Scoring at will: LeBron vs. Melo

No one will disagree that LeBron James is a better player than Carmelo Anthony. However, people certainly seem to think Carmelo Anthony is at least in the mix for top small forward in the league. In fact just two seasons ago when LeBron James took home the MVP award and was named to the All-NBA first team Carmelo Anthony finished sixth in MVP voting and was placed on the All-NBA second team.

Every time we compare Melo to LeBron, Melo pretty much comes up short on every count. The only place Melo comes out ahead is in offensive rebounds per game. While these are valuable they don’t come close to making up for the rest of the game differences between the players.

The one area that Melo seems to get a lot of credit is scoring. He’s called a “pure scorer” that can “score at will” and is “the best offensive player in the game”. It’s very odd for all of this praise to get heaped on Melo when his shooting numbers are not anywhere near LeBron’s. However, the Basketball Reference Play Index Plus gives us an ability to check out what people are talking about. Let’s look at LeBron vs. Melo in regards to shooting when we take location into account. I’ll be using 2010 as that is the season where LeBron and Melo were arguably most similar in regards to popular perception.

Shooting Comparison: LeBron vs. Melo 2009-2010
Distance from Hoop LeBron Attempts LeBron Shot % Melo Attempts Melo Shot %
 Free Throw 773 76.7% 612 83.0%
 At Rim 596 73.8% 593 59.2%
 3 to 9 feet 151 46.4% 155 32.9%
 10-15 feet 101 34.7% 213 44.6%
 16-3pt line 454 39.6% 473 40.2%
 Behind 3pt 437 34.1% 206 31.6%

When we try and see where Melo outshines LeBron as a scorer we get our answer. From 10 feet to the three point line (midrange jumpers) Melo is a much better shooter. However, from close to the hoop and beyond the arc LeBron is superior. In regards to almost all of their shots they are very close in attempts with one exception. Melo likes taking more shots in the 10 foot to the three point line range. Neither LeBron or Melo is good from this range (Ty at Courtside Analyst has a less than favorable term for these shots). LeBron’s strength comes from the fact that he is very good at easy shots and he takes a lot of them. When given the option of taking a midrange jumper or getting behind the arc, LeBron is much more likely to get behind the arc than Melo. LeBron also gets to the line more often.

All of this boils down to shot selection. LeBron James is better at easier shots and as a result he takes fewer of the hard shots. Melo is better at some of the more difficult shots and is prone to take them. The issue is that the scoreboard doesn’t care! Did LeBron get his two points for an easy jam or by a pull up jumper? Who cares? In complimenting Melo for being a pure scorer what people need to realize is that shot selection is part of being a scorer! Taking bad shots at a better rate than most players may be impressive. However, the NBA is not a game of HORSE. I will conceed that Melo is better at making worse shots than LeBron is. However, I see nothing pure or impressive about a player that chooses to take bad shots.


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