Don’t Be Deceived by Carmelo Anthony’s Scoring Totals

(Photo: Keith Allison)

Here is how the Associated Press led the story describing the Miami Heat’s elimination of the New York Knicks in the 2012 NBA Playoffs:

The final horn sounded, and LeBron James wrapped his arms around Carmelo Anthony in a warm embrace.

Their head-to-head scoring matchup in this series was even, 139 points apiece.

Just about everything else tipped Miami’s way — so the Heat are moving on and the New York Knicks are going home. 

Such a lead gives the impression that Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James played about the same in this series.  If we delve a bit deeper, though, we see that the scoring totals are quite deceptive.  Here is each player’s level of shooting efficiency in the series: 

Carmelo Anthony: 0.435 Effective Field Goal Percentage, 0.489 True Shooting Percentage

LeBron James: 0.517 Effective Field Goal Percentage, 0.604 True Shooting Percentage

Because Melo was a far less efficient scorer, he had to attempt 34 more shots from the field than LeBron in the series.  And because shot attempts are a finite resource, this means that other players on the Knicks had to attempt fewer shots (with the exception of J.R. Smith, everyone else on the Knicks who attempted at least 10 shots from the field was more efficient than Melo in this series). 

In contrast, LeBron was able to achieve his scoring total with fewer shots, giving him more opportunities to set up his teammates.  One can see this clearly when we look at assists.  LeBron finished the series with 28 assists while Melo only had 11. 

Melo did finish with more rebounds and fewer turnovers.  But when we consider the vast differences in shooting efficiency and assists we see that King James – as has been the case throughout each player’s respective careers – had a far bigger impact on his team’s fortunes. In fact, Andres Alvarezat the Wages of Wins Journal – notes that LeBron led the Heat in Wins Produced during this series (he did the same for the regular season).  In contrast, Melo’s production of wins – because he was a very inefficient scorer – was in the negative range.

Such a story highlights an important lesson: scoring totals in the NBA can be quite deceptive.  A player can boost his scoring totals by simply taking more and more shots. But if this shooting is inefficient, teams actually suffer from this choice.  Of course, as the AP story illustrates, the inefficient scorer’s reputation often does not decline from this choice.  Hence we see this story repeat itself over and over again in the NBA. 

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  1. keith says:

    I was going to ask why this hadn’t been moneyballed out of the game, as perhaps having star players is worth more to a franchise than actually winning, but the other comments suggest it’s just a bad use of stats. That’s a shame because it looked interesting.

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    • Mike says:

      Or perhaps players like Melo are still good enough to deserve a maxed out contract. Since there’s an artificial cap on how much a single player can be played, two guys might both deserve maxed out contracts even though one is better than the other.

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  2. Calvin says:

    One thing to consider about this, though, is that Melo was forced to take more shots than his teammates. The offense called for him to shoot low-efficiency isos at the end of quarters and the game that he probably wouldn’t have chosen for himself. In addition, when playoff defense ramps up and nobody else can create their own shot, it falls on the playmakers to do so to a ridiculous degree, which also lowers efficiency in a way that is more a roster-construction issue than anything

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  3. David Quinones says:

    Well-known secret to hoops fans and reporters. But impossible to apply in a Moneyball methodology because it is too situational and the polynomial equation of a basketball team’s DNA is far different than baseball, where it really boils down to one pitcher and one hitter.

    For example, consider the 2007 NBA Finals, where the better team, clearly, was the San Antonio Spurs. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were the most efficient players on the court, and Parker won Finals MVP. The least efficient, as it usually is, was the clearly inferior team’s best player — in this case, the Cavalier’s LeBron James, who outscored both Duncan and Parker. But James’ inefficient scoring was worth exactly zero finals wins in that series. Now, with a clearly superior team, his game is afforded space to be more efficient. So, it’s all situational.

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  4. Zack says:

    Basketball advanced statistics are very tricky. In baseball, the game has a finite number of states it can take based on the number of outs, the inning, and the configuration of runners on base. Basketball is fluid and continuous. You really need a certain amount of video analysis to get a real sense of what was going on in an NBA game. It’s possible Carmelo Anthony, who was surrounded by a worse team than LeBron, was forced into less than optimal shots because he was being double-teamed. You can’t double team LeBron when Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are also on the court.

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  5. Caleb b says:

    hey Melo-defenders: open your eyes! Melo chucks up the rock every chance he gets and misses all the time. Westbrook was really bad about this last year and he only got better about passing bc he has Durant. People were hounding him day and night to pass and the peer pressure got to him (well that and maybe the long term deal he signed in the offseason).

    Melo is diet version of Allen Iverson. Tons of skill, but too much of a ball-hog to make his team better.

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  6. jeff says:

    I think it’s well known that Melo is a cancerous player. He’s a product of the me me me AAU basketball culture and only cares about his box score. If basketball has taught us anything in the past few years, it’s that you need defense and a cohesive/complete team to win a championship.

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  7. Jerome Solanum says:

    Who cares how well or how much or how efficiently they scored? Wins Produced is all about rebounding! I want to know how much their rebounding helped their teams!

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  8. F says:

    You’re not thinking of the counterfactual: if Carmelo had made those passes, would the other players have made those shots? I suppose the answer is no for most of the shots.

    The argument is based on the idea that passing the ball to other players is good because they are more efficient shooters. But if you believe that Carmelo is taking the hard shots (be it because of defensive match-ups, shot clock or other aspects), then you have a selection bias; players with high efficiency are those who take the easy shots, and Melo is stuck taking the hard shots.

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