Is Melo playing better by trying to play worse?

In case you haven’t looked at the WP numbers for 2010-11, after three games, Carmelo Anthony is a “star”.  Yesterday, Andres Alvarez offered an explanation for Melo’s improvement.  As the following story explains (and this is what Andres said at Nerd Numbers in its entirety), maybe Melo is better because he is trying not to be good.  Yes, it is great story.

Player Position G GS MP WP48 Wins
Arron Afflalo SG:100% 3 3 104 0.381 0.8
Carmelo Anthony SF:88% PF:11% 3 3 112 0.250 0.6
Shelden Williams PF:100% 3 3 84 0.249 0.4
Chauncey Billups PG:85% SG:14% 3 3 97 0.138 0.3
Nene Hilario PF:38% C:61% 3 3 94 0.173 0.3
Al Harrington C:100% 3 0 78 0.054 0.1
Gary Forbes SF:100% 2 0 10 0.119 0.0
J.R. Smith SG:42% SF:57% 3 0 61 0.009 0.0
Melvin Ely PF:50% C:50% 2 0 16 -0.125 0.0
Renaldo Balkman PF:100% 1 0 3 -0.702 0.0
Ty Lawson PG:100% 3 0 61 -0.072 -0.1
Total 720 0.160 2.4

Table 1: 2011 Denver Nuggets after 3 games.

Arturo made a brief mention of this in a podcast discussing the preseason. Last night I called the Nuggets a contender and said it’s because

1) Afflalo is playing out of his mind.

2) Shelden Williams is a heck of a pick up.

3) Al Harrington is playing good. . . for Al Harrington

and. . . and. . .

4)  Melo is playing like a borderline superstar.

During prediction and preseason time I was having a grand time insulting Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony. As of right now they are both playing like top 10 Forwards in the league. I don’t expect it to stay this way but I had to look at Carmelo and what the heck was going on. With that I hopped over to Basketball-Reference, pulled down Melo’s per minute stats for 2010 and 2011 and looked at what was up.

Improvement 1) Carmelo has improved his scoring efficiency.

Season P2 P2A P2% P3 P3A P3% FT FTA FT%
2010 11.5 24.0 0.478 1.1 3.4 0.316 9.3 11.2 0.830
2011 9.4 19.7 0.478 1.3 3.0 0.429 7.7 8.6 0.900

Table 1: Carmelo Anthony’s per 48 minute scoring stats from 2010 and 2011.

Carmelo is shooting almost five fewer shots per 48 minutes than he was last season. In terms of two point shooting this is great because as you may recall shooting 50% from two point range is the required threshold to be helping your team. While Melo still isn’t there, by decreasing this type of play, he’s helped his performance (addition by subtraction). Based on last year’s numbers, I suggested Melo stop taking threes. He took this to heart but rather than stop he has increased his three point shooting to be much more productive. Finally his decrease in shooting has decreased his trips to the line by two, but he has picked up shooting there as well. Essentially Melo has thus far increased every facet of his scoring game.

Improvement 2) Carmelo is pulling down more boards

Season Offensive Boards Defensive Boards
2010 2.8 5.5
2011 1.7 7.3

Table 2: Carmelo’s Rebounding per 48 minutes stats from 2010 and 2011

Carmelo is pulling down almost one less offensive board per game. This is more than offset by the fact that he is now pulling down almost two more defensive rebounds a game. (Remember the Wins Produced metric says an offensive rebound and defensive rebound have the same result, your team gets the ball).

Melo has improved his play by shooting more efficiently and pulling down more rebounds. Perhaps he has been reading the Wages of Wins Network in the off season. What is more likely is that he may be pulling a tiny whining session. He is going for fewer offensive boards and taking fewer shots. In essence he is playing less “offense”. His assumption may be that by doing this he convinces the team to trade him. However, the net effect of this is that the team improved. Plug in the fact that Afflalo is playing absolutely insane right now and the Nuggets actually look like contenders. As I said, if Melo keeps playing like this or we get good trade return then perhaps this story has a happy ending for the Nuggets. However, as a Nuggets fan I just can’t be too optimistic about Carmelo Anthony.


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