Before leaving last night's game against the Lakers with an ankle injury, Carmelo Anthony scored 30 points in 23 minutes. And that was after he had a relatively cold second quarter, hitting only one of his four shots.
That first quarter, though, captured what makes Anthony so intoxicating as a player. In those 12 minutes he went 8 for 9 from the floor, hit three three-pointers, made three free-throws, and grabbed three rebounds. Here's how his points unfolded in the first quarter:
- 11:33: 25-foot three-point jump shot
- 10:35: 25-foot three-point jump shot
- 9:36: 25-foot three-point pullup jump shot
- 5:58 21-foot pullup jump shot
- 5:28 misses 18-foot jump shot
- 5:20 16-foot jump shot
- 3:58 driving slam dunk
- 1:26 driving layup (draws foul)
- 1:26 free throw 1 of 1
- 0:58 draws foul, hits two free-throws
- 0:33 17-foot jump shot
This is a pure scorer is doing exactly what he was built to do, the kind of performance that can make you think that Anthony will never miss another shot. He will, of course, and that causes pure scorers like Anthony to be viewed suspiciously by NBA fans. The pure scorer tries to seduce us, to convince us that a basketball game can be won simply by shooting the ball with no remorse. In the end, though, the pure scorer almost always betrays us.
But last night, and throughout this season so far, Anthony has been turning that idea on its head. The knock on Anthony has always been that he needs to evolve into a more complete player, one who commits to passing and rebounding and playing defense as much as he does shooting the ball. Sacrifice some points to fill the rest of the stat sheet. Share some opportunities with your teammates. In the midst of his best season as a pro, Anthony has evolved, but not in the way that he has always been urged to. The scorer has just become a better scorer than he's ever been before.
So far this season, Anthony's rebounding rate is in line with his career average. His assist rate has dropped dramatically, to its lowest point ever—7.05, less than half of last year's 15.03 rate. His usage rate, meanwhile is the highest it's ever been. And his 20 field-goal attempts per game is his highest mark since the 2009-10 season.
Yet Anthony is also having his most efficient year ever, carrying a career-high 24.05 PER. He isn't just shooting more, he's shooting smarter. He's up to 27.9 points per game from last year's 22.6. And oh, right: The Knicks have the best record in the conference at the moment.
Anthony's signature shot, in the past, has been the midrange jumper, usually on an isolation play after a series of jab steps. It was fun to watch him operate with that method at the elbow—shaking his defender enough to get a shot off, even though everyone knew the shot was coming—but it didn't always lead to the most efficient scoring opportunity.
This year, Anthony has traded many of those mid-range jumpers for shots at the rim and three-pointers. With 5.6 three-point attempts per game, he's averaging one whole attempt more than his previous career high, and he's hitting 42 percent of them. He's taking 6.8 shots at the rim per game, his highest level since coming to New York. His attempts in the 16-to-23-foot range—the low-efficiency part of the floor—are at a career low 4.6 per game.
Instead of working on setting up his teammates, Anthony has dedicated himself to setting up Carmelo Anthony. Gripe if you want. Evolving on his own terms, he's getting better and better at putting the ball in the basket. And that's the object of the game.