Transactions: The Melo Deal

Knicks trade Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 second round pick

What to make of the Carmelo trade?  In assessing the Carmelo Anthony trade, it’s hard to separate the return from how the Knicks handled Anthony to begin with.  Phil Jackson did his best to alienate and criticize Anthony in hopes of forcing him to accept a trade.  The actual result was that the Knicks totally destroyed much of the perceived value that Melo had.  Instead, Anthony was viewed as a toxic asset that they needed to dump.

Since Jackson was kicked to the curb, there has been something of an uneasy détente between Anthony and the Knicks.  Melo had no desire to come back to town and the Knicks still didn’t want him.  The Knicks, however, refused to take on bad contracts just dump him (a la Ryan Anderson in Houston) and Anthony refused to expand his list acceptable teams to be traded to outside of the Rockets.

New Knicks management seems a little sharper than Phil.  They merely waited out Anthony and posed a choice to Anthony: (1) stay in New York and be booed on a losing team as his prime quickly evaporates or (2) go to an alternative destination that isn’t Houston but good enough for him to compete in the playoffs.  This choice presupposed that Melo wanted out more than the Knicks wanted him out.   This assumption was clearly correct.  Melo did want out more urgently, as he waived an $8 million trade kicker and relented to be traded to the Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 second rounder (from the Bulls).

The Knicks handled that part of the game well but what about their actual return? The primary asset is Kanter.  Kanter is only 25 and is signed for the next two seasons at about $18 million per year (Kanter can reportedly opt out after this season).  There can be no better example of the limits of PER than Kanter.  He has put up a PER of about 24.0 the last two seasons, yet has tepid VORP (0.4) and negative BPM (1.0 OBPM, -2.5 DBPM, for net -1.5 BPM).  In other words, Kanter falls into that category of efficient lost post scorer, who does not do much else well.  This type of player has value but is particularly limited in the league that increasingly demands power forwards and centers who can hit threes or long jumpers and/or defend multiple positions.

At this point, you could pair Kanter with Kirstaps Porzingis because Porzingis could play on the perimeter offensively.  The defensive issues, however, might be too much to play Kanter more than 20-25 minutes per game regardless who he is paired with.  Kanter’s greatest value is that his contract is not too long or expensive and he might be tradeable if good team has a specific need for a big scorer.

The rest of the OKC bits that the Knicks got are not terrible.  A second round pick from the Bulls should be relatively high and has a shot of offering a real player.  As for McDermott, he looks to have limited value on the court.  He is already 26 and is strictly a three-point shooter and does not rebound, pass, steal, or create shots nearly well enough to be more than a bit player.  His contract runs out after the season, so the Knicks can clear salary if he doesn’t develop at all from here.  In all, the Knicks received a few decent assets and nothing bad, which is objectively a good outcome for them.

Turning to OKC, Melo has a chance to help.  The key, though, is that Anthony has to accept being third banana on offense and he must defend well enough to justify big minutes.  Last season, Anthony’s offense declined a bit (17.9 PER was lowest since 2004-05) and he was negative in BPM (-0.7) due to indifferent defense.  Going even deeper in the stats, Anthony was having serious trouble getting to the rim.  He shot a career low 12.7% of his shot from three feet or closer (his career average is 32.1%) and his free throw rate fell too.  He shoots well enough on open jumpers but he will have to defend power forwards and limit some of his more adventurous shots.  The template for Anthony now is to offer similar skills to Paul Pierce from his Brooklyn/Washington days.  Pierce shot less, defended power forwards, and occasionally was featured on offense when needed.

The Anthony of 2017-18, though, is materially different than Pierce from Brooklyn/Washington.  Pierce was already 36 when he went to Brooklyn and his defense never cratered in Boston like Anthony’s has the last few seasons.  While these facts give rise to a degree of pessimism about Carmelo’s skills, even a diminished Anthony is an upgrade for OKC.  He offers ton of spacing on offense for Russell Westbrook and Paul George and his bad defense isn’t that much worse than Kanter’s.  The Thunder are better but Anthony doesn’t not put them on par with the best of the West (i.e. Golden State, San Antonio, and possibly Houston).  Both teams did fine in this trade but there is no super winner here either.

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