Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Scoring "Maturation" of Carmelo Anthony

Having served a one-game suspension for confronting Kevin Garnett after a home loss to the Celtics on January 7, Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks were getting a lot of attention on how they would respond in their second match-up of the season against Boston last Thursday. The Knicks ended up winning their first game in Boston since 2006.  Questions remain regarding how far 'Melo can take his Knicks in the postseason and whether he should be a part of serious MVP discussions (his teams have advanced out of the first round only once out of nine playoff appearances).

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a column shortly after the Knicks’ victory in Boston, addressing Anthony’s new-found composure and maturity, commenting that “no one and nothing should be able to deter him on his mission.”  Although Anthony's style of play is relatively similar with past seasons, his maturation and improvement are reflected in his statistical production this year.

Averaging 7.3 points more per game compared with last year and 4.9 points since becoming a Knick, Anthony has returned to the abundant scoring ways we saw from him in seasons with the Nuggets. His statistics this season would be even further from his Knicks career average had he not missed seven games earlier in the season due to injury and the suspension (Anthony has ten 34+ point games so far this season). Statistics unrelated to individual scoring (rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers, personal fouls) have hardly exhibited any variance between this season and his Knicks career, but Anthony’s stat line shows considerable differences in points per game average and field goal attempts per game. 

With the Vantage data set, we can analyze Anthony’s scoring tendencies to show how Anthony has been creating his shots this season compared to last. Diving into Anthony’s shot sequence data, we can see that there isn’t much variation in Anthony’s pre-acquisition characteristics (i.e., what Anthony does before he gets the ball). Comparing the frequency of Anthony’s pre-acquisition moves that lead to field goal attempts from last season and this season, we see that the majority of his field goal attempts still come from spot up or iso situations, and although the frequency of post ups has increased slightly this year (13.6% to 16.8%), Anthony’s change in distribution of pre-acquisition move frequencies is relatively similar to last season.

Although it’s not a dramatic change, Anthony has shown a slightly more balanced approach to his play away from the ball. Looking at Carmelo’s FG% when performing his five most frequent pre-acquisition moves, we see that his effectiveness has remained similar in spot up/iso and transition situations. However, there have been significant changes in his effectiveness in post up and cut/flash moves, moves that require speed and strength against their primary defender. Anthony’s 1 off ball screen drop off is representative of the decrease in frequency of those moves from last season to this season (last year, it was Anthony’s third most frequent pre-acquisition move, this year it is his fifth).
One refined area in the Knicks’ 2012-2013 campaign has been the frequency and success of their three-point shooting. The Knicks lead the league in average three-point attempts per game and rank fifth in the NBA in three-point percentage. Looking at only three-point field goals in the Vantage data set reveals no significant change in pre-acquisition characteristics in Anthony’s court position before a three-point field goal attempt (about 43% of the time his pre-acquisition position is beyond the three-point arch). This suggests that Anthony isn’t necessarily making more of an effort to attempt three-pointers.

Although the data suggest that Anthony hasn’t significantly restyled his game away from the ball this season, the most impressive insight is that his statistical performance this year has improved despite the fact that he has faced significantly more defensive pressure this season compared to last.

Anthony is receiving significantly more double and triple coverage than last year, suggesting that defenses are committing to limit his production without success. Looking at the shot defense that Anthony is facing as well, we see that individual player contested defense (defender within three feet of shooter and with a hand up) is more aggressive this season, with the percentage of shots contested against Anthony increasing from 49.61% to 57.65%. Even though his contested shots faced increased, he has managed to improve his contested efficiency from 42.3% to 49% shooting.

There are other factors that contribute to the rise in field goal attempts and ultimately the Knicks’ success. Despite ranking 28th in the league in assists and 24th  in total rebounds, the Knicks rank in the top 10 in points per game (100.3) and effective field goal percentage (50.5%) while allowing the fewest turnovers per game.  On top of that, the Knicks average the oldest roster out of any team in the NBA. The mission is on course and the improvement is evident by their record, and when it comes to 'Melo, the stats show that despite their best efforts, teams still are not “deterring him on his mission.” His ability to produce at a higher rate this season under more aggressive defensive schemes is reason to believe the MVP candidacy talk for the Knicks' star forward.  

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