Two complaints about ESPN articles in one day! It must be Christmas.
In today’s TrueHoop, Henry asks if you would trade Noah for Anthony. He lists both pros and cons as for why you would trade or keep Noah; one of the pros for making the trade is “Noah is a promising young big man, but by no metric is his production even close to Carmelo Anthony’s. Many have called Anthony the best pure scorer in the NBA.”. There are two statements to contend with here: is there a metric where Noah produces more than Carmelo, and is Carmelo the best pure scorer in the NBA?
The answer to the first question is yes. There are at least two. Wins Produced, from David Berri’s Wages of Wins (via Andres Alvarez’s automatic calculator site) says that this past year Carmelo had a WP48 of .109; an average player is a .1. Thus Carmelo was barely above average. Because he played a lot, he produced 6 wins. Since 2006, Carmelo’s max WP48 in a season is .131 and he’s produced a total of 25.28 wins. This past year alone, Noah had a Wp48 of .273 and he produced 11 wins. According to Wins Produced, Noah is in fact one of the best big men around right now, and perhaps historically. Since he was drafted three years ago, he’s produced 22.46 wins. Thus in three years Noah has produced almost as much as Carmelo, and is twice as productive now as Carmelo has been at his best in the past five years.
If you don’t like Wins Produced, you can move over to Win Shares from basketball-reference.com. Carmelo has a career Win Shares per 48 of .125 (average is again .1), and has produced 48.8 wins in his career so far. His offensive and defensive ratings are both 107, meaning that he gives up on defense what he scores on offense. Noah, on the other hand, has a career WS48 of .146. He’s only produced 16.4 wins by this measure, but in 5400 minutes played compared to Carmelo’s 18750. So we’ll expect Noah to match Carmelo’s win shares roughly a season faster. Additionally, his offensive and defensive ratings are 114 and 103, meaning he generates an extra 11 points per 100 possessions than he gives up. This is bad news for Carmelo; when people knock Wins Produced they do so because it gives high weight to rebounding, which Noah is obviously good at. Win Shares doesn’t emphasize rebounding as much, but it still thinks Noah is better.
Chicago would make a horrible mistake by trading Noah for Carmelo, unless you only look at scoring or use something like PER which emphasizes scoring (Carmelo has a PER of 22.3, Noah an 18). Now if by ‘production’ you mean points, then Carmelo is indeed better. He scores 24.4 points per 36 minutes while Noah only gets 11.4. But even there, Noah is a more efficient scorer; his effective field goal percentage (credits three pointers extra, which regular field goal percentage does not) and true shooting percentage (includes free throws) are both higher than Carmelo’s, even though Noah is worse at the line and has never made a three in his career. Basically, Carmelo shoots a lot; there are only 16 players in NBA history who average as many shots per game as Carmelo does.
Now that we’ve established that, is Carmelo an amazing pure scorer? There are lots of ways to measure scoring, so let’s look at a few. He has a career free throw percentage of 80.1%; free throws might measure pure scoring ability since it’s just you and the basket. Looking only at forwards who attempted at least 100 free throws in their career, there are 108 players with better free throw percentages, and two tied with him. Carmelo’s career three point percentage is 30.8%; there are 168 forwards with a better mark (again, who attempted at least 100 three pointers). Heck, there are nine centers who are better. Maybe we should look at a more inclusive metric that accounts for Carmelo’s ability to score from three point range, two pointers, and free throws? That would be true shooting percentage, and Carmelo’s career mark is 54.4%. There are 157 forwards (who played in at least 82 games) better than that, 78 centers, and 121 guards. If you take all three measures together and say that the combination gives Carmelo that je ne sais quoi, there are still 100 guys who are better than 80% free throws, 30.8% three pointers, and 54.4% true shooting.
In sum, Carmelo just isn’t that great. He does shoot a lot, but not with an amazing percentage. If you want a pure scorer, look at guys like Kevin Durant, Ray Allen, or even Paul Pierce. They’re each high volume shooters who have higher true shooting percentages, and presumably not from dunking a lot (two of the top three guys by true shooting who have averaged at least 15 shots a game for their career are Kareem and Shaq). In contrast, with Noah you get a fairly efficient scorer who doesn’t need the ball to be helpful, which sounds useful when you have to give touches to Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng. Going back to the beginning, maybe Henry was speaking for the invisible ‘they’ when he said that Carmelo is a top-five player who is maybe the best pure scorer in the league and better than Noah by any measure. But that just shifts the blame from Henry to having such a silly opinion to Henry reporting such a silly opinion. It would be a huge mistake for the Bulls to give up Noah for Carmelo, and even worse if they included Deng (which Win Shares likes about as much as Carmelo, and Wins Produced likes much more).