With the regular season in its last few months, the cream of the league has risen to the top, and that means it’s time for prognosticators to start talking playoff seeds and possible matchups. One team once believed to be in the pretender category — the New York Knicks — have played their way into the cream category. A large part of New York’s return to the upper tier of the Eastern Conference after the Isiah Decade is the return of the Carmelo Anthony we watched in Denver since 2003. Unfortunately, for all his efficient brilliance this season, there’s one thing ‘Melo’s struggled with: scoring at the rim. He’ll have to improve his performance in the restricted area if the Knicks are going to become contenders to Miami’s throne.
Carmelo Anthony is an inverse scorer: that which is difficult for others is borderline easy for him; that which is easy for others, he has struggled with this season. Finishing at the rim is the easiest place for NBA players to score. It doesn’t take a MENSA member to understand why. Shooting always becomes less challenging the closer you get to the bucket. But not, apparently, for Carmelo Anthony. This is peculiar because Carmelo has shot well at the rim in the past, but during this — supposedly his watershed season; the one where he gets it, for lack of a better phrase — we’ve seen his shooting percentage at the rim fall to the lowest level of his career.
Carmelo Anthony is only shooting 55 percent at the rim this season, per Hoopdata. That might sound good, and if it were his overall field goal percentage, it would be. But the league average at the rim is 66.8 percent. So Carmelo Anthony is more than 10 percentage points below the league average finishing around the bucket. Carmelo’s percentage at the rim is the fifth-worst among all forwards in the league who average over 20 minutes a game this season and have appeared in at least 20 games. Only Shane Battier, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Kyle Korver and Stephen Jackson are worse. All of those guys — except the flailing-armed Mbah a Moute — are spot-up options on the wing and average less than two attempts a game at the bucket. In fact, if you look at that same segment of forwards in the NBA, only Zach Randolph averages over five attempts per game at the rim while still shooting under the league average, though he’s also over 60 percent. With those numbers in mind, it doesn’t seem like Carmelo is flourishing as much as the press, and the Knicks record, would have you believe.
You must be wondering then how Carmelo is playing so efficiently (career-high PER of 23.8) and shooting almost 45 percent overall if he’s so far below the league average at the rim? That’s why he’s the inverse scorer in the NBA. While most NBA scorers struggle with the low efficiency and high degree of difficulty associated with long two-pointers, that’s Carmelo’s bread and butter. While Anthony still struggles in the 3-9 foot range, (38 percent), he’s shooting 46.5 percent from 10-15 feet this season, 43 percent from 16-23 feet (that’s the same as LeBron, despite averaging over a shot more per game from that distance), and 40.5 percent from three, which translates to a 61.4 percent effective field goal percentage from beyond the arc. That last number is a couple percentage points below LeBron, but Carmelo is taking more than double the attempts. In fact, among forwards, only Steve Novak, Mike Dunleavy, Kyle Korver and Kevin Durant are averaging over four three-pointers per game while also shooting them at a better rate than ‘Melo; Carmelo also attempts more three-pointers than all of them, even specialists like Korver and Novak. That’s select company — only Durant is a comparable scorer from outside the restricted area at the forward position. But, again, we come back to Anthony’s struggles at the rim. Just check out his shooting chart (via NBA.com/stats) from this season:
And really, after shooting over 47 percent from the field and over 43 percent from beyond the arc in the first part of this season, since the turn of the year Carmelo has only shot 42 percent overall, and he’s down to just 35.8 percent on three-pointers in February. Anthony’s overall shooting mark on the season (44.7 percent) is the fifth-best mark of his 10-year career, and almost a full percentage point off his career field goal percentage of 45.6. Plus, of those four seasons where he’s shot worse than this season, two of them were his rookie and sophomore seasons in the league.