Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Recency bias can be a fickle beast.
Strut your stuff in front of the basketball-watching world, and you can immediately become the greatest thing since sliced bread. But fail to impress during the twilight stages of your career, and so much of your well-earned legacy can be washed away in the eyes of the masses.
Such is the case for Carmelo Anthony, whose forgettable tenures with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, who are rumored to be prepping for a split, per ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon, have forced far too many fans to forget about the high-scoring outbursts of yesteryear.
Anthony has indeed struggled since leaving the New York Knicks in the summer of 2017, right after he averaged 22.4 points and represented the Eastern Conference in the All-Star festivities for the 10th time in his career.
To deny he was ever a superstar would be foolish. But during the last two years, he’s posted just 15.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while slashing 40.4 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from downtown and 75.8 percent from the stripe. His minus-3.9 box plus/minus features negative scores on both ends of the floor, and he’s been unable to make up for the shooting woes plaguing his off-ball adventures with either defensive potency or work as a secondary facilitator.
Even so, his current misfires and negative contributions just don’t detract from a scoring resume that rivals almost anyone in the history of the NBA.
The Objective Scoring Resume
Sam Forencich/Getty Images
Volume and efficiency.
Ultimately, that’s what matters most in the quest for offensive production. Score a lot of points on far too many shots, and you’re less valuable. Provide few counting stats with staggering levels of efficiency, and you’re in the same boat. But if you can combine the two, whether earning easy buckets around the basket or firing away with impunity from beyond the rainbow, you’re in far better shape.
Flashiness counts for something when coloring legacies; we won’t forget the difficult mid-range jumpers drilled by Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Anthony’s jab-stepping isolation plays fall into a similar category, as his takeover instincts have always made it quite clear that he’s an all-time talent on the scoring end.
But even if we strip away anecdotal evidence, the totality of his career stacks up rather nicely.
Throughout all of NBA history, only 67 players have a lifetime scoring average of at least 20 points per game, ranging from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (24.6 points over 1,560 appearances) to Luka Doncic (20.3 points over his first 12 career contests). Fifty-nine did so while appearing in no fewer than five distinct seasons, and those 59 interest us most.
Spoiler alert: Anthony is among them.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
For each of the 59, we looked at three different factors: career points per game (the standard barometer for scorers), career points (giving credit to longevity) and career true shooting percentage (giving credit to efficiency, whether earned with close-range shots, long-range buckets or free-throw frequency). But that wasn’t enough, since not every member of the class played in a similar version of the NBA.
For example, Elgin Baylor averaged 27.4 points during his career, but the league as a whole saw teams score 114.2 points per game while he was on an active roster. Contrast that against Allen Iverson‘s 26.7 points per contest while the league scoring average stood at 96.7, and you might actually favor the diminutive guard over his predecessor despite a smaller baseline mark. Context, as always, matters.
By normalizing for era in each of our three categories, we can get a more accurate picture. Then, by summing the z-scores each player earned in those areas, we can arrive at a total number representing each man’s career efficacy as an all-around scorer. We’ll spare you the details, but these are the top 25:
- Michael Jordan, 4.87
- LeBron James, 4.19
- Karl Malone, 4.171
- Wilt Chamberlain, 4.052
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 4.04
- Kevin Durant, 3.329
- Kobe Bryant, 3.202
- Shaquille O’Neal, 3.19
- Oscar Robertson, 2.594
- Adrian Dantley, 2.36
- Jerry West, 2.273
- Dirk Nowitzki, 2.174
- Charles Barkley, 2.007
- George Mikan, 1.931
- Bob Pettit, 1.551
- Allen Iverson, 1.469
- Stephen Curry, 1.289
- Paul Arizin, 1.097
- George Gervin, 1.045
- James Harden, 0.902
- David Robinson, 0.79
- Carmelo Anthony, 0.578
- Dominique Wilkins, 0.486
- Hakeem Olajuwon, 0.398
- Larry Bird, 0.107
Feel free to subjectively shift players around as you see fit. Maybe you want to move Curry up because you’re confident he has a number of peak seasons left. Perhaps you’d like to drop Chamberlain from the top five because he faced easier competition. Conversely, you may actually want to give the Big Dipper extra credit for thriving at such a high pace rather than detracting from his legacy because he had extra possessions compared to modern-day standouts.
But we’re establishing a baseline that evaluates top scorers for per-game volume, longevity and efficiency. And even while including these last few forgettable seasons, Anthony still grades out as one of the 25 best every in the business—nothing to sniff at when evaluating decades of legends.
In fact, removing the post-New York portion of Anthony’s career would actually bump his score up to 0.986 and nudge him into the top 20. His brief tenures with the Thunder and Rockets have diminished his legacy by marginal amounts, but they can’t negate the overall body of work—the same career that leads to reactions like this from Portland Trail Blazers swingman Evan Turner:
Evan Turner @thekidet
They need to put more respeck on melo’s name. I’m not buying that he’s a cancer
Or this from Dwyane Wade:
Trying to make my guy @carmeloanthony the fall guy huh!? Man y’all need to stop. That’s the easy way out instead of addressing what the real problem.
Anthony’s portion of the blame for Houston’s unexpectedly slow start is a topic for another day, but his history makes it easier to understand why his coworkers have his back despite the shoddy numbers from this current campaign.
So too do the highlights, which don’t factor into our objective analysis but do help remind the world of the talent that oozed from his 6’8″ frame during his prime years with the Denver Nuggets and Knicks:
Regardless of what Anthony does during the next chapter of his basketball career, those peak performances aren’t going anywhere. Nor is his status as an all-time top-25 scoring threat.
Sure, the last few years have made the unabashed offensive dominance of his earlier years foggier. That isn’t changing, either. So here’s our advice: Don’t forget.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.