Tag Archives: LeBron James

Sometimes I think I’m the only basketball fan left who thinks Carmelo Anthony was ever any good, let alone who thinks he’s capable of helping a currently-competitive team. I regularly talk to friends (even though I have only 3 readers, I have more than 3 friends) who think Carmelo ruined the Knicks.  I’ve got friends – nearly all of them Knicks fans – who think Carmelo was a terrible basketball player, even in his prime.  A small number of them think Carmelo ruined the league. At least one of them blames Carmelo for global warming, one blames him for the  government shutdown, and another one said “If not for Carmelo, then Trump never would have gotten elected.”

Carmelo’s not a winner, they say.

Well, sure.  He’s not a winner.  If you discount all the winning he did, that is. But let’s not do that. To fairly evaluate Carmelo’s legacy, let’s start by acknowledging the winning wins that Carmelo won.  He burst onto the national scene as a freshman phenom, bringing a Hall of Fame coach his only national championship in one year at Syracuse. So, if Carmelo’s “not a winner,” then he’s not a winner who just happened to win a national championship in one year playing college hoops.

Perhaps it was a coincidence. Plus, it was only one year.

Looking beyond that one year, we see that Carmelo is also USA Basketball’s first four-time men’s Olympian, the first four-time men’s medalist and the first men’s player to win – yes, WIN – three Olympic gold medals.  Carmelo didn’t do all of that winning while riding coattails.  In the U.S. Olympic men’s career record book, he ranks first in points (336), field goals made (113), field goals attempted (262), rebounds (125), 3-point field goals attempted (139), free throws made (53) and free throws attempted (71); and second in 3-point field goals made (57). [Don’t take my word for it, the details are here.]

I wish I was as bad at winning basketball games as Carmelo is.

But what about the NBA? If you believe that NBA winning is the only kind of winning that’s really winning, then neither his NCAA nor his Olympic winnings will mean anything to you.  So, let’s ask… did Carmelo do any winning in the NBA worth mentioning? Nah, except for all the winning he did in Denver during his 7+ years there.  In the season before landing Carmelo, the Nuggets were a pathetic 17-65.  Then he arrived, and in his first season they went 43-39.  For each of his 7 full seasons there, they were in the playoffs. In other words, they WON enough games to make the playoffs. Aka #winning. And, in 08-09, they WON a few series in the playoffs.  Maybe it’s a coincidence.  Or maybe Dahntay Jones and JR Smith were a lot better than people give them credit for.

Perhaps, but I’m not convinced. (No offense to Dahntay Jones.)

Lastly, there’s his time on the Knicks.  Carmelo’s the only Knick since Patrick Ewing left who was the best player on a team that won the Atlantic Division. I swear, they won it. The whole division. There’s a banner hanging from the rafters and everything.  He’s also the only Knick since Ewing left to be the best player on a team that won a playoff series. (Oh, by the way… Spare me the ridiculous fantasy about how far they were destined to go around a core of Amar’e Stoudemire, Wilson Chandler, and Danilo Gallinari. The only people who should get excited thinking about such a team are knee surgeons, physical therapists, and tattoo artists.)

That’s some worthwhile winning, if you ask me.

Before going further, I should put my biases on the table.  My parents met at Syracuse, both of my uncles went there, and one of my aunts, and also my mother-in-law. So, I cheer for the Orange, and I continue cheering for their players when those players move on  to the NBA.  Thus, I’m predisposed to like Carmelo.  And, I grew up a Knicks fan. Patrick Ewing’s Knicks were a central part of my childhood, and I completely lost interest once they pushed Ewing out the door.  After more than 10 years of having no reason to root for the Knicks, Carmelo arrived, and made them competitive again.

There, you know my angle. Let’s proceed.

Why the Carmelo hate? To be sure, part of it is substantive. Carmelo’s an imperfect player.  His defense is not a strength.  And his assist numbers don’t suggest a guy who makes his teammates better.

But, I humbly submit, he’s an all-time great player in spite of those imperfections. I think there’s a few reasons why he gets so much hate.  For starters, he entered the league with sky-high expectations, during an era when it would be very difficult to win.  When he entered, multiple top-15 players of all time were already established forces, such as Kobe, Duncan, and Dirk.  If he was going to win, he needed to be better than those guys — or at least needed to have more talent around him than those guys had. And, he entered in the same draft as LeBron and Wade – only a few years ahead of Curry and Durant.  Once we acknowledge that Carmelo wasn’t as good as Kobe, Duncan, Dirk, LeBron, Wade, Curry, or Durant, then why is it even fair to expect him to win a championship? Unless he was on a team with meaningfully more talent than their teams had, there’s no reason to think he would win a championship. Not only did he not wind up with more talent around him than those guys had, but those guys started JOINING UP WITH EACH OTHER during his prime, making it even less likely that he was going to win. LeBron joined with Wade.  Durant had Westbrook, then he joined with Curry.  Carmelo had Landry Fields.  Why does he get crushed for falling short of an expectation that was never reasonable?

Another part of what drives the Carmelo hate is that defensive prowess (or lack thereof) is harder to measure than offensive production.  It’s widely understood that Carmelo isn’t a great defender.  But how bad is he?  Because we don’t have a great way to measure, it’s easy for his detractors to say that his defensive shortcomings wash away his offensive skills. It’s my humble opinion that many of those detractors push the point too far.  Of course, defense is important.  But, for starters, Carmelo has averaged 6.5 rebounds per game over his entire career.  I’ve always been taught that rebounding is a part of defense, because the possession isn’t over until you secure the rebound.  Plus, Carmelo has scored 25,551 points.  His defense would have to be quite terrible to nullify so much scoring.  Consider the guys 5 spots above him on the all-time scoring list, and the guys 5 spots below.  That list of 10 guys includes: Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce, John Havlicek, Kevin Garnett, Alex English, Reggie Miller, Jerry West, Vince Carter, Patrick Ewing, and Ray Allen. It’s quite an impressive group. I’ll put aside the defensive shortcomings of Alex English, Reggie Miller, and Ray Allen, and stipulate that Carmelo’s the worst defender amongst that group of 10.  Even so, he’d have to be a uniquely terrible defensive player to be among that group of scorers and have his scoring be nullified by his defense. I’m talking like foul-a-shooter-in-the-act-of-shooting-during-the-same-possession-you-already-got-called-for-defensive-three-seconds-and-do-it-multiple-times-per-game level terrible.  I mean, woh crazy crazy terrible. He wasn’t a top defender, but he wasn’t that bad.

More than anything, though, I think two things drive the Carmelo hatred. One of those things is hindsight.  We basketball fans do a funny thing: we admire the skill of young superstars, and expect that they’ll one day earn a ring if they play at a high enough level for long enough.  But, once those players age, if they never got over the hump, we’re quick to discard them as failures.  The line between a superstar with potential to carry a team to a title and a player we dismiss as a superstar-in-disguise who actually never had that potential is very thin.  Carmelo joined a 17-65 team, and had them in the playoffs during his rookie season.  That’s much more than Anthony Davis did (in the ’12-13 season, New Orleans was 27-55), or Damian Lillard (also in ’12-13 Portland was 33-49), or Giannis (in the ’13-14 season, Milwaukee was 15-67). We still talk about those guys as players who have the potential to win, but, if they never win a championship, will that make them “losers,” too?  What about Russell Westbrook?  James Harden?

Most importantly, I think what drives the Carmelo hatred is our inability to celebrate any achievements other than rings. More than at any time during my basketball fandom, the collective body of basketball fans seems to celebrate the top 4 teams in the league, and also the bottom 3.  They buy into the idea that “you’re either on the short list of favorites to win a title or you should be tanking.” Once you buy into that idea, then there’s little room to appreciate a guy like Carmelo.  Without a great supporting cast, it was a longshot for him to be on a top 4 team (remember, during an era including Kobe, Duncan, Dirk, LeBron, Wade, Curry, and Durant among other all-time greats).  And having him meant you weren’t going to be anywhere near the bottom 3.  So, if the only things worth being are “top 4” or “bottom 3,” then Carmelo doesn’t bring you to anywhere worth going.

I don’t buy into that mindset. By that line of thinking, 23 teams in this 30 team league are wasting their time by even showing up for games, and most games that get played have no reason for being played. The thing is, I like watching games, both in person and on TV. The games have got good food, loud music, pretty cheerleaders, t-shirt cannons, mascots, and entertainment during timeouts. I don’t begrudge the teams who play in those games for showing up, putting on their uniforms, and trying to win.  In fact, I’m glad they do.  It allows me to watch the sport I love played at a high level.  Call me crazy, but I believe the radical belief that anyone who is able to score more than 25,000 points while showing up for those games is a pretty good basketball player. Even if he’s lousy at defense.

Say what you want, but Carmelo’s presence alone made the Nuggets competitive for 7 years.  After that, he brought the only excitement to MSG that we’ve seen since Ewing left. If you want to convince yourself that these achievements count for nothing, then all I say is Hate On, Haters.  I look at Carmelo and see a flawed but great basketball player – good enough to win a championship in the right circumstances. The fact that he never found himself in those circumstances doesn’t wash away his many achievements.

 

 

 

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Stop Banking on Tanking

Ask yourselves, Knick fans, how good would this team be?

  1. Andrew Wiggins
  2. Jabari Parker
  3. Karl-Anthony Towns
  4. D’Angelo Russell
  5. Ben Simmons
  6. Brandon Ingram
  7. Markelle Fultz
  8. Lonzo Ball
  9. Deandre Ayton
  10. Marvin Bagley

I submit that they’d be very good but not great.  We don’t have to use too much imagination to figure it out, because some current NBA teams have more than 1 of those players. The Wolves, for example, have Towns and Wiggins.  With Towns and Wiggins, the Wolves are out of the playoffs.  Let’s stipulate that Simmons and Russell would be an upgrade over Rose and Teague, and that having Deandre Ayton coming off the bench would be a major talent upgrade.  How much of an upgrade? I’d say enough to bump them from being out of the playoffs, to a middle-tier playoff team, behind Golden State, Houston, Denver, and OKC.

Uh, Kraver, why are you talking to Knicks fans about a random group of 10 players who will never be on an NBA team together, let alone the Knicks?

I’m glad you asked.

That group of 10 players is not random at all.  It represents the top 2 picks in each of the previous 5 drafts. In other words, if a team somehow “succeeded” at tanking so magnificently – tanking better than any team has ever done anything in the history of teams doing a variety of things – that it found a way to get the top 2 picks in 5 straight drafts, this is the group of players it would have wound up with.

So, let’s keep going.

How good is that group of ten? (I’m putting aside issues of “fit” and judging by the talent.)

The Lakers also have two of those players: Ball and Ingram. They’re the 8 seed, at the moment.  Nobody on the list above approaches LeBron James, and it’s not clear that anyone is much better than Kyle Kuzma.  But let’s say the collective upgrade in talent would bump the Lakers into the first tier out West, still behind Golden State and possibly others.

Lastly, the Sixers have two of those players: Simmons and Fultz. They’re currently a 4 seed. Nobody else on the list above is better than Embiid or Jimmy Butler. The cumulative collection of 8 players probably represents a talent upgrade over the best 8 players on the Sixers’ current roster along with Simmons and Fultz, but it’s not a major upgrade.  They’d still be around the same team.

Got that?  If some team had managed to tank at an impossibly “successful” level, and somehow figured out a way to get the top 2 picks in each of the last 5 drafts, it wouldn’t have a championship team.

Thus, I respectfully submit that the various Knicks fans whom I hear rooting against their beloved ‘Bockers are misplacing their energy.  Tanking is no guarantee of anything – at least not anything good.  If you try to lose, the only guarantee is that you’ll lose. If you want to win, then I respectfully submit it’s worth trying to win.

Granted, I don’t have a secret formula that can make the Knicks good.  Let’s be realistic.  It’s a 30-team league, so if your team wins one championship every 15 years, it’s ahead of the curve. And lots of the other teams are run by competent folks, not to mention that they’re starting with more talent on the roster than the Knicks have. I’m just a dude with a blog that only 3 people read, and I don’t claim to have the secret formula for success for the Knicks.

Plus, I recognize that turning this ship around won’t be easy.  The Knicks are 10-33 as of this writing.  I’m not suggesting they should trade young players and draft picks for veterans, in the hope of running off a 23-game winning streak just to get back to .500.

What I’m suggesting is that losing is not a great path to greatness. The Knicks are 102-187 since the start of the 2015-16 season. I respectfully submit to all my “pro-tanking” friends that the problem with the Knicks isn’t that they’ve been winning too many games recently.   If you think they haven’t been bad enough for long enough yet, then we’ll agree to disagree. For the rest of this season, I don’t suggest that they move mountains to pick up a few extra wins.  But, longer term, if you still find yourself rooting for losses at this time next year, I think you’re pursuing the wrong strategy.  While I don’t claim to know the secret formula for success, what I do claim to know is that championship teams win much more than they lose. The more you lose, the further away you are. If your team is trying to lose, it’s foreclosing some of the only options for improvement. If you’re  bad, you’re unlikely to land a star free agent, because the best generally look for good teams to join. And, if you’re bad, you’re largely out of the trade market for an impactful player, because impactful players hardly ever get traded for draft picks. So, if you’re bad, your only reasonable hope to get better is to do it through the draft. And that rarely works. (See the list of ten players, above.)

In sum… Wanna win? Then start winning.

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