Today we're pleased to bring you a special feature from Dan Sinclair, writer of the excellent Where 55 Happens. You may also recognize Dan from a number of great FanPosts he's written here at Brew Hoop, and you can follow him on Twitter @dan_sinclair.
The Nuggets have apparently given up hope of retaining Carmelo Anthony and are now looking to see what kind of deals can be made. As such, a couple teams have been scrambling to put together packages in hopes of landing the star forward. For now, the Nets, Kings, and Timberwolves have been identified as the most likely partners in a deal for Carmelo.
This is perhaps an unfortunate revelation to some Bucks fans. Glancing around some blogs and Twitter, there seemed to be a significant amount of interest in acquiring the All-Star. For most, the thought was that even one year of service from Carmelo would push the Bucks up to the same level with some of the other "elite" teams in the East. So should we hold out hope that Hammond can assemble a package and grab Carmelo away from the Mile High City? It's a tougher question than I originally thought. A closer look after the jump.
Denver has indicated that, should Carmelo depart for a land with thicker air, they want young players and draft picks in exchange. The Bucks' had a number of draft picks (albeit mostly second-rounders) they could have included, but turned most of those into players this past offseason. As for young talent, there just isn't much to be traded. Since both teams are over the salary cap, the 125% rule applies, meaning salary dollars need to match up closely. This essentially requires that the Bucks include Michael Redd's expiring contract in the offer, meaning that asset will be unavailable around the trade deadline when it's value might be highest. So what kind of package could Milwaukee offer?
- Redd's EC/Ilyasova/1st-round pick for Carmelo Anthony - Essentially swapping Ersan for Carmelo and taking ourselves out of next year's draft. Not too bad, right?
Unfortunately, Denver is more likely to go after:
- Redd's EC/Sanders/1st-round pick for Carmelo Anthony - Giving up this year's promising first-round pick on a rookie scale contract for likely 1 year of Melo, plus no first-rounder next year. Not as great, huh?
And those are just the cheap options! If you were Denver's GM, would you be content with those deals? Wouldn't you want a whole slew of players and picks for your future-ex-franchise-player? In addition, it's important to remember that Milwaukee is very unlikely to resign Carmelo, so the risk of going all-in this season is worth considering.
But ignoring the logistics of the whole deal, should Milwaukee even be interested in Carmelo? Would bringing him aboard make the Bucks that much better? Consider what Melo brings to the court: High scoring, decent offensive rebounding, and lots of free-throws. I would contend that the Bucks already addressed their glaring free-throw disparity with the acquisition of Corey Maggette, even if he doesn't start. Were the Bucks to acquire Carmelo, it would severely temper the benefits of picking up Maggette. That's not to say a SF rotation of Carmelo-Maggette doesn't make me salivate, but is it worth giving up significant pieces?
What's more, there isn't any guarantee Melo would replicate these numbers in Milwaukee. Assuming a coach's system has some impact on a player's performance, I doubt he could reach those scoring numbers in the low-tempo offensive system Scott Skiles has in place. According to Synergy Sports, 19.5% of Denver's plays last year were isolation plays, compared to just 10.7% for Milwaukee. 36.5% of Melo's plays alone were isolation plays, and when you consider he scored on 45.7% of these plays, it seems like much of Carmelo's utility lies in just giving him the ball and letting him go to work.
John Salmons played a similar style for the Bucks last year (31.5% isolation plays), but this makes more sense when taken in the context of his mid-season acquisition. The Bucks desperately needed perimeter scoring and Salmons quickly became a top option on offense. Couple this inherent dependence on his scoring with a relatively small sample size and it's easier to explain that high percentage.
Of course, claiming that Melo would fit in Milwaukee simply because John Salmons did ignores the nature of the "zero-sum game" we're dealing with. Milwaukee traded for Salmons because he could be counted on to carry the brunt of the scoring load. If Melo steps in to do the same thing, we're now stepping on the feet of two of our biggest offseason acquisitions.
Still, we can't deny that raw talent has a lot to do with success in the NBA, and Melo is undoubtedly a talented player. His per-game and per-min stats show the kind of production he is capable of, and you don't make 2nd-team All-NBA without helping your team win lots of games. The issue is how efficiently he produces those numbers. We can gauge Melo's efficiency by looking at his USG and ORtg, which measure the percentage of his team's total possessions he used and how many points he scored per 100 possessions, respectively. Melo's 33.4 USG was third highest in the league last year, behind only LeBron and Dwyane Wade. His ORtg was 110, which is good, certainly, but not elite (meanwhile, John Salmons had a 116 ORtg in Milwaukee while playing, as described earlier, a similar style). Lots of players can surpass an ORtg of 110 while using a much smaller chunk of team possessions, although these players typically shoot and make more 3s than Carmelo. His career 3FG% of .308 is enough to justify maybe one or two 3s a game, but not much more. What really holds him back is the poor shot selection he often exhibits. According to Hoopdata.com, Melo attempted 7.4 shots per 40 minutes in the 16-23 foot radius from the basket, definitely the least efficient area on the floor to be shooting from.
Sound familiar? Jennings attempted over 4 shots per 40 minutes from this distance last year and made only 34% of them. Put the ball on the floor, man! Break some ankles! Take it to the hoop! Basketball!
What if Skiles was able to reign him in, though? The potential payoff could be huge. If Carmelo could scale back his USG, maybe Skiles and the rest of the team could similarly adjust to make it work. The graph below shows the effect such a change could have on Carmelo's game:
This "skill curve," adapted from Dean Oliver's book Basketball on Paper, shows how Anthony's ORtg tends to increase as he uses fewer of his team's possessions. Melo's eFG% shows a similar correlation. This is a common phenomenon for many NBA stars. It reflects the value of taking good shots and running crisp plays. What it means is that Melo could be a very effective player in Milwaukee (or anywhere, for that matter) if he adjusts his game. This adjustment would hopefully come in the form of fewer long 2-pt attempts, which would likely translate into more passing and a higher AST rate. See? Everybody wins!
Unfortunately, such an adjustment might have to be beaten into him with one of Tiny Gallon's shoes. Carmelo's career low in season USG was 28.5% in his rookie season, and he has topped 30% in the past 5 seasons. Even surrounded by legitimate offensive threats (Bogut, Salmons, hopefully Jennings!), that's just not his game. It's not as though he was the only scorer in Denver for all those years, either.
So it' a risk-reward consideration, one dependant on a number of factors:
- Do the Bucks have the assets to put together a package for Carmelo that eclipses anything another team might offer?
- Is there a spot for Melo in the Bucks rotation that wouldn't render some other offseason moves wasted?
- Could the style of play Melo brings down from the mountains be reconciled with Milwaukee's game plan?
- If he does fit in, is his production enough to justify mortgaging future seasons for a greater chance of success this year?
Carmelo is an exciting. talented player, and I'd venture to say that he'd bring tremendous improvement to almost any team he signed with. But the way I look at this Bucks squad, I just don't think there's enough room.