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NBA Playoffs: Carmelo Anthony's success puts him in a strangely familiar place

Apr 26, 2010, 11:54 AM EDT

Anthony_game.jpgIn four games against the Utah Jazz in this year’s playoffs, Carmelo Anthony is averaging 34.5 points per game while shooting 52.6% from the field and grabbing seven rebounds a night. Yet his Denver Nuggets trail the Jazz 1-3 in the series after another loss last night, and Anthony’s 39-point, 11-rebound performance (though with nine turnovers, mind you) in a losing effort is an interesting indication of the path Carmelo’s career has taken. 

There was a point where Anthony himself was emblematic of all the Nuggets’ problems. They had talent — Andre Miller (and later Allen Iverson), Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, Nene, and of course Anthony himself — but even in the rare instances when each member of Denver’s core was healthy at the same time, there were some serious question marks. Offensively, how could the team depend on a jumpshooter who had fallen in love with 20-footers? And on defense, why couldn’t a team of talented individual defenders establish themselves as an effective defensive unit?

Those types of questions seemed perpetual, and kept the Nuggets grounded. Anthony was a good player but hardly a great one, and his team was apparently ready to follow suit. In a lot of ways, Carmelo had no one to blame but himself. If he were only a more efficient scorer, a more focused defender, and a better leader, maybe the Denver Nuggets would have been a different team.

Then, in spite of worries that Anthony’s development may have stagnated, he’s done all of those things. He’s refined his offensive game and learned to exploit his incredible first step. He’s shown a willingness to defend the league’s elite scoring wings, and actually succeeded in doing so. He’s benefited from Chauncey Billups’ leadership, sure, but is also a huge part of why the Denver locker room is so confident — or laced with hubris, take your pick — at all times.

The only problem is that now, Anthony is so productive offensively that he’s not exactly the problem. His turnovers over the course of this series (he didn’t turn the ball over at all in Game 1, but has averaged six per game in the three subsequent losses) are absolutely painful, but they seem a bit more manageable given Carmelo’s touches and production. After all, Game 3 aside, the problem has not been the Nuggets lack of offense (Denver has averaged 111.95 points per 100 possessions for the series). Rather, it’s the team’s painfully ineffective defense (115.23 points per 100 possessions allowed) that could make Anthony’s volume scoring not long for this playoff world.

Anthony adapted, and he’s twice the individual player that he was earlier in his career. Okay, maybe more like 1.5 times the player he was. Yet the Nuggets again find themselves in more or less the same place; they’re talent-laden, but unable to work things out on the defensive end despite the number of talented individual defenders (Billups, Afflalo, Nene, Martin) on the team.

Should Denver drop Game 5 to Utah, it will be the fifth time in seven years that Carmelo and the Nuggets have lost the first round 1-4, with the only exceptions being last year’s run to the Conference Finals and their failure to win a single playoff game against the Lakers in 2008. Anthony has come so far in terms of his individual game, and on paper, the Nuggets have made serious strides in terms of their talent. Without any hope for a successful team defense, though, Denver is right back where they started in 2003.

  

 
  1. wowlfie - Apr 26, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    You call this success almost getting swept by 8th seeded Utah? Give me a break Carmello is not good enough to ever win the big one in the NBA.

  2. thefeel - Apr 26, 2010 at 2:22 PM

    Hey wowlfie – Utah is the 5th seed not the 8th seed you moron and missed the 3rd seed by 1 game thanks to 3 starters being injured in the last game of the season. Utah only missed the 2nd seed by one game. They swept the Trailblazers and San Antonio this year. Don’t act so shocked that the Thuggets are getting beat by a better team and don’t go calling the Jazz an 8th seed. You must be from back east or something.

  3. wompus - Apr 26, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    Agreed with thefeel, 100%. The Jazz are pretty good, with an allstar in Deron Williams and Boozer not far behind. Plus, AK is on the bench, but he’s making about $16Million a year. The Jazz have talent to, and take a look at their rookie, Wes Mathews (an undrafted Rookie!)
    I think the weak link on the Nuggets team is Billups. He might have leadership off the court, but just about every possession where he tries to score, he’s always trying to draw a foul. In all the games I’ve watched in the playoff’s, Billups is always trying to lean into the other player to draw the foul, he’s more concerned with going to the free throw line than he is in helping his team.
    I am so thankful, that the ref’s aren’t letting billups jump into another player and calling fouls, when Billups is the one initiating the contact. I think the ref’s have been held over heels better in the playoff’s, in every playoff game that I’ve seen. I tip my hats to whatever the change has been, maybe that’s why Oklahoma is tied with LA, the Jazz is beating Denver, Portland and Suns tied and the Spurs beating the Mavs (well no shocker there), finally we’ve getting the correct calls made, rather than calls that favor only the superstars (ie Kobe, Mello, Stoudemire, etc…)

  4. Jack - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    This series would be so much different if Karl was coaching…Dantley can’t inspire them at all…just listen to the interview, is that what a good head coach sounds like, calling out the only player that played hard last night and the entire series?
    And he can’t seem to realize that the Jazz have basically no answer defensively for Ty Lawson and that he needs to be given more run and effectively utilized. He also plays Smith (who has been ice cold) way too long …unless Smith is hot, Lawson and Afflalo need to be getting his minutes.
    And yes, Billups has been awful lately…whether it’s due to his increasing weariness and age or something else…

  5. Matt - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    Calling this guy from the back east is as bad as him calling the Jazz an 8 seed….you know there are morons everywhere, guess you are proof of such. This series is all on George Karl being out, although I don’t believe he would make the Nuggets autowin.

  6. ruserious - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    wompus – you must not be watching the same games?? NO ONE initiates contact more than Williams, and for some reason the refs are falling for it – try watching closer and without the Utah goggles on. Other than SA I have not seen another team flop more than Utah. One of the charges on called on Melo (yes also an all-star) – Williams wasn’t even touched!!! And as for your analysis of the officiating, not much has changed at all – no matter what game I am watching the officiating has been terrible all the way around. I am not going to sit here and say that the Nuggets are the better team here – or even deserve to win, because they have not demonstrated that in this series – nor has the play shown any desire to win. Utah has come out ready to play, I will give them that, but I highly disagree with some of your comments when it comes to the officiating – not just in the Nuggets / Jazz series, but most of the games I have watched.

  7. jay - Apr 28, 2010 at 3:55 AM

    dude, utah isnt the 8th seed
    give me a break, you are just a bandwagon critic

  8. JustALakerFan - Apr 28, 2010 at 11:23 AM

    Denver has a reciept for disaster. Three bigs who are not low post threats (NENE, Birdman,& Martin),streaky shooter in Afflalo and Smith, and a pg (Billups) who if he is not scoring – he gets nobody easy shots. Only + is Melo. Ty Lawson is good energy but he wont lead anybody to victory. Oh yeah they play no “D”. They got lucky last year face NO and Dallas who were both banged up. This doesnt suprise me at all.

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