkill, but they are both “project” players at this point and will soon be forgotten after the Knicks make the playoffs.
I’ve heard complaints about giving up Raymond Felton as well, but this is the first year he has played at an extremely high level and that is probably as much of a product of the Knicks' up-tempo system, as it is his individual ability.
The forgotten man in the deal is Chauncey Billups. He’s an NBA champion and Finals MVP and should be able to play just as well as Felton, if not better. So with all those moving pieces and bells and whistles, is the main man, the centerpiece of the deal—Carmelo Anthony—actually worth it?
As a player, it remains to be seen. But as a presence, a billboard, a face of the franchise and a draw for other players, Carmelo is absolutely worth it.
The Knicks now have two stars that they can use to help bring in a third and create their own “Big Three.” New Jersey has to hope that Deron Williams will sign an extension and start to develop chemistry with Brook Lopez so that they too can assemble their own holy trinity. But we’ll get back to all of that in a second.
For those who object to this sort of “Big Three” team building—get used to it. The NBA, especially in recent years, has been a league where the cream rises to the top and star players have been the essential key(s) to championships. The reason for this is that, more than any other team sport, basketball can be dominated by a single great player.
Football requires 11 people all working together to pull off a successful play. Even the best hitter in baseball can only score one run by himself if his teammates can't get on base, and unless he is a pitcher as well, the amount of runs given up is mostly out of his control (the exception to this rule is Babe Ruth—not so coincidentally one of the most celebrated athletes of all-time).
Hockey is the most similar to basketball, in the sense that an individual can dominate. However, more often than not, that dominating player will be a locked-in goalie, not a scorer. All of this leads to the current NBA culture of creating “super” teams by stockpiling the most talented players on one roster and throwing team chemistry to the wind.
Most people would blame this phenomenon on Danny Ainge and the Celtics trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett prior to the 2007-2008 season and putting them alongside another All-Star in Paul Pierce. That team went on to win the championship that season, justifying this outlandish practice and setting the stage for the Miami Heat of this season. You could make that argument. However, you could also take a step back and look at the numbers.
When looking at the list of NBA champions from the past 30 years, it doesn’t appear that surrounding star players with other elite talent to win is a new idea, it’s common practice.
Consider this: Since 1980, only eight teams have won NBA titles. Eight. The Lakers, Celtics, Rockets, Spurs, Pistons, 76ers, Bulls and Heat make up the list. Of the eight, two only won once—the Heat and the 76ers. That means that the other six teams have combined to win 28 titles in the past 30 years. And do you know why they were able to win multiple championships? Because these organizations had enough talented players and success to attract other star players to sign with them. Sounds kinda familiar.
Danny Ainge wasn’t reinventing the atom back in 2007. He was copying what Red Auerbach had done 20 years before—there’s a reason we had the expression “The Big Three” in the first place.
It would be tedious to go through it team-by-team, but every one of these squads had at least two, and sometimes even three or more, truly elite players. The only possible exception is the Pistons from 2004, because they didn’t boast any truly elite players, just five extremely solid ones all peaking at the right time and playing at a high level.
I know, I know, you thought this was going to be about Carmelo and Deron. Let’s get back to that by looking at some numbers. These are the career per game averages of four players, one retired, one on the back end of his career, and two at or entering their primes.
13.1 PPG 0.6 3PG 2.7 REB 10.5 AST 2.2 STL 0.2 BLK .515 FG% .826 FT% 2.6 TO
24.8 PPG 0.7 3PG 6.3 REB 3.1 AST 1.1 STL 0.5 BLK .459 FG% .803 FT% 3.1 TO
17.3 PPG 1.2 3PG 3.2 REB 9.1 AST 1.1 STL 0.2 BLK .466 FG% .808 FT% 3.0 TO
22.3 PPG 1.6 3PG 6.1 REB 3.8 AST 1.5 STL 0.6 BLK .447 FG% .803 FT% 2.9 TO
To kill the suspense (you know it was eating you up inside), Player B is the newest member of the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony.
As you can see, his numbers are pretty strong across the board for a forward, with points, rebounds, steals and free throws being the areas in which he shines the brightest. No one has ever doubted his ability to put the ball in the basket and he definitely has the capacity to be a winner—after all, he was in college. However, the questions about his leadership and ability to function as a true team player will linger until he answers them.
As you can see, Player D has a fairly similar set of numbers to Melo. He’s another guy who faced lots of criticism for decisions he made both on and off the court and whose ability to lead a team to a championship was questioned fairly openly.
That is, until he won one in 2008 as a member of the Celtics. Player D is Paul Pierce and whether Knicks fans are encouraged or disappointed by that, they should temper their expectations for Carmelo just a bit. Melo is good, maybe even a top 15 player, but he ain’t top five and neither was Pierce.
Player C, on the other hand, might be a different story.
That’s Deron Williams and, as you can see, he has pretty great numbers for a point guard. He gets tons of assists, defends well, can shoot from deep and from the line and is scoring at an elite (and rising) level for his position.
Williams may or may not have gotten under Jerry Sloan’s skin enough for him to quit—which is a concern for New Jersey. Add in the fact that he hasn’t agreed to a contract extension as of yet, and this is undoubtedly a huge gamble for the Nets.
But for a desperate franchise looking to build up a new fan base and put down roots in a new community, Deron Williams is the kind of player worth taking a chance on, the kind of guy you build a team around. He’s a top 10 player.
Just look at his numbers and who they compare quite favorably to—Player A, Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton.
Now I may have gone a little crazy with the Mormon music connection, and I know Williams doesn’t have anyone like the Mailman to run the pick and roll with here in Newark right now, but, in two years, maybe he will. It’s a high risk/high reward situation, but I like it. Would you rather stake your future on a guy whose stats most resemble an above-average small forward scorer or a guy who can score, distribute and defend like a Hall of Fame player?
Whatever, I know you can use numbers to prove anything and it’s just my opinion. I’d take Pierce over any of ‘em. He’s got a ring.
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