Don't Let Twilight of Carmelo Anthony's Career Diminish Historic Scoring Resume

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 13, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 2: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Houston Rockets looks on against the Brooklyn Nets on November 2, 2018 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Recency bias can be a fickle beast. 

Strut your stuff in front of the basketball-watching world, and you can immediately become the greatest thing since sliced bread. But fail to impress during the twilight stages of your career, and so much of your well-earned legacy can be washed away in the eyes of the masses. 

Such is the case for Carmelo Anthony, whose forgettable tenures with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, who officially announced they're parting ways with the forward, have forced far too many fans to forget about the high-scoring outbursts of yesteryear. 

Anthony has indeed struggled since leaving the New York Knicks in the summer of 2017, right after he averaged 22.4 points and represented the Eastern Conference in the All-Star festivities for the 10th time in his career.

To deny he was ever a superstar would be foolish. But during the last two years, he's posted just 15.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while slashing 40.4 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from downtown and 75.8 percent from the stripe. His minus-3.9 box plus/minus features negative scores on both ends of the floor, and he's been unable to make up for the shooting woes plaguing his off-ball adventures with either defensive potency or work as a secondary facilitator. 

Even so, his current misfires and negative contributions just don't detract from a scoring resume that rivals almost anyone in the history of the NBA

      

The Objective Scoring Resume

PORTLAND, OR - DECEMBER 21: Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets goes for a layup during a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on December 21, 2007 at the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agree
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Volume and efficiency. 

Ultimately, that's what matters most in the quest for offensive production. Score a lot of points on far too many shots, and you're less valuable. Provide few counting stats with staggering levels of efficiency, and you're in the same boat. But if you can combine the two, whether earning easy buckets around the basket or firing away with impunity from beyond the rainbow, you're in far better shape. 

Flashiness counts for something when coloring legacies; we won't forget the difficult mid-range jumpers drilled by Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Anthony's jab-stepping isolation plays fall into a similar category, as his takeover instincts have always made it quite clear that he's an all-time talent on the scoring end. 

But even if we strip away anecdotal evidence, the totality of his career stacks up rather nicely. 

Throughout all of NBA history, only 67 players have a lifetime scoring average of at least 20 points per game, ranging from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (24.6 points over 1,560 appearances) to Luka Doncic (20.3 points over his first 12 career contests). Fifty-nine did so while appearing in no fewer than five distinct seasons, and those 59 interest us most.

Spoiler alert: Anthony is among them. 

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks drives against Austin Daye #5 of the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden on January 31, 2012 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downlo
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

For each of the 59, we looked at three different factors: career points per game (the standard barometer for scorers), career points (giving credit to longevity) and career true shooting percentage (giving credit to efficiency, whether earned with close-range shots, long-range buckets or free-throw frequency). But that wasn't enough, since not every member of the class played in a similar version of the NBA

For example, Elgin Baylor averaged 27.4 points during his career, but the league as a whole saw teams score 114.2 points per game while he was on an active roster. Contrast that against Allen Iverson's 26.7 points per contest while the league scoring average stood at 96.7, and you might actually favor the diminutive guard over his predecessor despite a smaller baseline mark. Context, as always, matters. 

By normalizing for era in each of our three categories, we can get a more accurate picture. Then, by summing the z-scores each player earned in those areas, we can arrive at a total number representing each man's career efficacy as an all-around scorer. We'll spare you the details, but these are the top 25: 

  1. Michael Jordan, 4.87
  2. LeBron James, 4.19
  3. Karl Malone, 4.171
  4. Wilt Chamberlain, 4.052
  5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 4.04
  6. Kevin Durant, 3.329
  7. Kobe Bryant, 3.202
  8. Shaquille O'Neal, 3.19
  9. Oscar Robertson, 2.594
  10. Adrian Dantley, 2.36
  11. Jerry West, 2.273
  12. Dirk Nowitzki, 2.174
  13. Charles Barkley, 2.007
  14. George Mikan, 1.931
  15. Bob Pettit, 1.551
  16. Allen Iverson, 1.469
  17. Stephen Curry, 1.289
  18. Paul Arizin, 1.097
  19. George Gervin, 1.045
  20. James Harden, 0.902
  21. David Robinson, 0.79
  22. Carmelo Anthony, 0.578
  23. Dominique Wilkins, 0.486
  24. Hakeem Olajuwon, 0.398
  25. Larry Bird, 0.107

Feel free to subjectively shift players around as you see fit. Maybe you want to move Curry up because you're confident he has a number of peak seasons left. Perhaps you'd like to drop Chamberlain from the top five because he faced easier competition. Conversely, you may actually want to give the Big Dipper extra credit for thriving at such a high pace rather than detracting from his legacy because he had extra possessions compared to modern-day standouts. 

But we're establishing a baseline that evaluates top scorers for per-game volume, longevity and efficiency. And even while including these last few forgettable seasons, Anthony still grades out as one of the 25 best every in the business—nothing to sniff at when evaluating decades of legends. 

In fact, removing the post-New York portion of Anthony's career would actually bump his score up to 0.986 and nudge him into the top 20. His brief tenures with the Thunder and Rockets have diminished his legacy by marginal amounts, but they can't negate the overall body of work—the same career that leads to reactions like this from Portland Trail Blazers swingman Evan Turner: 

Or this from Dwyane Wade:

Anthony's portion of the blame for Houston's unexpectedly slow start is a topic for another day, but his history makes it easier to understand why his coworkers have his back despite the shoddy numbers from this current campaign. 

So too do the highlights, which don't factor into our objective analysis but do help remind the world of the talent that oozed from his 6'8" frame during his prime years with the Denver Nuggets and Knicks: 

Regardless of what Anthony does during the next chapter of his basketball career, those peak performances aren't going anywhere. Nor is his status as an all-time top-25 scoring threat. 

Sure, the last few years have made the unabashed offensive dominance of his earlier years foggier. That isn't changing, either. So here's our advice: Don't forget. 

      

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats accurate heading into games on Nov. 12 and courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com, PBPStats.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com.

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