The NBA’s 30 best go-to players (#8: Carmelo Anthony)

By: 10.16.09  •  45 Comments

Carmelo Anthony

Who do you want your offense to run through with everything on the line? Counting down 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…

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It takes hard work to make it look so easy. Above any single thing ‘Melo has ever done on a basketball court, the enduring image of his game is more of a montage of hysteria-igniting moments that he executes and reacts to like it’s a mid-October practice session.

In his six years as a pro, ‘Melo has compiled a resume as impressive as any active clutch player in the game. Stat-tracking website counted “game-winning shots” from 2003 through early-February 2009, and in that span ‘Melo had 13, fifth-best behind LeBron, Vince, Ray and Kobe. And that didn’t count the game-winner ‘Melo had late last season against Memphis, and the two he had against Dallas — one in the regular season, one in the playoffs. Last year ‘Melo ranked third in the NBA in “clutch time” scoring, averaging 54.4 points per 48 minutes, hitting 56% from the field and 58% from long range.

His most recent Wheaties box moment — against the Mavs in Game 3 of the Western Conference semis — was perhaps the quintessential ‘Melo dagger. Taking the inbounds pass, he temporarily lost his handle (because there’s always been a bit of awkwardness to his smoothness), absorbed contact intended to be a foul, gracefully toed the sideline, then let a fadeaway three flick from his wrist in front of the opponent’s bench that dropped to a silent Dallas crowd. The strength, the poise, the court awareness, the focus (he kept going when everyone momentarily froze), the accuracy on a tough shot in a hostile environment; it was as Vintage as you can get for a dude who is just 25 years old.

There is another element, though, a more recent wrinkle that ‘Melo does regularly that many go-to guys don’t — he gets layups in crunch time. Given the nature of the game, most guards and wings attack from the perimeter, and given that NBA defenses tighten up in the fourth quarter, most of those scorers make their killings on jump shots. ‘Melo, on the other hand, has the handle and the muscle (he’s probably the strongest small forward in the League after LeBron) to get finger rolls and and-ones against the toughest defenses.

Because he is arguably the best pure scorer in the game and because his Western Conference Finals run — where he averaged 27 points a night — is fresh in everyone’s memory, some would say ‘Melo should be higher on this list. But I can’t ignore the fact that before ’09, he was routinely knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. And in those years, Carmelo’s shooting percentages usually decreased in the playoffs. You also can’t ignore the influence of Chauncey Billups in helping guide ‘Melo to the grander stages of the postseason, nor the argument you could make that Chauncey is really Denver’s go-to guy.

But while Chauncey may be the one who sets the tone and tempo of the Nuggets now, when things get tight, CB knows that ‘Melo is still The Man.

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9. Chris Paul
10. Deron Williams
11. Vince Carter
12. Joe Johnson
13. Danny Granger
14. Steve Nash
15. Kevin Durant
16. Gilbert Arenas
17. Derrick Rose
18. Chris Bosh
19. Andre Iguodala
20. Tracy McGrady
21. Baron Davis
22. Michael Redd
23. Devin Harris
24. Kevin Martin
25. Al Jefferson
26. O.J. Mayo
27. Stephen Jackson
28. Nate Robinson
29. Boris Diaw
30. Rip Hamilton

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