Getting Mileage Out of Carmelo
By Jay Cipoletti
The Knicks enter tonight's Game 4 trailing the Pacers 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It could be argued that they have been in playoff mode since March, however.
The belief that stars "carry" a team through the playoffs has merit. In each of the last five seasons, the NBA Champions have seen their highest usage player from the regular season take on a slightly expanded role in the playoffs.
|2008||Boston Celtics||Kevin Garnett||25.7% Usg|
|2009||L.A. Lakers||Kobe Bryant||32.2%|
|2010||L.A. Lakers||Kobe Bryant||32.3%|
|2011||Dallas Mavericks||Dirk Nowitzki||28.2%|
|2012||Miami Heat||LeBron James||31.7%|
Though Garnett and Kobe in 2009 saw a drop off in their Offensive Rating, they still played at an elite efficiency level on their way to earning a ring. The last three years have seen the NBA Champion's top usage player elevate their efficiency above their regular season production, the rare mark of a star.
In March and April, the Knicks played 28 games -- the equivalent of four seven-game playoff series -- going 20-8 over that stretch. Much like the champions of the last five years, their closing run to earn the No. 2 seed was fueled by their star, Carmelo Anthony, taking on an expanded role.
The difference with the Knicks is that Melo was already being used at a higher rate than any of the aforementioned stars. His LOWEST Usage came in November, at 33.5%, then holding steady between 34.1%-34.9% through February. In March and April, although Melo played in only 20 of the Knicks' 28 games, his usage rate jumped to 37.0%, then 39.9% in the season's final month.
Carmelo Anthony Usage Rate
As we saw with the last three NBA Champions and their star's performance, Melo's efficiency increased with the added workload over the last two months of the season.
Carmelo Anthony Offensive Rating
Two months is a long time to carry a team at that level of usage and maintain that level of efficiency. Through nine playoff games Melo has maintained his exceptionally high usage rate (38.3%) while seeing his efficiency drop significantly, to a 98.5 Off Rtg.
Is it a function of playing two excellent defenses, or has the tread on the tire finally worn thin? The two playoff series have provided conflicting answers. Against Boston in the regular season, Carmelo had an Offensive Rating of 111.4 on a usage rate of 40.6%; in the First Round, his efficiency dropped to 97.9 on a usage rate of 38.5%. That decline would suggest the wear and tear is starting to show.
However, through the first three games of the Pacers series Melo has outpaced his regular season production while maintaining his usage rate. In three regular season games, Indiana limited him to an 88.4 Offensive Rating on 37.2% usage; in three playoff games his Offensive Rating has increased to 99.7 on a 37.8% usage rate.
Since March 1st, over a 29-game stretch, Carmelo's usage rate has been 38.3%. Consider that the highest single series usage rate was Michael Jordan's 39.2% against Boston in 1986, and that in the last decade the highest single series usage was Tony Parker's 38.5% in a five-game series in 2009, and you realize that what Carmelo has been doing to carry the Knicks for the past 11 weeks is unprecedented.
How long can Carmelo keep it going?