NBA Analysis: What if Nuggets Carmelo Switched with Heat's LeBron?

| by David Berri

Carmelo Anthony clearly wants to leave Denver.

Okay, when I started writing this story, this seemed clear. Now we hear that Carmelo Anthony might stay in Denver. And if that happens, this story doesn’t work as well. So let me proceed as if I never saw Melo say he “would take a real hard look” at staying in Denver.

Okay, Melo wants to leave.  And one suspects this is because Carmelo doesn’t think he can win a title with his current teammates in Denver. But what if he had LeBron’s teammates?  In other words, what if the Denver Nuggets could send their entire roster to Miami – except Melo – for everyone with the Heat not named LeBron? 

One might think such a move would mean Melo and the Heat’s current roster (minus LeBron) would be a title contender. And therefore, Melo would want to stay in Denver.

It turns out, though, that even if this move was possible, I think Carmelo would be ultimately disappointed.

Melo with the Nuggets

To see this point, let’s start with what where the Nuggets stands after 52 games this season. The team has won 30 games; and the team’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) of 3.0 is consistent with a team that will win about 49 games across an entire season. Yes, this is a good team. But not exactly a title contender.

When we move from efficiency differential to Wins Produced – reported below – we can see who is primarily responsible for Denver’s success this season.

As one can see, Carmelo is an above average player (average WP48 or Wins Produced per 48 minutes is 0.100).  But in terms of Wins Produced, Nene Hilario, Aaron Afflalo, and Chauncey Billups have been more productive this season.  Although these teammates have been “good”, their collective WP48 of 0.117 (i.e. the team’s WP48 without Carmelo) is not good enough to transform the Nuggets with Carmelo Anthony into a title contender.

Melo with the Heat

But what if Carmelo got to play with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and everyone in Miami not named LeBron? To answer this question, let’s look at the Miami Heat after 52 games.

Miami has won 38 games this season and their efficiency differential stands at 8.4. This mark is consistent with a team that would win about 63 games across an 82 game season (and that is a bit of understatement about the team’s quality since they have suffered some injuries).

When we turn to Wins Produced – reported below – we can see which Miami players are producing these wins. 

Not surprisingly, LeBron is the most productive player in Miami. But King James is not a one-man team.  Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, James Jones, Mike Miller, Eddie House, and Udonis Haslem are all above average players.   Although LeBron has a number of good teammates, his teammates are not much better than Melo’s teammates.  Collectively LeBron’s teammates have posted a 0.116 WP48. Yes, LeBron’s teammates are slightly worse (okay, not statistically different) than the teammates currently playing with Carmelo.  And that suggests that if Melo and LeBron switched teammates, LeBron would still be playing for a title contender. And Carmelo would still be disenchanted with Denver.

The Point of the Story

Obviously this trade was purely hypothetical. Although hypothetical scenarios can be interesting, one would hope such an exercise would have some purpose.  And here is what I think is the point of this story.

Carmelo wants a trade so he can contend for a title. And he thinks if he had better teammates this would happen.  But the problem in Denver isn’t Carmelo’s teammates. It really is Carmelo.  Right now – before he signs any extension — Anthony is the highest paid in Denver.  He is clearly the player Denver has built around.  But although Carmelo has been given productive teammates, his team is still not contending.

The explanation for this is simple.  Carmelo Anthony is simply not that productive of a player. Yes he can score.  But his overall production – as noted several times – is not consistent with his reputation.  So no matter where Melo plays, unless he gets some teammates that are even better than LeBron’s mates in Miami (and these are pretty good teammates), Melo is going to be disappointed.

- DJ