When Carmelo Anthony called himself the "most underrated superstar that's out there" he was partially correct, there is undoubtedly a significant disparity between perception and performance as it relates to the New York Knicks star, just not in the way he thinks.
Take a look at Melo's career:
2003-11 Denver Nuggets, 2011-Present New York Knicks, Drafted 3rd (Syracuse)
7x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 4x All-NBA Third Team, 1x NBA Scoring Champion
In the NBA there are no secrets, just hidden truths, and with the continued evolution of advanced metrics those hidden truths don't remain hidden for long. However truth is not completely self-evident in today's NBA, therefore public perception of some players is incongruous to their actual skills or production. It's why some NBA players are underrated and also why alleged "superstar" Carmelo Anthony is wildly overrated.
Carmelo Anthony can score just about as consistently and as often as anyone in the NBA. He averages 25.2 points per game, the 12th best mark in NBA history and was the league's leading scorer in 2012-13, never finishing a season lower than eighth on the scoring list.
Despite perennially being among the leaders in points per game and topping the scoring list in 2012-13, Anthony's actual contributions to winning games in the NBA materially underwhelms his reputation. With only one top five placing in MVP voting (2012-13, third), two top 10 seasons in PER (a fourth and a seventh), Melo has never had a season that finished in the top 20 in the NBA in VORP, only once has he finished in the top 20 in Box Plus Minus and he has authored exactly zero season where his Win Shares per 48 Minutes ranked in the top 20.
2013-14 was Anthony's career season in terms of Win Shares with 10.7, however that number ranked 13th in the NBA and it's not just a matter of a few percentage points here or there between 13th and first. Kevin Durant topped the list with 19.2 Win Shares, LeBron James was second with 15.9 and in total five players had season Win Share numbers 20% or better than Melo.
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Anthony's usage rate (estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor) consistently sits among the league leaders, not finishing lower than fifth in the NBA in a full season and not dropping below 30% since 2004-05 his second year in the league.
This presents a problem because Anthony does little else productive with the ball other than shoot it, which he does often, averaging between 18-22 FGA (Field Goal Attempts) per game in every year except his second. Anthony has never finished lower than sixth in the NBA in FGA and has never finished outside the top 10 in free throws attempted.
Last season Anthony produced only 6.2 assist opportunities per game, which ranked 94th in the NBA while genuine superstars with very similar usage rates LeBron James and Kevin Durant produced 12.0 and 10.3 opportunities respectively. That's a whole world of non-productive usage for Melo.
The only metric where Carmelo Anthony is elite is scoring, but even this is more volume related than efficiency related. The average NBA player in 2013-14 had an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 50.1%, Melo's eFG% was 50.3%, slightly better than average but hardly elite. What does elite look like? Try LeBron James 61.0%, Steph Curry 56.6% and Kevin Durant 56.0%.
Anthony defenders will try to point to the Knicks having a significantly weaker supporting cast than James, Curry and Durant which hasn't always been the case. However those same three names feature atop ESPN.com's Offensive Real Plus Minus stat for 2013-14, which measures a team's offensive performance adjusted for teammates and opponents. Melo finished 18th on that offensive metric and 289th on defense.
Anthony and defense are rarely mentioned in the same sentence and there are good reasons why. Melo has never posted a positive DBPM (Defensive Box Plus Minus) and every year bar one has been negative, meaning that on average, Anthony's defensive contributions while on the court are negative or worse than the average player as per Basketball-Reference.com.
Carmelo Anthony has been the best player on teams that made the playoffs every year he was in the league barring last year and inevitably this year. However in those ten playoff trips Melo's teams have lost in the first-round eight times, the second round once and made only a solitary trip to the conference finals.
One of the knocks on Anthony is his teams haven't won a title, however evaluating players based on rings alone is a flawed and oversimplified narrative. Winning a championship is extremely difficult and requires considerable luck and good timing. There are 30 NBA teams and only one goes home happy every year. The list of best players never to win a title is long and illustrious and includes players generally perceived as superstars; Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson and many others.
Statistically Anthony has had one season throughout the entirety of his career when a reasonable argument could be made that he might have been the third best player in the league. However when considering all components of the game it is difficult to argue that Anthony has even been consistently a top ten player throughout his career.
Overrated is an emotive term, but it needn't be. Being overrated doesn't mean that a player is bad, it simply means that their reputation exceeds their related contributions towards winning basketball games. Anthony's contribution is overrated because he excels at the most basic, obvious and quantifiable basketball skill; putting the ball in the hoop.
Basketball however is about much more than simply scoring, and for this reason Melo must be graded a level below the superstars of his era. In fact Basketball-Reference.com's similarity score through 11 seasons in Win Shares lists Anthony's best comparatives are Rasheed Wallace, A.C. Green and Otis Thorpe. Good players all but hardly superstars!
Despite what Carmelo Anthony thinks he's not a superstar and he is most definitely not underrated.
Carmelo Anthony might be a superstar scorer, but that's a very different thing to being a superstar player.
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