You may have heard something about Carmelo Anthony recently. He appears to have been traded, I think to a big city somewhere. His first game with the Knicks was last night, which they won in a mighty display of Carmelo’s dominance, by six points over the Bucks. But that isn’t really what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to pick on a post at Hoopdata that discussed the game. Particularly, this part of the post:
*Though Anthony didn’t shoot well on 10 of 25, the rest of the team was 30 of 55 thanks partly to Carmelo taking so much of the opposing defense’s attention.
This is ground that’s been covered recently (here‘s a post by Kevin Pelton that also links to posts by Dave Berri and Nate Silver). The general public take is that Carmelo is a superstar. The general (I guess?) stats take is that Carmelo is above average, but not great, due to his average shooting efficiency; he scores so much because he takes a lot of shots, and he isn’t above average at doing many other things. The perspective offered by Silver and Pelton, and presumably shared by others, is that Carmelo’s inefficiency isn’t too big a deal because he opens up the offense for his teammates. This is exactly what the Hoopdata post claims happened last night; essentially the defense has to worry about Carmelo scoring from anywhere (even though he apparently doesn’t do that especially well), and so his teammates have an easier time getting open or in general getting easier shots.
Let’s ignore the fact that one game is not enough data to really inform this argument at all. Let’s ask, how much better did the Knicks really shoot last night now that Carmelo is there drawing all that defense? We’ll start with the box score. Only eight players got on the court for the Knicks last night, one of which was obviously Carmelo. As the quote says, he went 10 for 25, consisting of 1 for 2 on three pointers and 9 for 23 on twos. This season Carmelo is shooting 33.3% on threes, so 1 for 2 isn’t overly surprising, and 47% on twos, meaning we would expect him to hit 25*.47 = 11.75 shots on average, so he underperformed a bit there. His effective field goal % (and true shooting, for that matter) were below his season averages, so this wasn’t a great game for Carmelo, although he did chip in ten rebounds and a couple steals.
What about his teammates? We can use the same reasoning to see how well they shot last night. Let’s start with the other big Knicks acquisition of the season, Amar’e Stoudemire. He shot 6 of 13, all two pointers. With his season average we would expect him to make 6.6 of 13 shots, so he was pretty much on par. Amar’e did help his true shooting by making all seven of his free throws, but presumably Carmelo didn’t help him get more open at the free throw line; his 7 attempts are also just below his season average. So not much going on here. Ronny Turiaf went 3 for 3; we would have expected 2 makes so there’s an extra make here. Of course, on three shots who can say for sure. Landry Fields was 2 for 3 on twos and 1 for 3 on threes, both right about on his season averages (we would expect 1.76 and 1.2). Bill Walker was 0 for 1 and 1 for 3; we would have expected him to maybe make the two and to hit a little over one of the three pointers, so this was below average. Shawne Williams was 2 for 2 and 1 for 3 compared to expected values of .833 and 1.4, so again not too surprising. None of Turiaf, Fields, Walker, or Williams get to the line much, so their grand total of 2 free throw attempts doesn’t say a lot either. In total, these Knicks were pretty much on par for their two point shooting and perhaps just below average on threes, although there aren’t a lot of shots to look at.
That leaves two players. One is Toney Douglas, who was already on the Knicks. He had a big shooting night, going 7 for 7 on two and 3 for 5 on threes. We would have expected 3.3 and 1.8 makes, so he definitely came out ahead. Then we have Chauncey Billups, who came over from Denver with Carmelo. He shot 3 for 6 from two and only 1 for 6 from three, compared to expected values of 2.6 and 2.6. Chauncey’s three point shooting was definitely not helped by Carmelo (or Amar’e for that matter). So Toney came out ahead on two pointers, but his extra three point makes were canceled out by Chauncey’s misses. I can’t find a line-up breakdown, but given that Toney is a back-up guard I can’t imagine that he and Carmelo overlapped for more than maybe 20 minutes, so Carmelo probably can’t be responsible for all of his great shooting last night.
Here’s the summary: with the exception of Toney Douglas, everyone shot pretty much as expected on two pointers given that only Douglas, Amar’e, and Billups took more than three of them. And again with the exception of Douglas, everyone shot a little below average on their three pointers. That is, everyone on the Knicks shot pretty much how we might have guessed they would have before the game. The Knicks were playing at home against the crummy Bucks and only won by six, largely because Carmelo, Amar’e, and Billups went 25-26 from the line. With their season averages we would have expected the trio to make just over 22, so basically half the Knicks’ margin of victory was lucky free throw shooting. On the other hand, Carmelo had an off game, so the Knicks might have won by more if he shot at his average. All in all, game 1 of the Carmelo-Knicks experiment didn’t leave me very impressed. I certainly don’t see any evidence that his teammates did any better because he was there. But it was only one game; maybe the Knicks will start shooting like crazy. They were already 8th in the league at both eFG% and offensive rating; if Carmelo boosts their performance like Silver and Pelton expect, they should challenge the top teams the rest of the way (at least on offense).