Guest Post: Melo’s Misleading Playoff Record

Note: The following submission is from TKB reader and Knicks fan Av Sinensky. As always, we encourage fans to express themselves in the typed word here. Feel free to send your submissions to theknicksblog@gmail.com.

As the Knicks enter the playoffs as a favorite for the first time since 2001, many Knicks’ supporters and detractors alike have harped on the narrative that their playoff hopes are doomed because of their affiliation with Carmelo Anthony. While Anthony is an elite talent and a tremendous player, the narrative goes, he is simply not a “winner” and can’t get it done in the playoffs. As evidence, they cite the fact that in his nine seasons in the league, his teams have only gotten out of the first round once.

While the notion of employing team-based results as a definitive basis for analyzing an individual player’s success and achievements (particularly the results in the small sample of a short playoff series) has many logical and statistical shortcomings, this narrative has gained so much traction that it was worth looking at. Here is a summary and analysis of each playoff season of Carmelo Anthony’s nine-year career.

Summary

2003-2004
In Carmelo’s rookie season, the Nuggets went 43-39 and grabbed the #8 seed. They would lose to the #1 seed Timberwolves, a team that won 58 games and went on to lose to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

2004-2005
The next season, the Nuggets would improve by winning 49 games and moving up to the #7 seed. They would lose in 5 games to the 59-win and eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs.

2005-2006
Denver took a step back in wins (44) but it was good enough to win their first division title since 1988. They would face the 47-win Clippers and lose once again in 5 games.

2006-2007
The Nuggets would stand pat by winning 45 games. Once again they drew the eventual champion Spurs (58 regular season wins) in the first round and lost in 5 games; the Spurs would drop only 4 games the entire playoffs.

2007-2008
The Nuggets would win 50 games for the first time in 20 years but in a stacked Western Conference, that was only good enough for the #8 seed. The Nuggets were swept in the first round by the 57-win Lakers, who would win the West before going on to lose to the Boston Celtics in The Finals.

2008-2009
The Nuggets would improve to win 54 games and the division title. They defeated the Hornets (49 wins) in the first round and the Mavericks (50 wins) in the second round — both in 5 games — before losing to the eventual champs, the Lakers (65 wins), in 6 games in the Western Conference Finals.

2009-2010
The Nuggets success continued, as they won 53 games and captured their third division title in five years. As the #4 seed in the West, the Nuggets would play the Utah Jazz (who also won 53 games) and lost to them in 6 games.

2010-2011
After being traded to the Knicks, Carmelo’s new team would finish the season with 42 wins, grab the #6 seed and face the Boston Celtics (56 wins). The Knicks would get swept by the Celtics who would lose to the Eastern Conference champion Heat in the second round.

2011-2012
In a lockout-shortened season, the Knicks went 36-30 and got the #7 seed in the Eastern Conference. They would lose in 5 games to the eventual NBA Champion Miami Heat (46 wins).

In nine seasons, Carmelo Anthony’s teams have lost to the eventual Conference Champion five times, four of which occurred in the first Round. They lost to the eventual NBA Champion four times. In only 3 of the 9 seasons did his team lose to a team that failed to reach at least the Conference Finals (2006, 2010 and 2011).

Analysis

  1. In nine NBA seasons, Carmelo Anthony’s teams have made the playoffs all nine times. While it’s true that in 8 of those seasons, his team lost in the first round, in 7 of the 8 instances, they faced a team that had won more regular season games (the lone exception being in 2009-10 when the Nuggets and Jazz had identical records).
  2. In nine seasons, Carmelo Anthony’s teams have lost to the eventual Conference Champion six times, five of which occurred in the first Round. They lost to the eventual NBA Champion four times. In only 2 of the 9 seasons did his team lose to a team that failed to reach at least the Conference Finals (2006 and 2010).
  3. Only two times has Carmelo Anthony played a team in the playoffs with a worse regular season record than his own (2009 – first and second Round). His team won both matchups. With the exception of 2010 (when the Nuggets and Jazz had the same record), his playoff losses have all come against teams that outperformed his team over the course of the regular season and then outperformed them -again head-to-head in a playoff series.
  4. In the eight first round series that his teams lost, their opponent won, on average, nine more games than his team. In five of those situations, the W/L differential was greater than 10 games and a series win would have been a major upset. Of the three remaining first round losses, one was to the #1 seed Lakers, who won seven more games than the Nuggets in the regular season and would win the NBA Title that year. The other two first round losses were to teams that won three more games and the same number of games, respectively. Those series were thus winnable, but victory was by no means guaranteed.
  5. In the other two “winnable” series of his career (2009 when they outperformed the Hornets and Mavericks by 5 and 4 games, respectively), Carmelo’s teams won in 5 games both times. They then faced the #1 seed, 65-win Lakers (11 more than Denver) and lost in 6 games before the Lakers would go on to win the Finals in 5 games.

Conclusion

While some would try to point to the fact that Carmelo Anthony’s teams have not had a lot of success in the playoffs as a remarkable blight on his record, it is nothing of the sort. It is instead the confirmation of a long-understood truth: while having a single elite player on your roster will usually make you good enough to win 45+ games and make the playoffs, it’s not enough to contend for a title. While it would have been great to see Carmelo raise his game in the playoffs and help his teams achieve upsets by beating comparably superior teams, such an expectation is not reasonable. He has played on primarily good but not great teams with good but not great players.

If the Knicks lose in this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs to any team other than the Miami Heat, it would represent the first time in Carmelo Anthony’s career that his team would suffer a playoff loss to an inferior opponent (i.e. a team with fewer regular season victories than Carmelo’s). Such an outcome would thus be a disappointing aberration in a playoff career in which his teams have always had a level of success commensurate with reasonable expectations.

Tommy Dee

I’ve been saying this forever and I’m happy that the breakdown has been made very clear here. But some Knicks fans don’t care about this if the Knicks lose in the first round. We’ve said from day 1 that Melo gets no excuses this year. He has to make a strong playoff run. He’s at the absolute TOP of his game and he has a lot to prove. No one will care if his teammates get hurt around him like in recent years. Or if his coach is forced to sit out due to illness. This is Melo’s year to take a major step forward and silence his critics.

End of story.




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