The Houston Rockets are a team on the rise. General Manager Daryl Morey proves willing to make high-profile moves yet again. Morey is at it again, this time working assiduously to acquire Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks. This begs a litany of questions. For the sake of this article “Will Carmelo Anthony help Houston Rockets topple the Golden State Warriors?” Morey for one does not believe Golden State is unbeatable. He said, “There have been bigger upsets in sports history. We are going to keep improving our roster.”
As presently constituted, the Rockets are in a great position to contend for Western Conference supremacy. On June 28, two days priors to the commencement of NBA free agency Morey acquired Chris Paul from the LA Clippers. Paul for the uninitiated is a perennial All-NBA point guard. There are very few flaws in Paul’s game. Statistically, Paul’s numbers are fantastic. He boasts career averages of 19 points, 10 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 steals each per 36 minutes. His shooting percentages are well above average as Paul, was agonizingly close to the 50,40,90 club (respective field goal, 3 point field goal and free throw percentages). Paul’s advanced numbers are even better. His win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) were over 2.5 times higher than the average NBA player. Paul’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 26.2 was slightly lower than MVP candidate and Rockets teammate James Harden (27.4).
The Key Addition of Chris Paul
In Paul, the Rockets have an All-Time great player to accompany superstar Harden. In times gone by, this would have been sufficient enough talent to challenge for conference honors or fulfill championship aspirations. However, the defending champions Golden State Warriors’ lineup boasts the most talent one can ever recall. Led by two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors team includes All-Stars Klay Thompson, Draymond Green (Defensive Player of the Year), Kevin Durant (former league MVP and current Finals MVP) alongside former All-Stars Andre Iguodala, and David West. In Curry, Durant, Thompson, and Green, the Warriors roster consist of four of the top 20 players in the league. To counter that, Morey wants to acquire more talent. Anthony wants to compete for a championship as well so on the face of it, this match might work.
Throughout the off-season, there’s been chatter about an on-again, off-again trade between the Rockets and the New York Knicks sending Anthony to the Rockets. A key issue to making this deal is Ryan Anderson‘s salary. Anderson is owed approximately $61 million over the next three years whereas Anthony is owed $54 million over the next two. The Knicks do not want to take on Anderson’s contract, and the Rockets need to move Anderson to make the trade work financially.
Sources on ESPN: Knicks, Rockets re-engage on Carmelo Anthony trade talks, but hurdles remain to a deal. https://t.co/ZjVxzoYyyc
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 10, 2017
As things currently stand, the Rockets are attempting to find a team willing to trade for Anderson, thus making Anthony to the Rockets a three team transaction at least.
Will this marriage work
For his part Anthony wants to compete for a championship as well so on the face of it, this match might work. However, when one peers deeper into this proposal, unfortunately, there’s little hope of the success all parties are aspiring for.
Taking a closer look at Anthony’s numbers
Carmelo Anthony is a superstar or at least he was. A ten-time All-Star and six time All-NBA player assures Anthony a place in the Naismith Hall of Fame when he retires. However, his last season in New York was disappointing. While averaging 22 points per game, 6 rebounds and 3 assists, Anthony also averaged 2 turnovers per contest. His reputation as a scorer is well intact as his three point average was 36 percent. He shot 18.8 field goals per contest with 43.3 percent accuracy.
However, there are red flags. Anthony’s advanced numbers hovered close to average. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) was 17.9, the average NBA player’s PER is 15. Anthony had below averages in Box Plus/Minus (-0.7) and Win Share per 48 minutes (0.89). A negative Defensive Box Plus/Minus (-2.2) doesn’t help either. Consider the much-maligned defender James Harden held Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 1.5 last season.
Anthony is an alpha
Throughout his NBA career, Anthony has always been the first option. This is clearly evident in his usage rate which was 29.1 percent last season (his lowest since his rookie season). Keep in mind, Harden’s usage rate was 34.2 percent and Paul’s 24.4 percent last season. There are questions on how three ball dominant players can co-exist successfully on the court at the same time.
However, in 2015 Anthony was asked about being a team’s second option. “If I had a chance to be the second option, I will definitely be the second option,” Anthony said. “That just takes the load off of me. For me, I don’t have to go out there and do it every night. So I think everybody, All-Star players, we want that light, we want to be the focal point of our team, of our organization. But if we get somebody to come in and help us out, that’s a load off of us.”
There is the optimistic view that Anthony could transform to “Team USA Melo” if he was on a unit as talented as the Rockets. While representing Team USA, Anthony was mostly the second and even third option on the team. It appears that Anthony morphs into a different, even better player when he plays with stars. At times Anthony was the 6th man for Team USA to great success, such as in London 2012 Olympics. Against Nigeria, Anthony came off the bench and scored 37 points in 14 minutes.
As a defensive player, Anthony’s numbers were bad. Anthony’s Defensive Win Share number (DWS) was 1.5. For context, Green of the Warriors had a 5.4 DWS. Remember Anthony held a Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) of -2.2 (tied for tenth on Knicks), whereas Green DBPM was 5.0. Kevin Durant who’s been criticized for his defensive play had DBPM of 2.6 and DWS of 4.0. So it’s fair to predict, Anthony may find difficulty to score but more importantly will prove to be yet another liability on the Rockets defense.
D’Antoni is the Head Coach of the Houston Rockets
Mike D’Antoni is the Rockets’ Head Coach. D’Antoni and Anthony have a history dating back to his days as Knicks head coach. On March 14, 2012, New York Post’s Marc Berman reported, “Anthony only wanted to remain a Knick if he had assurances D’Antoni wouldn’t be back next season.” D’Antoni years later finally said to Tim Keown of ESPN, “I just went in and quit“. Though D’Antoni says he bears no ill-feelings towards Anthony, one can’t help but wonder.
D’Antoni is the innovator of ‘Pace and Space’ offense. Anthony was seen doing sprint drills on a soccer pitch recently. This could be in preparation for playing the much faster tempo of D’Antoni’s system. Both parties appear to welcome an opportunity to rekindle this relationship.
Not enough tools
Former NBA Coach Don Nelson believes in this basketball philosophy: “unconventional basketball with an emphasis on the fast break.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because this can describe the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors play to the letter. In many ways, it also describes Coach D’Antoni’s philosophy as well. Nelson thought his best chance of winning meant his best players playing, thus changing the matchup in his favor.
The Rockets’ best lineup (assuming Anthony is on the team) is Harden, Paul, Trevor Ariza, Anthony and Clint Capela. In theory, this looks competitive, however against the Warriors best lineup, not so much. The Warriors famous “Death Line-Up” consists of, Curry, Thompson, Durant, Iguodala and Green. As currently constituted, there is no team that presently can outscore that lineup. More importantly, Rockets’ version has defensive liabilities in Anthony and Harden, as well as offensive liability in Capela. Ariza is an outstanding defender and shooter.
Lack of talent proves Rockets’ undoing
This lineup ultimately fails against the Warriors because of talent. Curry and Thompson are the greatest backcourt shooting duo in NBA history. Durant’s ability, size and skill make him unguardable one on one. Iguodala is capable as a shooter, leaving Green who is the human version of a Swiss army knife on the court.
While adding Anthony to the Rockets undoubtedly makes them better, and turns them into Western Conference contenders, it’s not enough. The combination of superior skill, talent and youth make the Warriors’ team as close to unbeatable as Russell’s Celtics. This begs the question, what else can be done to have a fighting chance against the Warriors? That’s the puzzle. However, this assessment is in a vacuum, based on the premise of both teams staying injury free. Of course, first, the Anthony trade must be completed.