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Some guys people just love to hate.

In NBA circles, there are a few things that set off this sports hatred:

1. Being "a punk" -- this one is subjective, guy has too many tattoos, smirks when you don't want him to smirk, yells at the refs too much. You can't fully define why the guy is a punk, but damn it you know a punk when you see one, and this guy is totally a punk!

2. Not winning it all -- Before winning the 2012 Finals, LeBron was consistently mocked for not being a winner. In the NFL, Peyton Manning was the guy who couldn't win the big one before finally winning the big one. In baseball, A-Rod was a choke artist until he hit six homers in the 2009 playoffs and the Yankees won it all. You're a bum who will never win it all..until..you know..you win it all. (Usually when your teammates are finally good enough to have this happen).

3. You shoot "too much" -- never mind if these shots go in at a good clip, you're a ball-hog and teams can't win with a ball-hog! Guys like Kobe Bryant (career: 20 FGA per game, 5 rings), or Michael Jordan (career: 23 FGA per game, 6 rings). Now if you pass the ball in crunch time to an open man (like LeBron has many times), you're not a real winner/alpha dog (unless that shot goes in, ala John Paxson in the 1993 Finals off the assist from MJ), then you obviously made the right decision.

Now if you couldn't already tell, the whole basis of this article is Carmelo Anthony. And his reputation of being a loser ball-hog who will never win. Again, if you can't tell, I think this is BS.

Sports are built on narratives, narratives like "this guy can't win because he's a loser and not clutch and I just know he's a bum!". Dozens of great players have had this stigma, several of which were mentioned above. Fans (and media) see a player fail in the playoffs three, five, ten times -- and they come to the conclusion that: this guy has not won, therefore he cannot win. It is foolish.

In Jordan's case, he didn't win until Scottie Pippen became one of the best players in basketball. For Kobe, he needed Shaq (the best player in the game), or Gasol (a Hall of Famer and top-10/15 player in 2009/2010). For LeBron, it was D-Wade and Bosh. In the NBA, you can't win with one star, no matter how brightly that star shines.

In the case of Carmelo, he's never had that star. He played with Allen Iverson for one and a half seasons, but AI was 32 and their games were far too similar. Besides that he played with Chauncey Billups for a few seasons (and made the Western Conference Finals), and a broken down version of Amar'e Stoudemire. He's been surrounded by good players, but never great. And the result is a 3-10 record in playoff series that has created this "You can't win with Melo" narrative.

But what if we look back to a few other players who struggled in the post-season before joining forces with other stars. Guys named Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

Garnett's playoff record before 2008: 2-8 in series, 17-30 in games, made playoffs 8 of 12 seasons

Allen's playoff record before 2008: 3-4 in series, 18-18 in games, made playoffs 4 of 11 seasons

Pierce's playoff record before 2008: 3-4 in series, 16-21 in games, made playoffs 4 of 9 seasons

Carmelo's playoff record: 3-10 in series, 23-44 in games, made playoffs 10 of 11 seasons

Anthony and Garnett have nearly identical winning percentages in both series (KG .200, Melo .231) and games (KG .362, Melo .343), and while both Pierce and Allen fared a little better, both of those guys made the playoffs in less than half of their seasons. Is it really fair to give Anthony less credit for making the playoffs nearly every season before getting bounced, as opposed to just not making it at all? That seems a little backwards.

Obviously every situation is different, but don't sit here and say that a guy can't get over the playoff hump once paired with another star (or two). KG used to carry the 'regular season stud, post-season dud' moniker with him just as Melo does now. Once paired with Pierce and Allen though, he won it all on his first try..funny how better teammates can help you beat the best of the best in the playoffs, isn't it?

It's also worth noting that Jordan was only 14-22 in his first five trips to the playoffs before Pippen took the leap to All-Star caliber guy in 1990.

(Note: I am in no way saying Melo is Jordan. Not even in the same stratosphere. Just making the point that yes, even the best of all-time was once considered a guy who couldn't get over the hump, and he needed a second stud alongside him to make it happen.)

And then there's the "he shoots too much" stuff. Yes, Carmelo shoots a lot. And yes, he's not the distributor that many great players are. But the thought that he's some offensive black hole that you can't win with is insane..and incorrect.

For his career, Anthony has a 31.8% usage rate, meaning 31.8% of his team's plays are used by him when he's on the floor (important note: this does not include assists, only field goal attempts/free throw attempts and turnovers). That number is pretty damn high, but consider that Carmelo averaged 27.4 PPG last season and has averaged 25.3 PPG for his career, and that his shooting splits for his career stand at 46/34/81. The reason Anthony shoots so much? Because he's one of the best offensive players in basketball! He gets to the line eight times a game and over the last few seasons has become a borderline elite three-point shooter (39% on six attempts per game over the last two years). He shoots because the ball goes in.

And how does that 31.8% usage rate compare with some other big-time scorers who have won it all?

Jordan: 33.3%

Kobe: 31.8% (29.2% with Shaq, 33.6% since Shaq left)

LeBron: 31.6%

Again, this does not include assists -- only possessions that end with a shot or turnover.

Point being? You can absolutely, positively win with a phenomenal scorer taking a bunch of shots. And while Melo is not the same caliber of player these guys are (Melo = one of the best players of his generation, the others are all-time greats), he's also never had another superstar to play alongside besides that 1.5 season run with an older AI. So if you pair him with another star, it's likely that you see his usage rate dip, much like Kobe's did when he played with Shaq/Gasol compared to when he played with Smush Parker and Kwame Brown from 2004-2007.

The bottom line is we have no idea how Melo would react to playing with stars like Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love (a lot of this chatter surrounds the "Big 3" pipe dream of these three coming together in Boston), but to sit here and say that Melo is a loser who could never win it all/change his game is preposterous. He won it all in college, and he played out of his mind in the Olympics to help the team win gold. Obviously neither of those things guarantees he could win an NBA championship, but this whole "losing is in his DNA" crap is just so incredibly wrong. He dragged some pretty average teams to the Western Conference playoffs in Denver, and then as soon as he got to NYC Amar'e's knees fell off. If you suddenly gave him a top-five point guard and a 25/12 power forward I think his efficiency would spike. Plus he's one of the ten or so players in the NBA who can get his shot whenever the hell he wants it, no matter who is guarding him. We saw how Pierce's ability to do that helped the 2008-13 Celtics, and Melo is an even better scorer.

Are there warts? Yup. He's not a terrible defender, but you only see the great defender in him come out from time to time (he reminds me of pre-KG Pierce with this). He's certainly not LeBron on that end of the floor, but he's not a sieve like James Harden, and under Brad Stevens he has the potential to be better. And he certainly isn't a great passer, although again, he can pass. But he's pretty consistently around 3 APG, a paltry number for someone who has the ball as much as he does. However, if he's with Rondo, the ball won't run through him on offense as much, and his role will be more set. As opposed to the point forward who gets the ball at the top of the key with 18 seconds on the shot clock, he'll hopefully be getting the ball in a better position to actually do something with it.

So should the Celtics go after Anthony if the opportunity arrises? I think you know my answer. And if your answer is no, hopefully it's for a better reason than "he's a loser". Maybe you think the Celtics are better off keeping their draft picks and going the total rebuild route. Or maybe you just don't think the Rondo/Love/Melo threesome is good enough to win it all. There are fair reasons to want to go in other directions, but this ridiculous thought that Melo can't win it all is not one of them.


RELATED

The next big three? How the Celtics could acquire both Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love


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Michael Dyer 6/10/2014 03:38:00 PM Edit
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