The Chicago Bulls are looking at Carmelo Anthony as the answer to their prayers. Anthony is 30 years-old and still in the prime of his NBA career. His resume includes a scoring title, seven all-star appearances and just under 20,000 points scored. Individual accolades have not eluded Anthony. Being fortunate enough to play on a team capable of contending and winning an NBA championship has been elusive. If all Anthony wants to do is win a championship it would behoove him to wise up. The Chicago Bulls are a team that Carmelo Anthony should think twice about before he decides to sign on the dotted line. Anthony addresses the Bull’s major need for another scorer and star player. However, this is not an ideal match because the key players, system, and status quo of the Bulls leave many questions unanswered.
“Melo” has been criticized much of his career for his lack of playoff success. Anthony’s teams have only gotten past the first round twice in his 11 seasons. Nevertheless, winning could easily change the perception of basketball analysts and enthusiasts. Many members of sports panels such as ESPN have been skeptical of the hybrid forward. Throughout the past four seasons that Anthony has played for the New York Knicks, critics have questioned the veteran’s leadership. Melo was heralded with MVP votes when the Knicks won 54 games two seasons ago and made it past the first round. However, he has also served as a media scape goat during times of despair at MSG.
Last season, NBA executives interviewed by ESPN’s Chris Broussard claimed that Anthony “lacks” a winning attitude. One executive went as far as to compare Anthony to the mercurial Stephon Marbury. Marbury spent five seasons as the Knicks point guard. During his stint with the Knicks he was often criticized for his “selfish” play and lack of leadership. Eventually, Marbury was ousted from the league to the CBA.
There is no doubting the individual ability of Anthony. Yet, one executive felt Melo simply could not be the best player on a championship team. Speaking on a source anonymity the exec stated Anthony is “Probably Robin on a championship team. He has Batman talent, but the intangibles are missing.” Despite Anthony coming off one of the best seasons of his career, the Knicks won just 37 games this year. The Knicks also missed the playoffs. Last season marked the first time in his career that Anthony did not make the postseason. Anthony averaged 27.8 points per game. He also posted career highs with 8.1 rebounds, 40 percent shooting from three-point range, and 84 percent shooting from the free throw line. These factors only gave clout to Melo critics who view him purely as a “one-dimensional scorer” rather than a leader.
The fact that Melo has decided to opt out of his Knicks contract and become a free agent is old news. Many sources reported Melo’s admitted desire to become a free agent, making Sundays’ press leak a forgone conclusion. Tom Thibedeau and Anthony have both been linked to “research” and “background checks” regarding each other. On paper, Chicago’s roster includes the 2010-11 NBA regular season MVP Derrick Rose and reining NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. Upon first glance, perhaps the prospect of a Chicago “big three” might excite Anthony.
Rose, the super athletic blur of a “point guard,” has not been the all-star let alone MVP that fans have known. Frankly, he has barely been on court. Since tearing the ACL in his right knee during the first round of the playoffs in 2012, Rose has managed to play just 10 regular season games. Even prior to the injury the slasher missed 27 of the Bulls 2011-12 regular season contests. After sitting out all of the following season, Rose returned to the hardwood briefly in 2013 to prove he was “100 percent” healthy. Rose’s return only left the NBA and Chicago Bulls fans in disbelief, as he tore the meniscus in his left knee less than a month into the season. This left the Bulls with little hope of contending with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference. The 25 year-old Rose will be coming off his second major knee surgery in just three seasons.
There is still a chance that Rose will return to form. Regardless, Rose is a physical guard who relies on his combination of quickness, speed, and athleticism to finish at the rim. Rose has stated he is a “scorer” and will never be a perimeter shooter. The injury prone Rose already has a lot of mileage on his knees and there is little doubt he will be not inclined to play any other way than attacking the basket. Twice the Chicago native has missed full seasons due to non-contact knee injuries, but that has clearly not altered Anthony’s thinking of signing with the Bulls.
Even more disconcerting is Rose’s reported goal of playing for Team USA this summer before he plays a full season with the Bulls. If Rose is able to play at the superstar level capability, pairing with Anthony would certainly form one highest scoring tandems in the NBA. With career averages of 25.3 and 20.8 points per game respectively the combo could rival Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Oklahoma City Thunder all-stars are the NBA’s highest scoring duo, according to ESPN.
Anthony is as gifted a scorer as there is in the NBA. There is little doubt of his incredibly diverse scoring methods. Any skepticism should be erased upon viewing of his MSG high, 62 point effort vs the Charlotte Bobcats last season. Some experts might even call Melo the most versatile scorer in the NBA. Analyst and NBA Hall of Fame former player Charles Barkley has stated that Melo is the best scorer in the NBA. One might be able to make the case that Anthony is as good of a scorer as four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant.
Anthony possesses the ability to post up and overpower smaller players on the block, but he can still stretch the floor with long-range shooting. Add in his ball handling skills to beat slower front court players off the dribble, and he becomes a potent offensive weapon. While the forward only shoots around 45 percent from the field and is lacking in the efficiency department of a Durant or James, Melo’s individual offensive talents put him up there with the best in the league. Yet, Barkley also mentioned the problem with Anthony and the Knicks is that neither party is willing to do the “dirty work” on a consistent basis. If Anthony’s shot is not falling he has to be able to make a consistent effort in other areas that impact the game and make his teammates better.
Perhaps Barkley’s assertion is a tad harsh since Anthony made strides defensively under former coach Mike Woodson. Anthony also is as NBA broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy put it an “underrated passer.” However, passing ability and defensive improvement do not necessarily make up for inconsistent defensive effort. Nor do they negate the flux in Melo’s decisions of when to be a “willing passer” and the appropriate time to tap into his “isolation heavy” offensive style. One scout made the point that Melo does not lack in defensive ability he “just gives up on plays a little bit.”
Per Synergy statistics Anthony passes to spot up shooters out of double teams had an effective field goal of 77.3 percent, the best mark in the league. Leading many critics to acknowledge that Anthony is very capable of reading the defense and finding open teammates for high percentage shots. However, he does not do this on a consistent enough basis. Anthony averaged just 3.1 assists to 2.5 turnovers last season, numbers that are on par with his career figures.
Derrick Rose can certainly help alleviate some of the individual offensive pressure on Melo. However, Rose is also a talented “volume scorer” known more for creativity than his passing or defense. Neither star has ever been labeled a two-way player let alone a “lockdown” defender.
Last season the Knicks forward averaged 22 shot attempts per game. In contrast, Rose averaged 19.7 shot attempts per game in 2011. The season beginning in 2011 was also Rose’s last full season; as a scoring point guard he has proven he needs a lot of shot attempts to be effective. Neither player has ever successfully been paired with another isolation scorer. Anthony and the often injured Amar’e Stoudermire failed to play well together with any consistency. The Knicks have posted a sub .500 record in games the pair has played. Stoudemire was once a superstar who was supposed to team with Anthony to compete with the Miami “big three” of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But four years later, the Knicks have paid out nearly all of the $100 million contract owed to Stoudemire and his aching and uninsured knees.
In Denver, Anthony paired with future hall of fame player Allen Iverson. Iverson was an extremely quick ball handler, acrobatic finisher and a two-time MVP. Despite all of Anthony and Iverson’s explosive scoring ability the duo did not mesh well and failed to win a playoffs series. The undersized combo-guard also led a defense first and offensively challenged 76ers squad to the NBA finals in 2001. The Sixers roster, play style, and one star driven offensive system is eerily similar to the Chicago Bulls. In the playoffs, during Rose’s rise to prominence, he often performed his best Iverson impressions but came up short of a championship.
Many people, such as Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, view Anthony as the “missing piece” for a Chicago Bulls championship. Without Rose the last two seasons the Bulls have ranked amongst the bottom of NBA teams in both scoring and field goal percentage. With the midseason trade of Luol Deng, the Bulls need to replace the scoring of the two-time all-star, and top perimeter defender.
In order to clear cap room to sign Anthony, the Bulls are expected to amnesty Carlos Boozer. The power forward has fallen out of favor with defensive minded coach Tom Thibedeau over the years. The emergence of Taj Gibson as a premiere NBA sixth man, and Noah’s development as a playmaker, have led to the belief that Rose and Anthony would have enough help to win. Noah finished second in the league with four triple doubles, while Gibson registered a career high average in scoring this past season.
Prior to Rose’s injuries the Chicago Bulls were still a poor offensive team. As long as Thibedeau is running the show there is little reason to think this will change instantly with Anthony’s arrival. Although Noah is viewed as a great passer he has never been a scorer. Looking at last season’s 12 points per game average without Rose taking away any shots is proof. The big man has also battled with a lingering “plantar fasciitis” injuries to his foot and has missed his fair share of games over his career.
In a perfect world, Rose would be able to create easier shots for Melo and more space to operate offensively than the Bulls have had in years. However, the Bulls system encourages ball movement, crisp passes, cuts, and very little isolation dribbling. None of these elements are strengths of either player. One can understandably grow weary with concerns about the amount of offensive adjustments that Thibedeau can make to accommodate the talent of the two stars.
Anthony is considering leaving a Knicks team that struggled last season to score efficiently and provided him with inept help. Before co-signing on an Anthony move to Chicago one may need to think twice about the Bulls roster and its strengths. While sometimes having a star player whose game does not speak directly to a team’s identity is acceptable, having two superstars present that conundrum is not exactly a championship winning formula. A close look at the Miami, Heat, Spurs, Lakers and Celtics championship teams of recent memory will show that there were no cases where teams won a championship with two superstars who do not exemplify team identities. Commitment to defense, passing, and improvement of teammates is not optional for a championship team or its star players, which is why LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant will all go the NBA Hall of Fame with championship rings. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on Anthony and company.
Commentary by Brandon Wright