Durant v. Carmelo

Title: Durant v. Carmelo
Date: February 12, 2009
Original Source: Hoops Addict
Synopsis: This was a Hoops Addict article conceding Carmelo Anthony was the best Small Forward in the West at the time, but urging everyone to prepare for the reign of Kevin Durant, commencing in short order.

Last week, Carmelo Anthony made a bold statement, declaring himself the best Small Forward in the Western Conference.

“I’m the only one out here in the West,” Anthony said Tuesday. “Can you name one better?”

There was no contextual error. He very clearly meant it, though he may have been overstating due to his own disappointment at failing to be voted into the All-Star Game. Still, the statement raises a good question – is he the best small forward in the West, and if not, who is?

In the East, there is an obvious answer – LeBron James. Nobody else is close.

In the West, though, there is no undisputed crown-bearer for the position, leaving many to agree with Carmelo simply for a lack of name recognition at the position in the conference. After all, only 19 small forwards in the entire league clock in as above-average players based on PER.

If we examine Melo’s credentials, he clearly has a strong case – he is a superstar, a former All-Star, and an Olympic Gold Medal winner. Before we get into statistics, he has an obvious pedigree no other small forward in the West has. Melo’s stats back up his claim as well – he has the third best PER in this class at 19.0 and his statistical line and shooting percentages are great (see comparison below). He is a picture of efficiency on the offensive end, and his defense has clearly improved over season’s past, perhaps because of the Olympic experience or Chauncey Billups’ influence. Chauncey himself vouches for Melo’s claims (though in a less bold and obvious manner). In the three seasons before this one, Melo’s numbers were even better, even scoring 28.9 points a night in 06-07.

Most importantly, Denver is a very good team. Since Melo’s arrival, Denver has not finished with less than 43 wins and they have made the playoffs every season. Though they haven’t left the first round, the addition of Billups has this year’s version sitting at 34-16, first in the Northwest Division and third in the Western Conference.

Obviously, Carmelo has an extremely impressive resume and a legitimate claim to the title of best small forward in the West.

However, the best small forward in the Western Conference might be Kevin Durant.

Yes, he plays on a bad Oklahoma City team, and you can argue his numbers are inflated as such. I strongly disagree – Durant has very clearly taken his game to another level since Scott Brooks took over as the head coach and he is now a premier NBA talent, well ahead of schedule. Durant has been the most efficient small forward with a PER of 20.5, and his statistical line is awe-inducing for a 20-year old (see below). Like I said, Durant’s numbers are not inflated by a bad team as much as most think. His shooting percentages are otherworldly, and he has hit from everywhere on the floor despite being the focus of defences. Furthermore, his splits show that he is not done improving (in fact, every month his scoring average and field goal percentage have increased). Most importantly, perhaps, is his obvious commitment to rebounding and getting his teammates involved, evident in his numbers increasing across the board and not just in the scoring column.

If you look at the complete statistical package, Durant is the best sophomore in the NBA since LeBron James and one of the top stat-stuffers in the league. For the record, according to ESPN his most similar player based on statistics and age at this point is Carmelo Anthony.

His strength, toughness, and defense all need improvement, and the difference in team quality leaves Carmelo with a slight edge for right now. Carmelo is probably right with part of his statement: he is the best in the West, but the insinuation that nobody is close is naive. I have no doubt that this time next year, the conclusion of this article will need re-writing, as Durant is right at Melo’s heels.

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