Called out by a former teammate, Anthony’s selfish reputation continues to stick.
Greed is good. In 1987, Michael Douglas proclaimed that message to audiences worldwide in his Academy Award-winning film Wall Street. Coincidentally, 30 years later and just a short trip uptown from that same New York Stock Exchange, we now find Carmelo Anthony presumably repeating this same mantra as he continues to suit up for the Knicks night after night at Madison Square Garden. Greed is good…
Through six-and-a-half rocky seasons in New York following another seven-and-a-half in Denver, 10x All-Star Carmelo Anthony has become primarily known for three things: his clutch offensive ability, his lack of defensive effort, and a lasting stigma of selfishness.
According to a recent statement by Anthony’s longtime Nuggets teammate Nenê, “He’s a guy who could’ve been the best player in the League — the way he uses his body, the accuracy on his shots, the variation of dribbles and shots that he has, and his low-post fundamentals… but he’s just too selfish. He can’t make his teammates better,” the Rockets center told Canal Chuá. “If he did that, he could’ve been the best in the League.”
Of course, a player of Anthony’s caliber deserves to be relatively selfish. This past season Carmelo averaged 22.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. But has anyone else come close to resembling this level of selfishness? To statistically resemble Anthony’s ball-hogging tendencies, let’s say a player must attempt at least 18 field goals per game while recording an average of no more than three assists per game across the season. In other words, per the aforementioned parameters, a player must achieve an average attempt-to-assist ratio of 6:1 or higher. Let’s call this the Wall Street Ratio.
As of this past season, Anthony has accomplished this task a total of four times — more than any player since he entered the League in 2003. While the all-time record belongs to Elvin Hayes and Paul Arizin (9), Carmelo trails only Dominique Wilkins (5) among wings since 1980.
During the 2016-17 regular season, he was joined in this distinction by New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis along with Minnesota Timberwolves duo Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. None of their respective teams made the playoffs this year. However, that is not to say that “hero ball” (or anti-hero ball, as some would say) necessarily equals failure. To date, seven players averaging a Wall Street Ratio or higher have won a championship with such solitary play: Tom Heinsohn, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Bob Pettit, George Mikan, Bill Sharman, and Shaquille O’Neal.
And yet only O’Neal has won with this distinction since 1968, when he achieved his third and final Championship with the Lakers in 2002. That season, O’Neal averaged 18.3 field goal attempts against only 3.0 assists per game, leading his team in points (27.2), rebounds (10.7), and blocks (2.0) alongside fellow All-Star Kobe Bryant. However, O’Neal and his Lakers found success with this formula for one reason alone — one that Carmelo and his peers have never neared since. Despite his lofty number of per game attempts, O’Neal led the league with 57.9% shooting that season. Anthony, meanwhile, has averaged 45.2% over his career, while his latest season in New York marked just 43.3%. Since 1975, no player averaging a Wall Street Ratio has led his team to an above .500 finish while shooting less than 44.2%.
Of course, Anthony’s opportunities and responsibilities as a wing are incomparable to those of O’Neal, a 7’1” center. Over 30% of Anthony’s attempts this year were from beyond the three-point arc (5.7 per game), while only 20% came from within 10 feet. To put this in context, Carmelo’s career totals include roughly 84 three-pointers and 69 dunks per season. This year, however, he completed a whopping 151 threes and only 12 dunks, despite virtually matching his career average for total attempts in 34.3 minutes per game. His number of free throw attempts this season were consequently a career low as well, averaging only 4.9 per game.
While Carmelo’s migration away from the paint may reflect his age, perhaps it’s time he learned to finally share after 14 seasons. Though assists are typically a responsibility of the point guard, in this case Derrick Rose, it is worth remembering that Anthony remains a central part of New York’s triangle offense. While ranking a mediocre seventh in assist percentage (14.5), Carmelo led his team in usage percentage (29.1) this year. Of all NBA wings, only he and Wiggins recorded a USG% > 26 and an AST% < 15. Yet despite heaving up over 400 more shot attempts than any other Knick this year, Carmelo finished dead last among the starting lineup in field goal percentage. As a result, the talents of more efficient shooters like Courtney Lee, Kristaps Porziņģis, and PER leader Kyle O’Quinn were vastly underutilized.
Certainly, the rest of the roster may look best on paper: a former MVP in Rose (one ACL and two meniscus tears later), one Defensive Player of the Year with Joakim Noah (plus multiple injuries and one drug-related suspension), and two former Champions deep on the bench (Sasha Vujačić and Justin Holiday). And yet even with more impressive teammates in the past, Anthony failed to “make [them] better,” as Nenê puts it. Six of Anthony’s 14 seasons saw him alongside a second All-Star that year — many of whom may one day top a Naismith ballot, such as Allen Iverson (inducted in 2016), Chauncey Billups, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler. Nevertheless, he has consistently failed to synergize with the pieces around him, frustrating coaches and teammates alike while making it only so far as the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
Turning 33 years old following the Knicks’ latest season, Anthony is nearing a troubling benchmark: no player above the age of 34 has averaged a Wall Street Ratio without a steep dropoff in production the following season. With the exception of Patrick Ewing’s lengthy success in New York during the late 1990s, players following such selfish play as Anthony, including Wilkins, Hayes, Jones, and Bob Love, all saw a decline of 5 to 12 points per game the season following their 33rd birthday. While Anthony’s career season low is 20.8 PPG, occurring during his sophomore season, a decline similar to that of his predecessors would certainly underwhelm that figure.
It is therefore vital that Carmelo adapts his game to a more selfless style of play—if not to win that elusive championship, than to secure a prolonged career and a friendly contract in 2019. With his New York run quickly self-destructing (protected only by a pesky no-trade clause), Anthony would assuredly like to play beside more talented stars on a contending roster at this point in his career.
The question is: Would they like to play beside him?
*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-reference.com
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