Carmelo Anthony on Team USA

Carmelo Anthony on Team USA. Image by Christopher Johnson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Carmelo Anthony will not finish his current contract in the city of New York, that much is clear. Maybe he lasts another week, another month, or another year, but sooner or later he is gone and he will try to live up to his 5 year/$124 million deal somewhere else. The drafting of European project Kristaps Porzingis and the trading of his friend and teammate Tim Hardaway, Jr. has started the rumblings of Carmelo’s discontent yet again, and at the age of 31, Anthony can’t afford to play out these next few seasons for a team that is years away from contending. Sooner or later, he will be traded, so the question becomes — should the Pelicans pursue him?

Before diving into Carmelo Anthony the player, let’s dive into the logistics. Anthony is scheduled to make $22.9 million this upcoming season, so the Pelicans would have to send out at least $18 million in salary just to acquire him. This means any two of the Evans-Holiday-Anderson-Gordon quartet would be enough to get it done according to CBA rules. The Knicks would also have to pay a 15% trade kicker, but I don’t think that would hold anything up if it got to that point. And lastly, Carmelo Anthony has a no trade clause, so he would have to okay the deal.

The framework of a deal — be it this summer or more likely in February if things in New York continue to crumble — would likely center around Ryan Anderson and either Tyreke Evans or Eric Gordon. The Knicks could clear a ton of cap room for 2016 if they take the latter and could get another core piece if they like the former. From the Pelicans side, they would be committing a little over $50 million a year for the next three years (once Davis signs his extension) to just two players. That would be about half of the cap, which would be somewhat prohibitive, but would still allow them room to fill out the roster.

But the money is only part of the equation. Scheme fit, health, age, talent, experience, and attitude all factor in as well. The decision to pursue Melo should not lead to an instant “Yes” or “No” reaction. There are many factors to consider, and with that in mind, let’s go through a Pro’s and Con’s list. Which side should we start on? Well, like Agent Hobbs says, “You know I like my dessert first.”

Pros To Adding Melo

1) Skill Set

Carmelo Anthony is one of the three best all-around scorers in the NBA. Plain and simple. An argument can be made that, when you talk about the different ways he can score, he is the best in the league. We can talk about advanced metrics, and points per shot, efficiency, etc., but at the end of the day it is about getting buckets and there might be nobody on earth who can do that better than Carmelo Anthony when he is locked in.

He is a deadly mid-range shooter (44%+ each of the last three years), who can score in the post, in transition, and on the offensive glass. He is enough of a threat behind the arc (38% last five season, 40+% on catch-and shoots) that defenses can’t play off him when he doesn’t have the ball, and he also gets to the line (nearly eight attempts per game over his career). Basically, he is every single thing that we hope that Tyreke Evans can be if he somehow puts it all together and finds a jump shot. In fact, that is being generous. He is 120% of Tyreke Evans ceiling offensively, with the ability to close out games — where Tyreke has been terrible.

Going into last season, Carmelo Anthony might have been the best player in clutch situations in the NBA, shooting over 42% overall, and 48% in game-winning shot situations (i.e. 24 seconds or less left with the game tied or down one point). The league averages in each of these situations by comparison are 37% and 29.8% respectively. Lebron has shot 34% in game-winning situations, Kobe 25%, Dirk 32.4%, Paul Pierce 34.4%, Tim Duncan 39%, Dwayne Wade 27.5%, and even Mr. Clutch Ray Allen shot just 38.5%. Basically, no player with at least 20 such attempts has shot anywhere close to Carmelo’s 48% in those situations, as Allen Iverson was the closest at 39.4%.

This past season saw an injured Carmelo Anthony with a horrible supporting cast try to do a bit too much and his clutch numbers fell. However, over his career, you could argue that he has been the best clutch scorer in the league. He is two years removed from an NBA scoring title and one year removed from an efficient season that saw him score 27.4 ppg on 21 shots, including 40.2% from behind the arc and 85% from the line. The injury will cause some recency bias in those who are anti-Melo, but he has put up 26 and 7 since arriving in New York, and has become a much better 3-point shooter than he was earlier in his career.

He is — not was — one of the best offensive players in the league. Hands down.

2) Fit With Davis

Many worry about what bringing Melo to the Pelicans might do to Anthony Davis and his role on the team. Make no mistake, regardless of who the Pelicans add over the next few years, Anthony Davis is the foundation of this team. “But how will Carmelo handle that?” First things first, if Carmelo ends up in New Orleans it will be because he waived his no trade clause and he will have done so fully understanding he is heading to Anthony Davis’ team. He will also have humbled himself with a miserable final year in NY, realizing that he can’t do it by himself and that he needs to partner with a real superstar to win big, much like Dwayne Wade did five years ago.

When you talk about actual on-court fit, there might not be many running mates better for Anthony Davis than a healthy Carmelo. A Carmelo/Davis pick and roll would be a nightmare for defenses to defend, as Melo would burn them if they go under, and if they go over or trap, Carmelo has the size to find an open shooter or a rolling Davis. A switch would see Melo being defended by someone much slower and Davis being defended by someone much smaller. Again, a nightmare for teams to defend.

Outside of the pick and roll, they could take turns in the low-to-mid post, with the other stretching the court or cutting off the ball. They could play together in a big lineup with Melo at the 3 and AD at the 4, and then easily transition to the 4 and 5 late in games. Due to Carmelo’s rebounding ability and overall size, this wouldn’t be an issue whatsoever, and would be perhaps the ideal “small ball” lineup, as you would have a 4 and 5 who not only have shooting ability, but abilities normally reserved for big men (low post, rebounding, shot blocking) as well.

Carmelo excels in the power forward role next to a 5 like Davis, as we have seen in each of his Team USA stints, where he often looks like the best player on the court. Combine that with the fact that you would have perhaps the best perimeter clutch player in the NBA of the last ten years with the most clutch player from last year in Anthony Davis and you have the recipe for an unstoppable duo late in games — and that is where championships are won and lost.

3) Experience

Many people will bring up age as a negative for Carmelo Anthony, as 30 is seen as the new 70 in today’s NBA. But in many ways I see Carmelo’s experience as a plus. First, let’s dispel the myth that Anthony is not a “winner,” whatever that means. Has he won an NBA title, or even gotten to an NBA Finals? No. Neither has Chris Paul. To say these guys aren’t winners is laughable. Carmelo Anthony almost single-handedly carried Syracuse to an NCAA title in his one season in college. Then, in his rookie season, he transformed Denver from a 17 win team to a 43 win team.

From there, he continually led the Nuggets to the playoffs with Andre Miller as their second best player, where they kept getting smacked down by the Spurs or Lakers, who had a superior roster. In this five year stretch, the best player they put next to Anthony was a declining Allen Iverson until they finally moved him for Chauncey Billups and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. That might have been the best teammate Carmelo has ever played with, and Billups was at the end of his career at the time. He has never had the opportunity to play with another consistent All-Star in his prime. In fact, he has only had four All-Star teammates (Iverson – who got in because of name at that point, Billups, Amare for a year, and Tyson for a year.

So, can Carmelo Anthony carry a team on his back? No, he is not Lebron James. But that doesn’t mean he is a loser who cannot be a part of a winning organization. He lost eight times in the first round — seven of those times his team was the lower seed. He has never lost a playoff series to a team with a worse record than his own, and in those eight playoff series, the team he lost to had an average of nine more regular season wins than Melo’s team.

If the debate is whether Carmelo can be the main guy on a title team, then the answer is obviously no. Especially if you don’t even give him top-tier All-Stars to work with. But what would that matter in New Orleans, where he would have Anthony Davis? Carmelo Anthony is a winner who has helped his teams win wherever he has gone. He made the playoffs in each of his first ten NBA seasons, only missing out in these last two with a train wreck of an organization in NY.

You know who Carmelo Anthony is right now? 2006-07 Paul Pierce. In the summer of 2007, Pierce was 30 years old, coming off an injury riddled season that saw him shut down halfway through. He was frustrated with losing and also had only made one deep playoff run early in his career. He was frustrated with the franchise and was tired of not winning. And although the stars joined him, he humbled himself by accepting it and sacrificing his individual stats to win.

Many of the same questions surrounding Carmelo hung around Pierce at that time, but not surprisingly, once a couple of great players were put around him, he somehow figured out how to win.

Carmelo has played in 66 playoff games, and he knows what the big stage is all about. With his best team in 2009, he averaged 27-6-4, with a 24.3 PER. He is one of only four men in NBA history to average 26 and 10 in a playoff run (Pettitt, Hakeem, and Elgin Baylor). He has experienced heartbreaking defeat, and has seen what an NBA champion looks like up close on several occasions. He has won championships on every level except for the NBA, with an NCAA title and two gold medals to his name. He has been around the block and has done plenty of winning, and given a superstar like Davis, he can do plenty more.

Cons To Adding Melo

1) Scheme Fit

Gentry’s offense is predicated on ball movement and player movement. Carmelo Anthony is an isolation player that tends to stop any kind of motion, with regard to the ball and other players. His career usage is 31.8% and has ballooned in New York, where he has been responsible for the outcome of one-third of the possessions. Despite having the ball in his hands that much, he averages less than five assists/secondary assists per game. About 28% of his possessions are isolation possessions, and if you look at Golden State last year, they were a little over 9% as a team last year. Instead, they went heavy pick-and-roll, and got out into transition of course. And the biggest number with regard to how their possessions ended was in spot-up jumpers, where the Warriors often got open shots because of ball movement.

Carmelo would have to forgo the heavy isolation offense that he has become so accustomed to the past few years and instead be willing to play more pick-and-roll, while making quick decisions based off the actions of the defense. He has shown the ability to do this in the past, and it is something that he can even excel at, but he has to be willing to change his game and that is always easier said than done. He would also have to return to form on his catch-and-shoot, which was a fantastic 43.2% from deep in 2013-14, but regressed to 35% last year.

Basically, Carmelo has the ability to be a terrific player in Gentry’s system, as he has the ball handling and shooting ability to cause defenders headaches in the pick and roll, along with great catch-and-shoot ability when he gets the chance. But he would have to be willing to pull from that part of his game more. Also, he is a good transition player, but not great. He would be more deadly as a spot up threat than a finisher, though I think Davis could take care of the finishing part.

2) Opportunity Costs

I have made no secret of the fact that I think the Pelicans should at least consider making a pitch to Kevin Durant next summer. If they trade for Carmelo Anthony before then, that effectively takes that option off the table, and as good as Carmelo Anthony is, anybody would choose Kevin Durant over him as a running mate for Anthony Davis moving forward. And even if it’s not Kevin Durant, getting Carmelo Anthony probably costs at least Tyreke Evans one way or another, and probably a pick or two to sweeten the pot for the Knicks.

Is Carmelo Anthony a great player? Yes. Is he better than Tyreke when both are healthy? Without a doubt. Is he better than Tyreke, a pick in the 20’s, and a guy like Nic Batum or Danillo Galinari if the Pelicans just keep their core and add a mid-tier SF next summer? Now, that is a better debate. Carmelo Anthony, Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, Quincy Pondexter and Omer Asik would only leave the Pelicans about $10 million in cap room with 7 roster spots to fill out next summer. They would have as good of a top 3 as anybody if Holiday is healthy, but they would need to add 2-3 more shooters and just overall depth if and when injuries occur.

The best case scenario for 2016 would be a top-heavy roster that would need tremendous health to seriously compete for a title and/or Dell to strike gold on a couple of low-cost acquisitions. Again, drawing comparisons to 2007 Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtics did exactly this after putting the Big 3 together, winning a title the following season. Also, Dell Demps has done well in the margins in the past, often plucking 7th, 8th, and 9th men out of thin air. And lastly, if they get through this one season, the cap then jumps another 20 million the following year, which could easily help fill out the roster.

But it is a risk, especially when you consider that it’s a top-heavy roster filled with guys who have had trouble staying healthy of late. Which brings us to…

3) Injury Risks

There is nothing that scares off Pelicans fans faster than a guy who has had recent injury issues. This team has been riddled with injuries, and some even say cursed, for the better part of two decades. The only season in team history that had a below average number of injuries led to a Southwest division title and 56 wins. But those seasons don’t come around too often, obviously, and if injuries can occur to guys who were relatively injury-free prior to joining our team (Holiday, Anderson, etc.), then what happens when you add a guy with a history? Eric Gordon 2.0?

Since late 2013, Carmelo Anthony has had several issues with his left knee and ankle, along with some shoulder issues. In February, he had surgery on his left knee to repair and clean up his patella tendon. Rehab should be finished by the end of August at the latest, but there is always going to be concern when knee issues start becoming a regular occurrence. Throughout his career, however, Anthony has been a warrior and played in over 85% of his team’s games. He has been a high-minute guy most of his career, so there is some worry about wear and tear, but he doesn’t play an above the rim kind of game and his body has been NBA-ready since day one, so he can take the physicality.

Again, he plays a lot like Paul Pierce, and in the four years following his surgery, Pierce missed just 13 regular season games, while also playing 73 more in the postseason. 30 is not necessarily the end for a player, especially when his game relies more on craftiness and shooting, and when he has a body that can absorb the punishment. At this point, it will be on Carmelo to decide if he wants to do all the things necessary to keep his body in top shape and get the most out of it. Paul Pierce kept putting up All-Star numbers well into his mid-30’s, and will start the season as a 38-year old next year, with the reputation of still being one of the most clutch players in the NBA. It is not impossible to imagine a scenario where Anthony produces at an elite level for another 3 years, and at a very high level for 2 or 3 more beyond that.

That is, if he stays healthy of course.

Verdict

So, should the Pelicans Pursue Carmelo Anthony?

Yes.

I know I will be in the minority on this one, as the NBA seems to be heading more towards team basketball and ball movement, but at the end of the day, stars win in this league. The Hawks were a great story, but the second they matched up with a star, they got demolished. The Warriors were fantastic all year, but they were down 2-1 because Lebron was carrying his team the way a star should, and Golden State only turned it around after Stephen Curry started playing like a star again. It’s a superstar league, plain and simple, and whenever you get the chance to add one, you do it. Especially when you don’t have to give up a star to do it — when, instead, you get to pair him with another superstar.

The question is whether Anthony will be willing to refine his game and take a step back for the good of the team. Honestly, this is an unknown, but Carmelo has to be sick of watching his peers hoist trophies while his team is an afterthought across the NBA. And as I mentioned earlier, he would have to approve a trade anywhere he goes, so you would think that he’d only agree to come to New Orleans to win, and win big.

The Knicks will most likely give it a shot this season, and hope that they can catch lightning in a bottle with Anthony and one or two mid-tier free agent acquisitions. But when the losses rack up yet again, and Anthony starts taking shots at the 19-year-old who management sees as their future, it will be time for him to move on and for New York to enter into a full rebuild. When that happens, a package of expiring contracts and/or Tyreke (who could get sent to a third team for picks), could be the best offer that New York has on the table from a team that Melo would actually give a thumbs up to. At that point, you take the bird in the hand and pair AD with a sure-fire superstar that would instantly turn the Pelicans into championship contenders.

What do you all think?