A binary debate over NBA superstars (i.e. LeBron and Kobe, LeBron vs. Carmelo) often prevents us from appreciating the other guy's game because we become so intent on defending our argument. That's frustrating because there's no reason we can't fully celebrate all the glorious things both guys do on the court, even while we make our case for one over the other in the MVP race.
By most accounts, LeBron James is more efficient and complete player than Carmelo Anthony. But you know what? There are some nuanced parts of the catch-and-attack game where Anthony is better. On Sunday night, Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak applied his careful eye while watching the Heat and Knicks. He noticed a couple of details where Anthony excels and where LeBron could stand to improve:
Let your teammates do the work.
Carmelo Anthony does a great job of not asking for the ball until he establishes the position he wants. Rarely do you see him chase the ball or dribble for five seconds to get to his spots. Instead, Carmelo works without the ball to establish position in his favorite places on the court, and trusts his teammates, especially Billups, to find an angle to feed him the ball. He’ll actually refuse the rock until he can get it where he wants to begin his move, whether that’s on the wing or on the block. The effect is that Melo often needs two dribbles or fewer to score once he receives the ball. One of LeBron’s worst habits is that he will relinquish excellent position in his eagerness to get the ball. Or, even if he catches the ball in a position of power, he’ll immediately surrender it by dribbling out to the perimeter to get a better view of the court -- a position that for him, seems to feel more powerful ...
Don’t bail out the mismatch.
On Sunday, when Carmelo Anthony was cross-matched with either a big guy or a smaller, quicker player, he did a great job of sticking with his “drive first” game plan (not always the case for the jab step king). Carmelo’s insistence on catching where he wants enables this attacking style. Against smaller players who can stay in front of him, like James Jones, Carmelo likes to contact then spin for either a short jumper, or, if he can get his pivot foot around the smaller player, a layup. Against bigger players, Carmelo will often at least threaten to attack the hoop before pulling up or shouldering past his defender.
LeBron, on the other hand, still has a tendency to settle for his step back jumper against players ill suited to keep him from getting inside. This is partly because LeBron typically has a live dribble against the mismatch, often after a switch initiated by a pick and roll. If the big sags off him, driving is complicated even further by other defenders sinking into the lane in anticipation of a drive. Yet on Sunday night, isolated against Rony Turiaf on the left wing, James opted for a twenty foot step back ...
We might not characterize Anthony as an efficient player in the macro sense of the word -- he shoots a lot and never has an impressive true shooting percentage -- but he moves incredibly efficiently in the half court. As Mason points out, Anthony doesn't like a long commute to the basket. Carmelo is a guy who wants to live near his office.
LeBron, on the other hand, values space over proximity. He wants the court to occupy his full periphery. In many respects, this makes him the player he is, and one reason why he's such a gifted playmaker for others. But that tendency doesn't come without some ancillary costs -- at least for the time being as he continues to refine his game below the foul line.