Carmelo Anthony's New Team Should Follow The Nuggets' Blueprint

CHARLOTTE NC - DECEMBER 07: (FILE PHOTO) Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets watches on against the Charlotte Bobcats during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on December 7 2010 in Charlotte North Carolina. It's been reported that the New Jersey Nets are in serious negotiations for a three-team trade that would trade Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets January 10 2011. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony is likely on his way out of Denver, which is too bad, because the Nuggets did a really good job of surrounding him with the right kind of complimentary talent for his game.

I was all set to write about how Carmelo Anthony might fit in with the new-look New Jersey Nets, but as the Nets and Nuggets continue to conduct a series of hilarious negotiation sessions (you're making this public? Well, then we're going to leak information to the public that we're angry you're making these negotiations public! Then, we'll trade him to the Knicks to spite you. Take that!), it seems a bit premature to consider that angle.

The only thing we can say with any degree of certainty is that Anthony's time with the Nuggets is nearing its end. Whether it officially ends this week, next month or this summer, it's certainly over. That's unfortunate, because I can't help but admire the way that team was built around Anthony over the past couple of years. They fell short, but not by much, even though Anthony, as good as he is, just doesn't measure up to many of his peers as a player.

That's not to say Anthony is a bad player, or that you can't build a title contender around him. You can. But it has to be the right kind of team, one that can cover up for his shortcomings and maximize his strengths. The Denver Nuggets, over the past few years, did that extremely well, and you have to wonder whether Anthony's new team, whether it's New Jersey, New York or someone else, will be able to do that.

Here's the thing about Anthony: he's a very good player, but of all the supposed elite players, he has the most shortcomings. He is able to create shots for himself better than almost any player in the league, but the shots he creates aren't always high-efficiency shots. Over the past three years, Anthony has attempted 5.9, 7.1 and 6.7 attempts from 16-23 feet (the least efficient shot on the floor), even though less than 40 percent of those shots have been assisted. He also gets to the rim and the free throw line, but isn't a tremendous passer, rebounder or defender (though he's improved in all areas). At the end of the day, any team that employs Anthony has to accept that he's going to take a lot of shots.

Most teams would tell a player like Anthony to shoot less to increase his efficiency, bringing in other players who may be able to take shots away from him. The Nuggets tried that when they brought in Allen Iverson in 2006, hoping that Iverson and Anthony would make each other more efficient. It actually worked, to a point. Anthony did become a much more efficient player, posting two of his three highest True Shooting percentage figures in Iverson's two years with the club. However, that wasn't good for the team as a whole. Iverson and Anthony helped each other, but froze out their teammates and made the Nuggets easy to beat. Denver finished eighth and 11th in offensive efficiency those years, which isn't bad, but is a bit disappointing considering their individual talent.

So then, Denver took a new approach that I think was brilliant. Instead of trying to make Anthony more efficient, they accepted his relative inefficiency and focused on bringing in players who could score efficiently without shooting often. Trading Iverson for Chauncey Billups was only one step in that process. The Nuggets also ditched Marcus Camby for Nene because Camby shot too many jumpers himself, traded for Arron Afflalo, a classic spot-up three-point shooter and convinced Kenyon Martin to shoot less. All the while, the Nuggets actually ran even more offense through Anthony than before, especially in the last two years, even though it made him a less efficient scorer. 

This new style was most prevalent last season, when the Nuggets finished third in the league in offensive efficiency and were poised to make another deep playoff run until coach George Karl was diagnosed with cancer. Only three Nuggets players that played at least 15 minutes a game had a usage rate (the percentage of your teams'  possessions you end with a shot attempt, turnover or drawn foul while you're on the floor) higher than the league average of 19.5 percent, according to HoopData. Those players: Anthony (33.3), backup shooting guard J.R. Smith (26.9) and Billups (24.3). Everybody else was well below the league average, with Ty Lawson coming in fourth at 17.9.

Here are the only other teams that had just three players above the league average in usage last year:

 

  • Toronto: Chris Bosh (28.7), Andrea Bargnani (22.8), Marco Belinelli (20)
  • Orlando: Vince Carter (25.2), Dwight Howard (23.9), Jameer Nelson (23.5)
  • Oklahoma City: Kevin Durant (32), Russell Westbrook (25.7), James Harden (20.4)
  • LA Lakers: Kobe Bryant (32.2), Pau Gasol (21.4), Andrew Bynum (20.8)
  • Atlanta: Joe Johnson (26.3), Jamal Crawford (25.8), Josh Smith (22.1)
But there are two key differences between Denver and those teams. The obvious one is that none had one player who used as many possessions as Anthony. In a way, this makes Anthony the "best" shot creator in basketball. The other, less obvious one is that only Atlanta saw as much of a dropoff from three to four as Denver did. Here are the usage rates of the fourth-place finisher on each team, from lowest to highest:
  1. Atlanta: Al Horford (17.6)
  2. Denver: Lawson (17.9)
  3. LA Lakers: Jordan Farmar (19)
  4. Toronto: Jarret Jack (19.1)
  5. Oklahoma City: Jeff Green (19.2)
  6. Orlando: Rashard Lewis (19.4)
The point here is that Denver remodeled their team into a club with two very different kinds of players: high-usage, middling efficiency ones (led by Anthony) and low-usage, very efficient ones. The only low-usage Nuggets player to finish below the 54.6-percent league-average in true shooting percentage last year was Martin. Every other player was above 54.6 percent, and some, including Chris Andersen, Nene, Lawson and Afflalo, were well above the league average. In the end, they ended up having one of the league's most potent offenses, even though Anthony's individual efficiency wasn't very good for someone who shoots as much as he does.

In other words, Anthony's presence and ability to get shots up actually opens up opportunities for his teammates, even though he himself isn't getting credit for the assists. Knowing this, Denver decided to let Anthony continue to launch shots and surrounded him with the kind of players that make the most out of the limited opportunities they get. It was a brilliant plan that may have hurt Anthony's individual statistics, but helped the team win. It maximized Anthony's biggest strength (shot creation, no matter what) and turned it into a skill that actually helped the team succeed. Ultimately, they fell short only because they weren't quite as good as the Lakers. 

Anthony's new team, whether it's the Knicks or Nets, should strongly study the way the Nuggets have built their team and replicate it. They should understand that Anthony's relative lack of efficiency can be mitigated when surrounded by the right kind of pieces. Otherwise, they may not experience the kind of success they're hoping to achieve with Anthony on their team.

Angry Coach Face of the Week

 

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This isn't really an angry coach face as much as it's a "I coach the Miami Heat and you don't" kind of face. Nevertheless, it's funny to see Erik Spoelstra seem so relaxed in such a tight situation. It must be nice to have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on your team.

Other screenshots of the week

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Things I never expected to see: DeMarcus Cousins teaching the great Pete Carril a new secret handshake. Would John Wooden ever accept this?!

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One of these guys is very excited that Bill Walton is broadcasting his first Sacramento Kings game of the season. The other, for some reason, is not. Come on, Jerry Reynolds! Get excited.

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Sasha Vujacic actually hit a game-winning shot for the Nets against the Chicago Bulls last Wednesday. Even he can't believe it. 

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JaVale McGee is probably going to lose the Slam Dunk Contest, but it would be awesome if he actually tried this dunk. Yup, that's him biting a piece of paper out of the net while slamming it down with one hand.

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Talk about mixed messages. On the left, 76ers assistant coach Michael Curry gives one of his players a thumbs up. On the right, 76ers head coach Doug Collins seems upset.

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Blake Griffin can jump high. That is all.

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Derrick Rose can also jump high.

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Ron Artest, always an instigator, puts his hand on Shawne Williams' throat. Landry Fields' reaction is great.

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Here's LeBron James taunting the Blazers crowd at the end of Sunday's overtime win.

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Here's the sign that probably ticked him off the most. Boo lack of originality.

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