Before the season started, I did something uncharacteristic for me. I put my money where my mouth is (well, a very small amount of money). Carmelo Anthony was listed as 20-1 to win the MVP. Using Arturo’s preseason projections, which had the Knicks doing very well, and a very simple formula that both Dean Oliver and Dave Berri champion: “The MVP goes to the top scorer on a winning team.” I thought the odds were incorrect. While the season is long, this assessment seems to be spot on. The odds for Carmelo as the MVP are now down to 3-1. Even Magic Johnson has endorsed Melo as MVP caliber!
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) December 3, 2012
Has Melo really upped his game? Using the numbers from the NBA Geek, let’s examine two simple metrics. The first is Points over Par. This is the edge a player gives their team. For instance, last season LeBron James, the rightful MVP, had a PoP of around 6.3 per game. This means that on average putting LeBron in was the same as spotting his team 6 points. The next is our classic Points per Game. How does Melo stack up?
Carmelo Anthony’s career numbers.
We can see where the perception of Melo’s improvement has come from. Compared to last season he’s scoring four more points per game and of course, the Knicks are winning. What’s more, he is in fact putting up the best aggregate numbers of his career. The problem is that this still isn’t very good. Yes, it’s above average. But at +0.4, it’s not much to write home about (it’s basically the value of one extra made free throw) And as we can see, most of Melo’s career he hasn’t been that great. In fact his entire rookie contract he was below average and he’s even had a few off years as a “seasoned veteran.”
Let’s take a look at the NBA Geek Player Comparison Engine to get a feel for why Melo is decent but not good or great.
2012-2013 Per 48 minutes through December 3rd 2012
|Stat||Carmelo Anthony||Average SF|
|Free Throw Attempts||9.9||4.3|
|Two Pointer Attempts||19.6||11.1|
|Two Pointer %||47.4%||46.7%|
|Three Pointer Attempts||7.2||5.3|
|Three Pointer %||43.5%||36.2%|
The start of our table looks very good. In turns out that when it comes to scoring and rebounding Melo is better than an average SF. Where he falls apart is everywhere else. His assists are low, he turns the ball over a lot. In fact, Magic’s claim that Melo is doing it on both sides of the court feels a bit off when we examine steals, block and fouls. Synergy seems to confirm Melo is not a top defender as his PPP on D is at 0.95, ranking him 240th in the league, Let’s do one last comparison. Here’s Melo’s PoP by game (courtesy of Patrick Minton (@nbageek) compared to his points each game.
Carmelo Anthony Game by Game log, PPG vs. PoP.
Now, his PoP does move with his scoring. This isn’t a surprise as we notice the primary thing he’s doing this season is scoring well. However, here’s a fun note of Melo’s top five games in term of production this season, only one was a top five in terms of total points. And that’s the key. It’s hard to notice the difference. I’ll steal quote from Jeremy Britton:
People like the big fun numbers more than the small bad ones.
It’s easy to notice high point totals. It’s harder to see how the player is scoring. It’s even harder to dig through all the other stats and see how if they help or offset the big flashy scoring total. And when we do this with Melo we see this season he’s doing well at scoring but not too well at the small un-fun numbers. And I’d also be cautious on his scoring. Melo is hitting his threes at 43.5%, almost six points higher than he previous best season (2010-2011) and a 7.5% better than his career average.
I bet on Melo winning the MVP because I am in fact predicting on how the voters vote, not on if Melo actually performs at an elite level. And looking at Melo his performance is decent and in fact the best of his career. This is a far cry from being an MVP though. Either a player needs to be good at many aspects of basketball or extraordinarily good if their skill set is limited. And the simple truth is neither of these is true of Melo. He’s scoring the most points on a good team and this is good for him in many ways. However, it doesn’t make him an MVP.