The general Chicago Bulls fan has the following thought about Carmelo Anthony: “Let’s get our stars and worry about the rest later.” It’s not uncommon for basketball fans to think this way, but in reality, this is the NBA and not fantasy hoops or NBA 2k14. For basketball teams to succeed, the pieces have to complement one another and stars don’t always play well alongside one another. The Miami Heat had trouble adapting in year one of their emerging dynasty, but Wade started to decline, Lebron became the alpha dog, and now they have two titles. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant never fit together that one season and they had no measurable success and nearly missed the playoffs. The Houston Rockets were 5th in the West this year despite having Dwight Howard and James Harden as their centerpieces. Stars don’t always equate to championships. The pieces have to fit together.
The Bulls have a nice core of players. This team was good enough to be 4th in the Eastern Conference this season and despite their failure in the playoffs, this is a core that shouldn’t be tampered with. As Tom Thibodeau has said, adding Derrick Rose back into the equation changes everything and these low shooting percentages that we’ve seen from Hinrich and Jimmy Butler could reach respectable levels, there won’t be egregious scoring droughts, and it makes the game easier when you have a star. Obviously, the game is easier with two stars, but remember Bulls fans: To sign Carmelo outright, the Bulls would have to dump Taj Gibson and maybe more just to have the money to do so. If it’s a sign and trade involving Boozer, it becomes a lot easier. The price for Carmelo Anthony could be great and two questions emerge: 1) Is he worth it at age 30 and 2) Is he a good fit? The questions are intertwined and need to be answered.
There are a lot of factors that come into play in determining if Carmelo is a good fit. Luckily NBA.com/stats has a plethora of information available for us. The first place I started is with touches per game. Will there be enough touches to go around for Rose, Noah, and Carmelo? There’s also this notion that Carmelo is a ball-hog or a ball-stopper. Upon examination, Derrick Rose was 12th this season (84 touches per game) and Joakim Noah was 14th (82.4 touches per game). Carmelo Anthony was 45th in the NBA, slightly above Kevin Durant. Carmelo’s time of possession per game was only at 3.6 minutes per game. D-Rose was around 6.2 minutes per game and Noah didn’t crack the top 100. Also, Carmelo was credited with creating .52 points per half court touch. In comparison, Taj Gibson cracked the top 100 with .49 points per touch and he was the only Bull (aside from Cartier Martin in very limited time) to crack the top 100. What does all this mean? It tells us two things about Carmelo Anthony: 1) He’s very good at creating points when he touches the basketball 2) He doesn’t need the basketball to be effective. Could Carmelo work alongside Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah? I believe so. In fact, taking the ball out of Derrick Rose’s hands for prolonged stretches would be ideal and would allow him to work off the basketball. I would imagine after two injury plagued years where all he could do was really shoot his jumper might be lethal at this point.
The next category I looked at was catch and shoot. Carmelo Anthony is 8th in the entire NBA this season in catch and shoot points per game (6.8 ppg) and in the top 75 in catch and shoot field goal percentage and just barely outside the top 50 in catch and shoot three-point percentage. What does that tell us? Carmelo Anthony can really be effective in catch and shoot situations. Not only can he create, but when D-Rose or Joakim Noah have the ball and are orchestrating the offense, they will have the option to kick it out to Carmelo and it will be effective. Could make for a very dangerous offense.
Next, I looked at shooting efficiency. Carmelo’s effective field goal percentage was ranked 226th in the NBA this season. (Effective field goal percentage assumes that three-pointers are 1.5 times more valuable than two-point shots.) Carmelo’s effective field goal percentage was 50.3%. In comparison, Durant was at 56% (top 100 in the league) and Lebron was at 61% (22nd in the league). As fellow Bulls Zone contributor, Mike Albrecht pointed out, Carmelo is simply not as efficient as someone like Lance Stephenson. Could Carmelo become more dynamic with better players surrounding him? In 2008-09, Carmelo and the Denver Nuggets made the Western Finals. That team had guys like Nene, Chauncey Billups, and JR Smith. Carmelo only averaged 22.8 ppg on 44% field goal shooting and 37% from three-point range. My point is it’s not a given that giving Carmelo Anthony better teammates will make him more effective, but putting him in offensive situations to succeed will. Where is Carmelo most effective on the floor? Here’s Carmelo’s shot chart from this season. You can tell a few things from this: 1) The majority of his shots are from 16 feet to the rim 2) He’s very good from 16-24 ft on the left side of the floor and 3) He was proficient with his three-point shooting this season. Watch this video from the last Chicago Bulls/New York Knicks game this season. This is four of Carmelo’s seven field goals in the game. Notice, they are all scored the same way, by posting up and then kind of facing up, and it’s a method Carmelo loves to use:
The question then becomes: Would Carmelo Anthony clog up the lane the same way Luol Deng did? My gut feeling says no because we’ve already seen he’s a much better three-point threat than Luol Deng. For the Bulls to maintain some of the identity they’ve achieved this year with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, they are going to need room in the paint. I could envision a formation with Taj along the baseline, Carmelo posting up, and Joakim Noah feeding him from the high post. Surrounding the perimeter could be Derrick Rose (and hopefully his improved jumper) and also Butler or Dunleavy. That brings a whole different question into the equation: Can Jimmy Butler make defenses pay for leaving him open? I think having Carmelo and D-Rose on the court together would give Butler more time to knock down open jumpers, which is something he didn’t see this year. Remember in the ten games he played with D-Rose this year, Jimmy shot 43% from the field and 38% from three-point range. He was pretty good. He was also playing less minutes and hopefully with Carmelo, Butler, Dunleavy, and Snell, Thibs will reduce Jimmy’s minutes and he can be more efficient. If he can knock down that open shot, defenses would have a lot of trouble with this team.
To answer the original questions in this column: Is Carmelo worth it and is he a good fit? I’m leaning towards yes on a good fit and TBD on if he’s worth it. We have to remember that Carmelo is 30 years old and not getting any younger. If the Bulls offer him a four year deal, he would be older than Kirk Hinrich is right now and that makes the Bulls window extremely small. If they have to gut the roster to acquire Carmelo in that instance, that window will likely slam shut before the Bulls would have a chance to capitalize on it. That’s always been my caveat with Carmelo Anthony: What’s it going to cost the team? You simply can’t win titles with only two quality players. It takes role players alongside those stars to be a complete unit. The Bulls have the framework to do that. Can they get Carmelo Anthony at a low cost to them and complete this unit? We’re going to find out in July.
Brandon is the author of “The Bulls Charge” and an occasional contributor for “The Bulls Zone.” Follow him on Twitter @thebullscharge and like him on Facebook or visit “The Bulls Charge.” Colossians 3:23