The Carmelo Catastrophe
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Carmelo “Melo” Anthony, highly regarded as one of the best members of the 2003 NBA draft, has had all-star caliber stats throughout his career. He has single-handedly led the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks to several playoff appearances, but he has failed to win an NBA Championship, unlike LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and some less talented players like Luke Walton or Zaza Pachulia. The reason for this is a combination of Melo’s selfish attitude, ambition, and playing style, which has made him an outcast from his class.
Carmelo began to shine during his early years as a Denver Nugget. There, he played with such talented individuals, such as Allen Iverson and Chauncey Billups. The Nuggets began to make a name for themselves. However, a series of unprecedented first-round playoff exits made the team's chemistry collapse, and in the middle of the 2010-2011 season, Melo requested a trade.The team was still very strong and had a solid chance to reach the finals, and Melo was continuing to elevate his game. Melo himself wanted a championship, but signing with the Knicks meant that New York would have to give away most of its best players. That year, the Denver Nuggets would again lose in a close first round, but many speculate that if Melo had stayed with Denver, the Nuggets would have had several rings. What is certain, though, is that Melo’s ambition led to the Knicks losing valuable assets. This eventually helped the Nuggets reach the Western Conference Finals, a stage he never reached with the Knicks.
Historically, when Carmelo is on a team, he is the leader. The offense runs through him. He commands the game, and he is the man who gets the ball. As NBA analyst Stan Van Gundy once said, “[The Knicks are] going to play the game through Carmelo…they’re not trying to split up touches and keep other people happy.” This play style has led to some individual success for Melo, as he led the league scoring in the 2012-2013 season, averaging 28.7 points per game and boasting an impressive 10 all-star appearances and six All-NBA First-Team nominations.
However, these moments of greatness are overshadowed by some of his more noticeable shooting statistics that result from a selfish playstyle. Throughout his entire career, Melo has had a dismal field goal percentage of 44.9 percent, a number below the league average. In addition, Melo’s true shooting percentage is noticeably lower than that of other forwards of his caliber, such as Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. What’s different about these players and their success is that they know how to move the ball and bring out the best in their teammates. From 2014 to 2017, the Knicks were consistently one of the top five teams in the league in ball movement. Despite this, the number of points (52) that they generated from these passes or assists were consistently in the bottom five in the league. Because Melo was running the offense, the majority of these passes were going to him, and considering the numbers mentioned earlier, the Knicks were doomed to have horrendous seasons.
Then there is the whole Jeremy Lin debacle. After recovering from a groin strain, Melo didn’t develop chemistry with the overnight star. With the offense running around Lin, the Knicks were able to win seven out of their eight games and establish themselves as a threat in the Eastern Conference after an inconsistent three months. Melo, however, was unable to work with him, and the Knicks lost a talented player that could have heavily benefited the franchise.
Furthermore, Melo’s selfish ways were best seen in his year with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Starting alongside two great ball handlers, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and the offensive rebounding machine, Steven Adams, was a nightmare. Several games across the span of the 2017-2018 season show how the points between the three were unevenly distributed. In one game, Melo scored 21 points, and in the next game, he scored only nine. As a starting player on a team with two other ball-dominant players, Melo couldn’t play his game. Unable to shoot his bread and butter midrange and pull up jumpers, 42 percent of his shots were catch-and-shoot—up almost 30 percent from his time with the New York Knicks. He ended up becoming a below average three-point shooter who didn’t have the chance to play his game.
Maybe it could’ve worked out if Melo had simply accepted his role coming off the bench. The Thunder reserve lacked depth and didn’t have any players who could come up with buckets off the bench. One of the worst benches in the NBA could finally have a talented leader, and Melo would’ve fit perfectly; the floor would revolve around him, he’d work the defense, and he’d be a consistent perimeter shooter, providing the points the rest of the Thunder bench couldn’t provide. The reserve roster would get more playing time, easing the pressure off of Westbrook and Adams and allowing George to shoot his three-pointers. And perhaps other role players, like Andre Roberson and Alex Abrines, would develop into key figures in the team’s success. Instead, Melo chose to continue with his me-first attitude that ultimately created an inconsistent team in the talented Western Conference. The Thunder were better off without him, and the difference can be seen when Carmelo Anthony is not on the court. The Thunder are currently cruising through their games, holding a third place spot in the Western Conference, whereas last year, they were barely able to finish in the top eight.
With Melo having been traded and waived by the Chicago Bulls a few days ago, his future in the NBA is in question. But if he wants to win a championship, he has to realize it won’t be as the star of a franchise, but rather as a shotmaker off the bench.