As opinions of all varieties poured in on the Knicks acquisiton of Carmelo Anthony last week, a general theme materialized among the naysayers. The Knicks have essentially duplicated a strength, scoring, but may have damaged their offensive efficiency in the process. It’s not the only factor to consider when assessing this trade, but it is a legitimate concern.
Of the twenty NBA players who average 20 or more points per game, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony rank 10th and 15th in terms in TS%. The three primary players sent to Denver by the Knicks in exchange for Anthony are Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler. All three had higher individual Offensive Ratings this season and both Chandler and Gallinari had a higher TS% at the time of the trade. There are eight players in the league this season with a Usage Rate above 30.0%. Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire rank 7th and 8th among that group in individual Offensive Rating.
Chauncey Billups will certainly mitigate some of these problems. He can still be a potent offensive weapon in spurts and has obviously used the trade as motivation to pick his game up. However his career is winding down and the addition of Anthony is as much about the future as it is the rest of this season.
Don’t get me wrong the Knicks still have some serious offensive firepower. They will score a ton of points and, as many have shouted from the rooftops, Anthony’s ability to create his own shot down the stretch will lead to some memorable wins in close games. However, from an offensive efficiency standpoint it seems the Knicks could be headed for a small decline. A drop in offensive efficiency isn’t hugely troubling on its own, but when you consider that the team probably got a little worse defensively, the problem starts to seem bigger.
New York has started to make some adjustments to their offensive sets in accomodation of Billups and Anthony. Mike D’Antoni has also talked publicly about moving away from the “Sevens Seconds or Less” mindset. As a Knicks fan, two areas would scare me most in looking at changes on that side of the ball. The first would be shot selection. I’m referring specifically to the predilection Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have displayed in the past for long two-pointers. The second would be an over-reliance on isolations involving Anthony.
If you’ve read much of my work I’m sure you have a sense of the role that shot selection plays in my basketball analysis. For me, long two-pointers are like a piece of gravel in my shoe. Wherever I go, whatever I do, they’re always there in the background reminding me of their uncomfortable presence.
Mike D’Antoni has been portrayed in the past as a savant of offensive coaching. His system is built on an uptempo style with a focus on three pointers. The difference between a three pointer and a long two-pointer is not much, just a single point and a few feet. Oh, and a huge chasm in efficiency. D’Antoni’s teams have done a great job of avoiding those long two-pointers and focusing on the three. The table below shows the ORtg. and league rank as well as the 16-23ft. FGA/G and league rank for each of Mike D’Antoni’s teams over the past five seasons.
Hoopdata only has shot selection numbers available for the last five seasons.
D’Antoni’s teams have consistently been in the bottom third of the league in the number of long two pointers they attempt. Other than his first two seasons in New York, when the roster was undergoing significant transition, his teams have consistently been in the top ten in the league in offensive efficiency. The table here doesn’t necessarily drive home the relationship between ORtg. and long two-pointers attempted but please believe me, it’s there. Of the ten most efficient offenses this season, only Miami, Oklahoma City and Utah attempt more 16-23ft. jumpers than the league average. This season there is a -0.437 correlation between a team’s ORtg. and the number of long two-pointers they attempt per game.
Carmelo is 3rd in the league in long two-pointers attempted per game with 6.5. Amare Stoudemire is 12th with 5.4 per game. So the Knicks now have two players averaging a combined 11.9 shots per game from one of the most inefficient areas of the floor. No other pair of teammates average more. Although, Chris Bosh and LeBron James are close with 11.5 per game.
There are 240 minutes available to be played in an NBA game. Anthony and Stoudemire are currently averaging 75.2 of those minutes for the Knicks. The average NBA player attempts 2 jumpshots from 16-23ft. per game in 23.8 minutes. If we combine Anthony’s and Stoudemire’s long two-pointer attempts with a projection for their teammates attempting them at the league average rate we would have the Knicks attempting 25.7 jumpers from 16-23ft. per game. That would just barely put the Knicks first in the league edging out the offensive juggernaut that is the Washington Wizards.
Now, Anthony and Stoudemire both shoot above the league average from that range. However, that fact still doesn’t make it a good choice. Both would be better off shooting from just about anywhere else on the floor. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.
Knicks fans would be absolutely right in accusing me of howling at the moon in this regard. So far this problem hasn’t materialized in the slightest. Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups are all averaging slightly fewer long two-pointers per game than they were before joining forces. The Knicks themselves are averaging just 15.4 long two-pointers per game in the first 5 games since the trade.
One of the reasons there hasn’t been a bigger increase in their 16-23ft. jumpers is that the rest of the Knicks are averaging only 3.4 shots per game from that area. This may be a blueprint for the team to follow without having to ask for too many changes for Anthony or Stoudemire. Landry Fields is the only other current Knick who is shooting above the league average on long two pointers this season. If the rest of the offensive role players can maintain strict shot discipline it would be possible for them to keep their efficiency up while still allowing Stoudemire and Anthony to fire away when the mood strikes them.
The other area I have concerns with is the team’s shift towards one on one offensive sets. Despite his reputation as an elite scorer in isolation situations the statistics don’t tell the same story about Anthony. According to Synergy Sports, 37.5% of his possessions have been used in isolations this season. He shoots 40.7% and scores just 0.85 points per possession in those situations, good for 90th in the league. This is not what I would call elite production.
The Knicks have not been very efficient in isolations situations this year, despite it being their 3rd most common possession type. It is their 3rd worst possession type by the points they score per possession. They currently score 0.88 points per possession in isolations, worse than every other offensive possession type except shots from the ball handler in the pick-and-roll and Synergy’s ambiguous “other” category. Statistically, Carmelo Anthony doesn’t seem like he will be much help. The Knicks are inefficient in isolations and could probably benefit from reducing it’s role in their offense. Instead they seem to be heading in the opposite direction. This quote from D’Antoni, included in the Howard Beck piece I linked above, is especially troubling:
“I think we’ll meet some place halfway in between because we don’t want to lose what Melo and those guys do the best. A lot of it is going one-on-one. They’re the best in the league at it.”
I hate to nitpick, but Anthony is not the best in the league at it. This season he’s the 90th best in the league at it. Even if we project some improvement with opponents having to split defensive attention between him and Stoudemire we can’t really consider him one of the best in the league in isolation situations this season. Before every Knicks fan jumps down my throat let me qualify that I am talking about production not potential. Anthony has the tools to be one of the best isolation players in the league. However, his tendency to settle for contested jumpshots out of isolations drags down his overall numbers. An terrific illustration of this is his Ast% on those long two-pointers. This season just 40.4% of his 16-23ft. jumpers have been assisted on, well below the league average of 60.5%.
I worry about the team bending to Anthony’s offensive style instead of Anthony adjusting to the team’s style. He and Stoudemire are both extremely effective in the post. They could also make a devastating pick-and-roll combination. Changing the team’s offensive tendencies because of the way Anthony likes to play may be helpful in keeping him happy but it could wind up being fairly shortsighted in terms of what’s best for the team’s performance on the floor.
Of course if the Knicks land Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Dwight Howard in the next few years this entire discussion may become moot. I do want to make clear that the comparison I’m trying to make is not a vacillation between the Knicks offense being good or bad, but rather good or better. At this time they don’t have the personnel or system to be an elite defensive squad. To step forward as contenders they will have to make themselves into an elite offensive team. A very good offensive team simply won’t be good enough.