Sunday, January 23, 2011

Does Carmelo Anthony Make Sense for the New York Knicks? A Statistical Comparison

Carmelo Anthony has marked his territory, and its limits are bound by 31st and 33rd Streets, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.  Were it not for the intricacies of contractual obligations and industry-specific labor agreements, Carmelo Anthony would be a New York Knick.
Or would he?
Lost in all the energy that surrounds rumors of Anthony going to the Knicks in a trade – for some combination, purportedly, of Eddy Curry’s expiring contract; a first round draft pick that would be manufactured out of a trade of Anthony Randolph; and the trio of Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields – is consideration of whether or not the deal makes sense for New York.
It is widely reported that the Denver Nuggets are not impressed with any potential package the Knicks might offer, but I have a bigger concern:  Should the Knicks be so impressed by the one-man package of Carmelo Anthony that they would offer up any player that is in their current rotation?
Let’s take a look, and render a verdict.  To make such an analysis more accessible, I will start with a glossary of statistical terms, which can be referred to by the reader.
SPR = [2PFGM + 1.5(3PFGM) + (FTM/2) + AST]/[FGA = (FTA/2) + AST + TOV]
TOT = TOV/[TOV + FGA + (FTA/2) + TRB + STL + AST]
SAR = [FGA + (FTA/2)]/AST

Anthony, now 26 years old, has a Shot-to-Assist Ratio (SAR) this season of 7.79 – slightly above his career SAR of 7.49, but one that still renders him in the fourth position quintile, Primary Scorer, where he has played for the entirety of his career.   Anthony, however, is suffering through one of the worst seasons of his career in 2010-11 – though it  is worth mentioning that he has had to endure a very difficult road of late, including (self-imposed) trade speculation in the media, injury, and the death of his sibling.  Nevertheless, 2010-11 has represented a statistical slide for Carmelo.
This season, Anthony’s Successful Possession Rate , or SPR, is a paltry .513 – below his career SPR of .525, and well below the .550 standard that is often reached by the All-Star caliber players within the Primary Scorer quintile.
Anthony’s Turnover-Adjusted Points per Shot, or TAPPS, comes in this season at 0.89 – again, far below the All-Star standard of other Primary Scorers (approaching 1.00), and well below his career average TAPPS of 0.94.  This decline primarily reflects his poor field goal shooting this year, particularly from three-point range.
If there is good news for Anthony, it is that he is taking much better care of the ball as he gets older: his Turnovers per Touch, or TOT, is .075, down from his career TOT of .083.  As stated, his shot selection is also good, as his Shot Selection Index (SSI) this year is .431 (well above the approximate league average of .300).
So let’s compare Anthony to a couple of the players he is rumored to be traded for. 
Danilo Gallinari, with a season SAR of 7.47, would also qualify as a Primary Scorer, and thus could be compared fairly to Anthony, a player who plays within the same quintile.  Gallinari, however, has an SPR this year of .592 – certainly well above the .550 mark that represents excellence within this quintile, and very near the high SPRs registered by many Primary Distributors (“point guards”), who tally up large assist totals.  In addition, Gallinari also eclipses Anthony in TAPPS, with an eye-opening 1.08, built largely upon his excellent three-point shooting, excellent free-throw shooting, and low turnover rate.
Meanwhile, in the areas in which Anthony is excelling this year – turnovers and shot selection – Gallinari also eclipses his better-paid counterpart:  Gallinari has a TOT of only .050 this year (better than Anthony’s .075), and an SSI of .538 (Anthony, again, registers a .431).
And, yes, Gallinari accrues these statistics while commanding a 2011-12 salary of $4.2M – or nearly $18M less than Anthony is seeking for next year, and about $14M less than Anthony’s 2011-12 player option.
The comparison does not get any more favorable for Anthony if one turns his eyes toward Gallinari’s teammate, Wilson Chandler.  With an SAR of 9.13, Chandler, too, resides within the same player quintile as Anthony and Gallinari.  Like Gallinari, Chandler also eclipses Anthony in his season SPR (.560) and TAPPS (1.03).  Chandler, however, takes remarkably good care of the ball:  Though he is an absolute gunner from the floor (his SSI is only .188, well below the league average), Chandler, like Gallinari, does not give the ball away easily: his TOT this season is only .052.
Adjusted for salary, Chandler’s value, as compared to Anthony’s, gets even better: Chandler is due a qualifying offer next season for only $3.1M – or roughly $15M less than the player option due Anthony.  Even if Chandler negotiates himself a salary that is twice his qualifying offer, he will still be making $15M less than the maximum contract that Anthony is seeking.
Put together in a table, the comparison between Carmelo Anthony and the two players he might be traded for looks like this:
                        SPR                  TAPPS             TOT                 SSI       Proj. 2011-12 Salary
C. Anthony     .513                 0.89                 .075                 .431     $18.5M (player option)
D. Gallinari     .592                 1.08                 .050                 .538     $4.2M
W. Chandler   .560                 1.03                 .052                 .188     $3.1M (Qual. Offer)

A third player who has been rumored to be a possible piece in any deal for Anthony is rookie Landry Fields.  With an SAR of 4.43, Fields is more of a Combination Distributor (“combo guard”), in the second of the five player quintiles, and thus it is not entirely fair to compare Fields with Anthony.  Nevertheless, the comparison is compelling (particularly the salary line):
SPR                  TAPPS             TOT                 SSI       Proj. 2011-12 Salary
C. Anthony     .513                 0.89                 .075                 .431     $18.5M (player option)
L. Fields           .589                 1.02                 .073                 .247     $0.8M
Even corrected for his player quintile, Fields achieves an SPR, TAPPS and TOT that is closely aligned with those of the most qualified players at his position.  Clearly, Fields needs to work a little bit on his shot selection (as most members of the New York Knicks do), but at a salary that will be at least $18M less than what Anthony is likely to sign for, the Knicks should be absolutely giddy with their return on investment, and Fields’ room for future upside.
It is hard for many people to believe that Carmelo Anthony is not as good as what the Knicks already have, and one of the points that has been brought up in recent days (specifically by Nate Silver of the New York Times) is that Anthony’s presence on the court makes his teammates better.  As I acknowledged in the previous post (see the post on January 17, 2011), Anthony, indeed, appears to elevate the game of his teammates, whereas Gallinari and his Knick cohorts do not seem to do so: the SSI and TAPPS of Anthony’s teammates are much better than that of the Knicks (excluding Amare Stoudemire), suggesting that Anthony does create more favorable spacing for his teammates on the court.
But that does not change the fact that Anthony is asking for an awful lot of money – which, in the salary cap era, limits who your teammates can be, and thus whose game you might elevate – and so I think it only fair to compare him to another player within his quintile who also elevates the play of his teammates.  Below is a table that compares Anthony with his positional counterpart (SAR of 8.43), Kevin Durant:
SPR                  TAPPS             TOT                 SSI       Proj. 2011-12 Salary
C. Anthony     .513                 0.89                 .075                 .431     $18.5M (player option)
K. Durant        .557                 1.02                 .085                 .444     $13.6M
As demonstrated, Durant has a much better SPR and TAPPS than Anthony, and a slightly better SSI; Anthony is slightly better at taking care of the ball, as demonstrated by their TOTs.  But Durant is slated to make almost 25% less than Anthony is next year – and it is worth pointing out that Anthony’s player option for next season is greater than next year’s salaries of LeBron James ($16M), Chris Bosh ($16M), and Dwyane Wade ($15.5M).
So what does this all mean for the New York Knicks?
Well, for one thing, if Carmelo Anthony’s greatest value as a player is his ability to elevate the play of his teammates, then it does not make sense to trade the very players that stand to improve the most by Anthony’s presence (Gallinari, Chandler, Fields) when you can simply sign Anthony in the summer as a free agent, and surrender no one.  Wait for the summer to come, sign Anthony in July, and provide him the complementary cast he needs from day one.
But the other thing to note is that the market has spoken, and the Knicks should listen: If the very best players in the game are willing to play for at least 33% less than what Anthony is clamoring for, then New York should hold fast in its resolve and sign Anthony at a reasonable price only (neither his player option nor his maximum contract option are reasonable, according to the market as defined by Durant/James/Wade/Bosh), and then use the money for what they really need: a front-line banger and a back-up point guard.
Next week’s post: Who is the least team-oriented player in the NBA?

No comments:

Post a Comment