Quick Thoughts

1. Whither Melo?: Carmelo Anthony’s quick exile from Houston has put his future career in limbo and raised questions about his future and his past.  Recently, Kirk Goldsberry wrote a thoughtful piece for ESPN that made the point that Melo’s strengths, creating mid-range shots one-on-one and posting up, are obsolete in today’s NBA that emphasizes ball movement and three-pointers.  Goldsberry further notes that Anthony’s antiquated style can’t work because, even at his peak, Melo’s trueshooting percentage was way below the LeBrons, Currys, and Durants.

While Goldsberry is correct that Melo’s style of play, in the abstract, isn’t the most efficient style, that doesn’t seem to be the primary issue with Melo of 2018-19.  It is no shame that Melo was never as good as LBJ or KD (and no one ever thought that he was in their league even when Carmelo was at his peak anyway).  Anthony’s big problem is that: (a) he was never a great defender and (b) he can’t really score anymore.  Anthony is 34 and has declined very quickly since 2015-16 (when he was still arguably an All-Star quality player).

Anthony’s game could still work as an older player if he could defend bigger players and play a stretch 4/5.  Alas, Melo always hated playing the power forward (remember his antipathy to this strategy when he was on the Knicks).  Anthony is probably pragmatic enough to accept a changing role but his defense has gone from bad to even worse since he hit 30.

As a counterpoint, consider Paul Pierce, a similar volume scorer to Melo (the comparison is not precise I know but is close enough) who transitioned much better to the stretch four role.  Pierce squeezed two (and, arguably, a third) good seasons in the three-and-D role.   Let’s compare Melo’s stats last season at age-33 with Pierce’s age-33 season:

-Anthony, 2017-18:  32.1 mpg, 16.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, .503 TS%, 12.7 PER, 3.7 WS. -3.8 BPM, -1.1 VORP

-Pierce, 2010-11: 34.7 mpg, 18.9 ppg. 5.4 rpg, 3.3 apg, .620 TS%, 19.7 PER, 11.6 WS, 4.7 BPM, 4.7 VORP

So, Pierce was still a star at age-33 (he was still on Boston) and Melo was, at best filler.  But if you look closely, Pierce, at age-33 was still a feature scorer for Boston and, perhaps, the comparison is inexact.  For those who want to compare Melo with Pierce after he left Boston, here are Pierce’s stats from his 2013-14 season with Brooklyn:

-Pierce, 2013-14:  28.0 mpg, 13.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, .595 TS%, 16.8 PER, 5.2 WS, 1.5 BPM, 1.8 VORP

Even as a role player, Pierce was much better offensively and defensively than Melo was in OKC.  The real problem is, regardless of playing style, Anthony has aged rapidly.  If he could still score near his old efficiency, many teams would find a role for Melo (like they have, for example, for other more traditional players like Rudy Gobert).  But players who become below average at age-33, regardless of style of play, rarely pull out of the tailspin.  Anthony’s style is anachronistic but he would have a job now if not for his steep aging process as a ballplayer.

2.  No-Pass Sexton: Collin Sexton has been impressive creating shots for Cleveland this season (15.2 ppg, .439 3%) but his passing, for a point, is comically low 2.5 apg (in nearly 30 mpg).  That seems really low.  Sexton is young, so his passing game could develop anyway but I thought we could see how many point guards started out so reluctant to pass and where they ended.  With the help of Basketball-Reference.com, we ran a search of all guards 6-3 and under who average at least 29 mpg as a rookie.  Here’s the top/bottom 10 non-Sexton:

  1. Phil Chenier, 1971-72: 2.5 apg
  2. Dick Garrett, 1969-70: 2.5 apg
  3. Dajuan Wagner, 2002-03: 2.8 apg
  4. Hersey Hawkins, 1988-89: 3.0 apg
  5. Langston Galloway, 2014-15: 3.3 apg
  6. Howard Komives, 1964-65: 3.3 apg
  7. Al Butler, 1961-62: 3.5 apg
  8. Matt Maloney, 1996-97: 3.7 apg
  9. Donovan Mitchell, 2017-18: 3.7 apg
  10. Brandon Knight, 2011-12: 3.8 apg

As we suspected, Sexton’s apg isn’t just a little low but historically low for a short guard.  But most of the players on this list were not considered point guards by the modern standard anyway.  So, let’s narrow the definition to rookies under 6-3 since the NBA started keeping track of minutes (1973-74) and look at AST%, for a better sense of Sexton’s passing on per-minute basis, as opposed to just raw totals.  For frame of reference, Sexton’s AST% is currently 14.2%:

  1. Hersey Hawkins, 1988-89: 13.0%
  2. Dajuan Wagner, 2002-03: 15.3%
  3. Langston Galloway, 2014-15: 17.6%
  4. Travis Mays, 1990-91: 18.3%
  5. Donovan Mitchell, 2017-18: 19.4%
  6. Matt Maloney, 1996-97: 19.5%
  7. Brandon Knight, 2011-12: 20.8%
  8. Anthony Johnson, 1997-98: 22.3%
  9. Maurice Cheeks, 1978-79: 22.8%
  10. Mario Chalmers, 2008-09: 23.5%

Only Hawkins passed worse than Sexton has so far and Hawkins was a two-guard.  The rest of the group are backups and Knight (briefly a good player before he got injured) and Cheeks (and another two-guard in Mitchell).   If you are looking for a ray of hope for Sexton, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, and Russell Westbrook are also in the bottom 20.  The difference is that their low rates are nearly twice Sexton’s.

The closest analog to Sexton so far is Wagner, another Cavs guard who could create shots but couldn’t pass (or shoot very well) and washed out of Cleveland 14 years ago.  Sexton could be a useful NBA player but, if he doesn’t learn to pass, the data show that he’ll have to be a role player.  It’s still early but we’ll keep an eye on this.

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