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.

Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler Wants To Create His Own NBA Legacy

This article was originally published in The Field at scroll.in on December 25, 2016

Jimmy Butler is not interested in small talk. Which, depending on whom you speak with, makes him either the most difficult person to interview, or the most interesting. What he definitely is not, though, is boring; much like his 2016-’17 season.

The six-year veteran two-time All-Star forward will be playing in his sixth Christmas Day game when he leads Chicago Bulls against Kawhi Leonard’s San Antonio Spurs, who, ironically, have been struggling at home.

It is not far-fetched to compare the two mid to late first round picks in 2011, who came into the league with the ceiling of being effective role players at best. The two forwards, however, had other plans, becoming two-way threats (both at the offensive and defensive ends) and legitimate stars in the league.

“He’s (Leonard) a great player overall.” said Butler who made himself available to global media in the build up to the Christmas Day matchup. “He plays both sides of the ball extremely well and I just think that the amount of work that we both put into it in the summer and every single day, is the reason our careers have taken off the way that they have.”

While Butler’s resumé is not as colourful as Leonard’s, he will have none of the comparisons that fans and experts thrust upon the two stars. “I don’t compare myself to anybody else,” he clarified, “I have to play well and do whatever it takes for my team to win. It’s not who’s better than who…it’s all about the team winning the game.”

No beating around the bush

That team, the Chicago Bulls, came into the 2016-‘17 season with no one being able to make sense of their offseason moves. The Bulls faced much scepticism, most notably when trading away All-Star point guard and Chicago favourite, Derrick Rose. The No. 1 pick in the 2008 season and the 2011 Most Valuable Player carried the hopes of the Windy City for eight seasons.

Those hopes stood on shaky ground for four of those seasons (2012-‘2016) after Rose tore his ACL (anterior Cruciate Ligament) in the 2012 playoffs, never quite recovering to full health until last season. Sensing that his value could only drop, the Bulls pulled the trigger on a trade that saw five players and one draft pick change hands.

“I can’t say that I was surprised,” said the straight talking Butler, who often walks the fine line between the truth and diplomacy, “but I knew that it had to be one of us to tell you the truth.”

With Rose gone, the responsibility that ought to have shifted to Butler, the 2015 NBA Most Improved Player, who was coming off career highs in points (20.9), assists (4.8) and field goals made/attempted (7.0/15.4), was marginally threatened when three-time NBA Champion and 12-time NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade shockingly decided to bring “his talents” back to his hometown Chicago.

Any doubts, however, about whose team it was were immediately addressed by Wade in his introductory press conference.“This is Jimmy’s team,” Wade said. “It won’t be a tug and pull whose team it is.”

“He’s been amazing. He’s been great.” Butler remarked about his teammate and fellow Marquette alma mater, Dwyane Wade. “He knows what it takes to win a championship. The young guys and me, we are paying attention how he takes care of his body, because that’s how you get to play as many years as he’s played. Everybody knows him for the person and the basketball player that he is, but off the floor, with his family and his community, he gives so much love to everybody, just a great human being. He can then flip a switch and be a fierce competitor on the court. That’s what makes Dwayne Wade Dwayne Wade.”

Even 2008 NBA Champion Rajon Rondo, brought in to address the gaping hole at point guard left by the departure of Derrick Rose, echoed Wade’s sentiments when asked who the leader of the Bulls was.

Which brings us back to Butler, who is touching career highs in nearly every statistical category this season, some of those highs leading all Bulls players. Already an elite defender, Butler continues to grow as a scoring threat, scoring 24.4 points per game (10th in the NBA), trailing only Durant (25.9) among players who average 17 or fewer field goal attempts (shots) in a game.

He is, however, quick to caution, “I’m not perfect in any aspect of the game (and) continue to work on all aspects of my game. I want to be really, really, really good at everything, so the only way to go about that, is continue to work on everything as much you can.”

The work he’s put in, though, has not reaped favourable results for the team just yet. Chicago have been lurking in the middle of the Eastern Conference and at the time of writing this, are ninth behind the equally mediocre Indiana Pacers. “Some games, we come out flat.” said Butler about the team’s struggles. He’s optimistic though. “We’ve proven that we can win games even with just one 3-pointer in the whole game. For us, it’s all about on the defensive end. If we guard the way that we guard on the premier teams. I don’t think we’ll have a problem beating anybody.”

Creating his own legacy

His rumoured feud with coach Fred Hoiberg last season aside, Butler also does not mince his words when asked why how he feels about calling out his team that has faltered against younger, faster opponents this season.

“I think we’re all grown men within this locker room, so you know, if you criticise somebody, hopefully they take it for the right way. You got to do your job and play your role, but if you’re not doing that, somebody needs to tell you because if nobody does, you don’t know that you’re doing anything wrong. You’re a grown man. Nobody feels sorry for you, so we all got to go out there and do our job.”

And what about the responsibility that has fallen squarely upon Butler’s shoulders; the responsibility that the de facto leader of the Chicago Bulls has to give the city its first NBA Championship since a certain Michael Jordan brought home the trophy in 1998?

Butler stopped us right there. “I damned sure would never compare myself to Michael Jordan. I want to win a championship here for this city and we’re very capable of doing so, but I want to have my own legacy and write my own story. I want to be known for me winning games, not just being in the same organisation as Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, and Dennis Rodman. I’m trying to be the best version of myself that I can be.”

And in true Jimmy Butler style, he reminds us, “I’m not living in the MJ shadow.”