FiveThirtyEight: The Rockets are Melo’s Best, Last Hope

Chris Herring had a great piece the other day that dove into some of the numbers on Carmelo Anthony from last season which should serve as cause for optimism for Rockets fans.

On passes from Westbrook, Anthony hit just 34 percent of catch-and-shoot threes, down from the 36 percent that an average player would have been expected to make from those spots (based on defender distance, according to data from Second Spectrum).2 By contrast, Anthony shot 41 percent on catch-and-shoot threes when fed by George, up from the 36 percent an average player would have been expected to make.

We all remember Ryan Anderson last season gushing over Chris Paul’s uncanny ability to line up even the laces on the basketball for the shooter.

And as obvious as it to NBA observers that Anthony isn’t anywhere close to a No. 1 option anymore, it’s not too surprising that he doesn’t see that for himself. He connected on 44 percent of his 2-point jumpers when tightly guarded last season (meaning a defender was standing within 2 feet of him), slightly better than the 42 percent he drilled four seasons ago, per NBA Advanced Stats. Translation: He can still hit tough shots.

While the implication here was negative in Herring’s piece, I’ve been talking a lot about this since last offseason and am even more invigorated in my position after last year’s postseason. There is still something to being able to hit tough contested shots, at the highest levels, as counter-intuitive as that may sound against the backdrop of modern basketball thought. I envision Anthony in this offense punishing smaller defenders inside where before, Ryan Anderson shot one-legged fadeaways after a pump fake.

In fact, Utah — in an effort to punish the Thunder for playing Anthony such heavy minutes — ran pick-and-rolls over and over during the teams’ first-round series, seeking to force Anthony into switches onto ball-handlers. The Jazz found success with that approach, scoring 1.22 points per direct screen when getting Anthony to switch onto a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Second Spectrum. For context, Kevin Durant — who led the league in efficiency when handling the ball in pick-and-roll situations — averaged 1.15 points per direct screen set for him during the season.3

Of course, this is the big concern. But Trevor Ariza was so completely inept offensively that it begs the question whether his defensive contributions could be offset.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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