Posted by Neil Paine on January 19, 2011
Some advanced stats underrate Anthony because they assume a quality shot can be created at will, every time down the floor. The logic is that if Anthony (an inefficient scorer) doesn't shoot, the team will just find someone else who can convert at a similar rate. And since Anthony isn't the most complete player in the world when you look beyond his scoring, it stands to reason that formulas which undervalue shot creation will see little reason to pay him top dollar.
But as Nate argues, Anthony is making his teammates better by taking the pressure to create off of them. His skills allow a team to surround him with defense-minded, low-usage players that compliment him, setting up something of a division of labor on the court. Silver lends credibility to this notion by showing that when players play alongside Carmelo, their offensive efficiencies increase.
I tend to agree with Silver's premise. This is why I constantly harp on "skill curves" and usage-efficiency tradeoffs, and why offensive statistical plus-minus contains a squared term for true shooting attempts per minute -- because there's a great deal of evidence that the marginal cost of possession usage declines as a player's offensive role increases. Unlike baseball, where "usage" is evenly spread out across all players and the only concern is an efficiency metric like OPS, the ability to create "at bats" is an important consideration.
In that way, Carmelo Anthony is just the latest in a long line of players who have been confounding statistical analysts for decades (before him, it was Allen Iverson). But as Silver, Kevin Pelton, and Henry Abbott are noting this week, one measuring stick for the evolution of basketball analysis is precisely how it deals with players like Anthony. I can't say he'd be the best fit for the Knicks specifically (New York -- 7th in offense, 23rd in defense, & featuring a player who already commands 31% of possessions -- seems a curious destination for an offense-only gunner), but in general it's useful to recognize his offensive value beyond pure efficiency metrics.