Is The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony’s Legacy In Jeopardy Without An NBA Championship?

This article was originally published in The Field at scroll.in on February 19, 2017

Numbers. They matter.

Thirteen.

That is the number of full seasons that Carmelo has been in the League. Anthony, a highly heralded college prospect, was drafted third in the top-heavy 2003 NBA draft that included a high school phenom named LeBron James (1), and college stars Chris Bosh (4) and Dwyane Wade (5). The trio (LeBron, Wade, Bosh) would go on to form the modern day Big Three in Miami and romp home to two championships (2012, 2013) in four seasons. The Draft is also historic for the Detroit Pistons infamously picking Darko Milicic second.

Twelve.

Carmelo is arguably one of the purest scorers the NBA has ever seen. Offensively, he is probably the most unguardable player in the NBA today. A matchup nightmare, he is armed with a once-in-a-generation scoring finesse, both around and away from the basket. His shooting averages have not dropped below the 43% he shot in his second season in the NBA. That’s 12 seasons of supremely efficient shooting from the field. He has shot better than 30% for all but three seasons (including 32% this season), and shot over 35% for six of those seasons (matching LeBron James in the bargain).

Eleven.

On January 25, 2014, Anthony exploded for 62 points at the Madison Square Garden. The unsuspecting Charlotte Hornets looked utterly helpless as Anthony drained basket after basket enroute his career high. Only eleven players have scored more points in a single NBA game. That list? David Robinson, David Thompson, Elgin Baylor, George Gervin, Jerry West, Joe Fulks, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Pete Maravich, Rick Barry, Wilt Chamberlain. The only player on that list, not in the Hall Of Fame yet? Kobe. 2021 isn’t far away.

Ten.

Upon his arrival in Denver, the Nuggets became a perennial playoff lock, their best outing coming in 2008-09 where they reached the Conference Finals, losing 4-2 to eventual NBA Champion Kobe Bryant and his the Los Angeles Lakers. Just like he did with the Nuggets, Anthony was supposed to deliver the Knicks to the promised land as well. He hasn’t been as successful, with the deepest playoff run (since the 1999-’00 season) coming in 2012-13, where the Knicks lost to 4-2 to Paul George and the Indiana Pacers in the Conference Semifinals. The good news? Carmelo has missed the postseason just three times this far in his career. The bad news? Carmelo has missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons since 2013.

Nine.

The number of NBA All-Star Games that Anthony has appeared in till last season. The 2017 NBA All-Star Game was his tenth appearance where he replaced the injured Kevin Love. Many thought this was a knock on Beal, who is having his healthiest season thus far and has the Wizards sitting pretty with the third seed in the Eastern Conference. In reality Beal was just a victim of the voting system.

Eight.

Up until this season, Anthony has had only eight teammates score more than 15 ppg in the respective season. Kenyon Martin (‘05), Allen Iverson (‘07, ‘08, ‘09), Chauncey Billups (‘09, ‘10, ‘11), J. R. Smith (‘09, ‘10, ‘13), Amar’e Stoudemire (‘11, ‘12), Raymond Felton (‘11), Wilson Chandler (‘11), Danilo Galinari (‘11). No matter how you choose to look at the stat, that is not even remotely close the help even a star like Anthony needs to win a title in the modern day NBA.

Seven.

Carmelo has averaged over 25 PPG . Considered by many to be one of the purest scoring machines the NBA has ever seen, Anthony’s scoring average has never dipped below 20 PPG in a single season. His highest average came in his fourth season with Denver when he averaged 28.9 PPG while shooting.

Six.

Surprisingly, Anthony has made it to just six All-NBA teams. He made the All- NBA 2nd Team in ‘10 and ‘13, and the All-NBA 3rd team in ‘05, ‘06, ‘09 and ‘12. Even more surprisingly, Anthony has never made an All NBA 1st team.

Five.

Anthony thrives when he has someone who can not only bring the ball up, but also direct the offense so get him the spots and matchups that make him most dangerous. On that front, Anthony has been fairly unlucky, and had hardly any consistency. He has played with just five point guards that were among the NBA’s top 10 in the respective season. Andre Miller (‘06, ‘07), Allen Iverson (‘08, ‘09) and Raymond Felton (‘11). You could throw in Jeremy Lin (‘12) in the mix, but that would be inaccurate since Lin’s 2012 was an anomaly, as evidenced by his inability to recreate the Linsanity magic. Derrick Rose, who was to be the answer to all of Anthony’s career PG woes, is a shadow of his former self. The 2011 Regular Season MVP showed signs of promise to start the season, but has plateaued, averaging a mediocre 17.7 PPG and 4.5 PPG.

Four.

Only four on Anthony’s teammates have made an All-Star Game in the respective season. Allen Iverson (‘07, ‘08), Chanucey Billups (‘09, ‘10), Amar’e Stoudemire (‘11) and Tyson Chandler (‘13).

Three.

Carmelo, a 3-time Olympic gold medalist, is the most decorated and prolific basketball player in international basketball history. It is no secret that he plays on a whole other level when donning the US colors at the Olympics. It really doesn’t matter who else is on the roster; Anthony de-facto leader at the quadrennial event, and everything (both offensively and defensively) runs through him. Considering the greats that have come and gone before, it is hard to believe that no other basketball player has more Olympic gold medals than Anthony.

Two.

The total number All-NBA teammates that Anthony has ever played a full season with. Billups in ‘09 (All-NBA 3rd Team) and Tyson Chandler in ‘12 (All NBA 3rd Team). Amar’e Stoudemire who made the All-NBA 2nd Team in ‘11 does not count since Anthony had played just half a season with him.

One.

Among the most astonishing facts of Anthony is that, as prolific a scorer as he is, he has led the NBA in scoring just once. Averaging 28.7 PPG in 2012-13, Anthony led the league in one of the poorest scoring seasons in recent history.

Zero.

The number of NBA Championships Carmelo Anthony has won till date.

Numbers matter. They are simple and clear indicators of where a player stands in the pyramid of greatness. It allows us to stack up a player against his contemporaries, against the greats that have gone before, and the legends yet to suit up for the NBA. Numbers are the water required to cement a player’s legacy when he decides to hang up his sneakers.

Anthony’s numbers are inconclusive. Always arguable. He has arguably been among the top-15 if not top-10 players in the league, but has never made an All-NBA 1st team. He is arguably the greatest scorer of his generation, but has never averaged 30 ppg in a season and led the league in scoring just once. He is arguably the best small forward of his generation, but has not been to the NBA Finals, let alone win a NBA championship.

Anyone who watches any single isolated part of Anthony’s career would think he is a lock for one the 100 greatest players ever. Certain seasons an argument for placing him in the Top-50 ever is valid too. Granted he hasn’t had the best of teams (as evidenced in the numbers above), and to his credit has taken an astonishingly mediocre team to the cusp of an NBA Finals. However, Anthony’s career as a whole has fallen significantly short of his ceiling. This isn’t just about an NBA Championship. It is about the legacy that Anthony leaves in the minds of NBA fans. What would we think of when we read his name once he retires? How will we remember Anthony.

Will we remember his gross failing at not having won an NBA title? Or will we remember him as the greatest scoring forwards the NBA has ever seen?

Only time will tell.

The Wizards’ John Wall Seeks To Disrupt The NBA’s Pecking Order

This article was originally published in The Field at scroll.in on February 13, 2017

With four minutes and 10 seconds to go in the fourth quarter of a thriller against the reigning NBA champions, John Wall uses the screen distraction from teammate Bradley Beal to blow past his defender Kyrie Irving, only to be greeted at the rim by two more defenders, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love.

Everyone senses the play is done. Not John Wall. He splits the two defenders with a slick euro-step, gets them both in the air, and lobs a pretty looking layup off the glass between them, making it seem as though it were part of the plan. The play makes John Wall look like a star. The kind of star that ought to lead his team to the playoffs every year. The kind of star that ought to be playing point guard in the NBA Finals. The kind of star that ought to be the best player on a Championship team.

John Wall ought to be that star. He is not. Yet.

Over the past four seasons, the Washington Wizards have settled into a routine of mediocrity. Keep one of the NBA’s three best backcourts (Beal and Wall) intact, and barely make or miss the playoffs. In NBA speak, this is called “no man’s land”, i.e, not good enough to compete for a championship, and not terrible enough to land a top draft pick.

No man’s land

Coming into the 2016-‘17 season, then, the Wizards were hoping to dramatically alter that routine by snaring superstar free agent Kevin Durant who grew up in Maryland, a state that shares a border with Washington. The preparations began the previous season, when they did not extend Beal’s deal, did not add any talent or contracts of significance to their roster, and even signed on former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks as their Head Coach, believing that they had a real shot at landing Durant.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, Durant did not even give them a meeting, let alone consider coming back home, putting a huge dent in not only the team’s Championship hopes, but also the probability at landing a superstar in the future. Sensing a semblance of doom to the season if they did not take immediate action, they hastily signed Beal to a monstrous deal for five years at $130 million (approx), and fortified their depth at centre by signing Ian Mahinmi for 4 years at $64 million (approx).

In all this commotion, everyone, including yours truly, wondered if this was fair to John Wall, the Wizards’ only star.

That the Wizards are Wall’s team is beyond any doubt. He has been the team’s most consistent player in the last six seasons, steadily getting better every season. In fact, Wall is the only Wizards player still on the roster from his rookie season 2010-‘11, when he caught the tail end of the tumultuous Gilbert Arenas era. Two of his running mates this season, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter Jr, have been with him for just three seasons, with Kelly Oubre Jr and Morris joining the roster just last season. Even Beal, one of the NBA’s top five shooting guards when healthy, has struggled to stay on the floor, playing just over 294 out of a possible 410 games in his five seasons with the Wizards.

Washington’s one true wizard: John Wall

With all the instability on the organisational front and on the floor, was it fair to blame Wall for the Wizards’ mediocrity? Irrespective of how easy the East is, it was unfair to burden Wall with the expectations of carrying a team that cannot hold on to talent, whose second best player sits out 30% of the season with injuries, or an organization that does not surround it’s star with the right talent to compete.

Things are looking up since last season. Beal is having his healthiest season (playing in 49 out of 53 games) since 2013-‘14 and showing signs of reaching his potential of becoming the best shooting guard in the NBA. Gortat is a still a pick and roll threat, despite not having added range to his shot over the summer. Add to that the development of Porter (quietly the NBA’s number best three-point shooter at 46%) and Oubre into legit threats on both sides of the ball (offensively & defensively), and Wizards’ fans can be assured that, subject to this core staying healthy and together they have a legitimate chance at going deep into the Playoffs.

Wall has had a ton of reasons to complain. He has not this far. It is not his style. However, with this core in place, he has no more reasons. More importantly, he recognizes the moment. Stepping up to the challenge he is dishing out the ball at a career high 10.5 assists per game, second only to James Harden, while also stepping up his commitment on defense to steal the ball 2.2 times per game, second to league leading Chris Paul. He is also averaging a career highs in 23.0 PPG while shooting a solid 45.4% from the field.

Everything seems to be clicking at the time of this article. Washington are the second best team in 2017 with a 16-5 record (two losses more than the Golden State Warriors who also have 16 wins). They are in the top-10 in nearly every offensive and defensive category, and have quietly climbed into the third spot in the Eastern Conference.

The ball is now in John Wall’s court. Can he disrupt the NBA’s pecking order?

Does NBA Champion, King Lebron James, Really Need A Floor General For The Cavaliers

This article was originally published in The Field at scroll.in on February 7, 2017 

“We’re not better than last year, We need a f***ing playmaker”

LeBron James was in no mood to hold back. The Cleveland Cavaliers had just lost the fifth of their last seven games, the latest loss coming to a short-handed New Orleans Pelicans team that sat out All-Star starter, and the league’s second leading scorer Anthony Davis, due to an injury.

The spate of losses included a 35-point drubbing at the hands of their 2016 NBA Finals rivals, the Warriors, and a narrow overtime 118-115 loss against the San Antonio Spurs, a potential 2017 NBA Finals rival.

LeBron’s words sparked off NBA Hall-Of-Famer and TNT talking head Charles Barkley who questioned James’ competitiveness. “He is an amazing player. He’s the best player in the world. They’re the defending champs. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t wanna compete?”

To cut a long story short, LeBron responded by questioning Barkley’s credibility and brought up Barkley’s spotty past. Barkley stuck by his words, and we are left with the question, does the King need a floor general?

Well, like coins, arguments have two sides as well. So, let us break it down.

LeBron’s wishes have been granted
Ever since his return to Cleveland, the management have made clear this is James’s team. After all, this was a two-time NBA Champion and the world’s best basketball player. They gave him the keys to personnel decisions and went about work immediately. In a letter announcing his return to his hometown, he conspicuously left out both Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (both No. 1 picks for Cleveland) further fueling the speculation that he wanted Kevin Love on the Cavaliers. The Wiggins-Love deal went through and James now had his super team.

Injuries in the postseason to both Kevin Love (shoulder) and Kyrie Irving (ankle) derailed their Championship hopes in their first season. James became a one man wrecking machine in the Finals (after Irving went down) and single-handedly held off the Warriors, before falling to them in six games.

Play
The following season drama ensued. Despite assurances that he was returning, James took some time to sign on the dotted line. Remember, James had only signed a one year contract upon returning to the Cavaliers. This time he held out for Tristan Thompson, a ferocious rebounder and one of the longest serving players on the Cavalier roster, who not only is very close with James, but also shares an agent with him. LeBron broke his silence on the issue through an Instagram post that kicked the organisation into to gear signing Thompson to an $82 million-5 year deal, which was a bit short of the $94 million max-deal he was expecting. Once assured that Thompson was a done deal, James inked his own $47 million-2 year deal with an option to opt out after the first year.

Fast forward through the historic 2015-‘16 season, which ended with the Cavaliers pulling off one off the greatest feats in the history of sport, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to topple the record-breaking 73-9 Golden State Warriors.

Then last offseason, there was drama again. James first opted out of his contract, only to re-sign the dotted line of a $100 million-3 year contract. Then, he continued to publicly call-put and pushed the Cavaliers to re-sign JR. Smith. The Cavaliers front office finally relented and offered a $57 million four year deal to Smith. James then also nudged the Cavs in the direction of restricted free-agent Mike Dunleavy, who the Cavaliers traded for. The trade also carried speculation that James asked for the trade on behalf of one of his closest friends Dwyane Wade, whose move to Chicago would not have happened had the Chicago Bulls not traded away Dunleavy’s contract.

So if you are keeping score at home, James got, Kyrie Irving (a result of the Cavaliers abysmal season after James left for Miami), Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith and Mike Dunleavy, all while assembling one of the most expensive rosters in the history of the NBA.

And he still wants more
Well, here is why LeBron (and the Cavaliers) need a (at least one) point guard.

At 32, and nearly 1,250 NBA games on his legs, James is averaging a beastly 37.5 minutes per game. Only Kyle Lowry (league leader at 37.7 mpg) comes close at age 30 and even he only about 750 games on his legs. Every other player in the top-50 of minutes played per game this season, is either much younger (average age of the other 49 being just 25.5 yrs) or are James’s age (Carmelo Anthony and Marcin Gortat) but are not remotely as burdened with carrying a team as he is.

The play on court does not paint a rosy picture either. With the departure of Matthew Delladova and the untimely injury to JR Smith, the Cavaliers have a gaping hole at the point guard position. Even Kyrie Irving, while traditionally a point guard, thrives off the ball, and is best when creating his own shot, something he is born to do. That leaves James to not only handle the ball, but to also create his own shot and run the offense the entire game. Add to this his defensive responsibilities, and James is keeping the Cavaliers’ playoff hopes alive almost single-handedly.

James is desperate to make that run at the Championship again. He is in his absolute prime, has not lost a step and has thankfully remained free of grievous injury so far. This makes his frustration even more valid, considering another untimely injury to any one of their big three (love is already sitting out games with back spasms) and the season is over.

Kyle Korver, as incredible as he is, is not the answer. And while, getting a point guard is not going to shield them from the inevitability of a lost season in case of an injury to one of their Big Three, it definitely gives James a fighting chance. That is all that he is asking for. Remember, this is the best basketball player on the planet, someone who single handedly held off the Warriors in an epic six game battle in the 2015 NBA Finals.

It’s clear what the Cavaliers need to do if they want to repeat, give James his fourth ring, and once again create history in sport and for the city of Cleveland. And in case it is not clear, James has already dropped them an expletive-laden hint.

The San Antonio Spurs’ (Quiet) Pursuit Of A Sixth NBA Championship

This article was originally published in The Field at scroll.in on February 2, 2017.

This happens every season.

The San Antonio Spurs are dismissed from the playoff picture every single season. Either they are too old (2009-2013), or too devastated (2013-‘14).

This season they ought to have been both old and devastated. They brought on an aging Pau Gasol to pair with a sluggish LaMarcus Aldridge, when the league is moving towards lighter, faster, more dynamic offense. They have three key players well into their 40s. And the biggest change of all; they lost Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward in NBA history, to retirement.

Fans would have understood if the Spurs did not do what they always do, quietly dominate the season and make a deep run into the playoffs. After all, despite Leonard’s brilliance, the Spurs did not look like a playoff bound team on paper.

Luckily for them basketball is not played on paper.

The Spurs greatness is the reason why they get taken for granted; people either expect them to be there in the playoff mix, or forgive them for any dip in performance because, well, they (Spurs) are old (and devastated).

For Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, this is routine. The Spurs are a machine that just keeps on going.

A machine that just keeps on going

Take for instance this season.

They have the second best record in the league at 37-11, four games behind the Golden State Warriors (41-7), and the second best road record at 20-5 behind, well, the Golden State Warriors.

They lead the league in three-point field-goal percentage (3P%), with 41% and have the second best field-goal percentage (FG%) at 48%.

Defensively, they hold opponents to 99.2 PPG, second to the Utah Jazz, and rank among the top ten in Opponent FG% (44%, 6th) and Opponent 3P% (34%, 2nd).

In addition to featuring in the top ten in nearly every meaningful statistical category.

More importantly though they are 17-6 against teams that are playoff bound (as off the time of this article), second to the Warriors who are 17-4.

Okay, pause.

Considering all these numbers indicate they are second best to the blazing Warriors, are the Spurs legit title contenders?

So are they really title contenders?

That is where it gets tricky.

Long answer: No, they are not. They go ten deep, which sufficient in the regular season, but the talent to hold off better teams drops off significantly after their starting five. Other title contenders have kept their core intact over multiple seasons, the Spurs have to contend with a roster that is still earning their playoff chops. They have also finished a whopping 16 games with a score differential of five or less (9-7 record) leading all five legit title contenders. That’s dangerous territory in the postseason.

Defensively, their most used and successful lineup features both Gasol and Aldridge who are mediocre at switching on defence, a big drawback when playing a seven game series against longer, quicker, more versatile teams. The Warriors and the Cavaliers, both, have at least two (if not three) high scoring stars. The Spurs do have Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, two elite defenders to cover up for any defensive shortfall on the part of their frontcourt. However, Leonard is now is tasked with the responsibility of carrying the Spurs offensively as well, something that is bound to take a marginal toll on this defence.

Short Answer: Yes. They have Gregg Popovich. And they are the San Antonio Spurs. Do you even remember the last time they were not a contender? Thought so.