According to a report from Forbes.com, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony is the most overpaid player in the NBA.
At first glance, you’d like to agree with that statement right away. For one, Anthony has the NBA’s 12th highest annual salary at $26.2M this season. That’s pretty high, considering Anthony is just the third option on his team and probably just the 4th most productive player on the line-up.
This season, Anthony is averaging a career low 17.2 points per game. This is the first time in his 15 year career that Anthony has averaged below 20 points in a single season. For someone who’s primary value is offense, that’s not good off the bat. Likewise, Anthony’s current .413 field goal shooting, and .774 free throw shooting are the lowest of his NBA career. Even his steals average of 0.6 SPG and assists mark of 1.4 APG are at their all-time lows. Anthony’s rebounding of 5.9 RPG is below his career average too.
Most Overpaid Player?
Based on those numbers, it’s easy to conclude that Carmelo Anthony is having the worst season of his NBA career. At age 33 and currently playing in his 15th NBA season, you’d like to believe that age plus wear and tear have caught up with the greatest isolation scorer in the history of the game.
Forbes used a complicated formula in coming up with the ‘Most Overpaid Player” list. First they computed the value of a win by taking the league’s estimated income and dividing it by two, with the result the estimated amount that goes to the players under the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
They came up with $5.9B in estimated income and $2.95B for the players. The result was then divided by 1,230, which represents the total number of NBA games played in a season. The quotient was $2.4M, the rough estimated value of a won game in the NBA in today’s setting.
Then Forbes came up with a statistic called Wins Produced, much similar to the win shares we see in advanced NBA metrics, but this one using different criteria. According to Forbes, an example is that their computation values rebounds more. We can go deeper into this but that’s not our concern here. What we want to know if they are correct in calling Melo the most overpaid player in the league.
Going back. Forbes then multiplied the $2.4M dollar value of a win to the player’s Win Produced statistic, thereby estimating the dollar value he brings to the team based on wins produced. They then deducted that amount from the player’s 2018 salary to come up with their results. And the results?
They gave their Top 12:
- Carmelo Anthony, $26.2M
- Marc Gasol, $22.6M
- Brook Lopez, $22.6M
- Harris Barnes, $23.1M
- Dennis Schroder, $15.5M
- Evan Turner, $17.1M
- Evan Fournier, $17.0M
- Robin Lopez, $13.8M
- Serge Ibaka, $20.0M
- Goran Dragic, $17.0M
- Wesley Matthews, $17.9M
- Reggie Jackson, $16.0M
An Interesting List
Interesting list, really. For one, both the Lopez twins are there. Having two former Thunder players on the list is also an interesting thing: Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson. Two players named Evan ( Turner and Fournier ) on the list is also another interesting fact. But Carmelo Anthony as the most overpaid player in the NBA?
You can go to the Forbes article to check their computation, especially on how they came up with the Wins Produced statistic. Because while they used a good method in coming up with their numbers, it’s not an absolute valuation. Not even the win shares are. What we’re saying is that not everything in the NBA is based on numbers. Not everything can be quantified by statistics, no matter how advanced or sophisticated the computations are.
And we’d like to make that argument for Carmelo Anthony, even if we aren’t fans of Melo. Not even of Hoodie Melo.
When Carmelo Anthony got to Oklahoma City, the Thunder already had acquired Paul George from Indiana. They also already had Russell Westbrook. Westbrook was the lone remnant from OKC’s original Big Three after James Harden was traded to Houston and Kevin Durant left for Golden State.
OKC is no stranger to having three superstars in their team. It’s just that Russ, KD and the Beard weren’t as big stars back then as PG13, Melo and Brodie are today. But the point here is, Sam Presti knew what he was doing when he traded Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott for Anthony in the summer. He knew how much Melo’s salary was and he knew that somehow, Melo wouldn’t be producing Knick Melo numbers in OKC because of Westbrook and George.
So while Forbes can go on and compute Melo’s value based on his statistics, they aren’t factoring the reason why Melo was brought to the Thunder in the first place. If you add Kanter’s numbers to that of McDermott and use their computation, for sure the combined total would have more Wins Produced than Carmelo Anthony. Because that’s just numbers.
Value Beyond Numbers
But come to think of it, when the Thunder go to the playoffs ( and we’re pretty sure they will ), what value will Kanter and McDermott have as compared to Carmelo Anthony? That’s not even a fair comparison. Kanter and McDermott are good role players. But when the game is on the line, can Billy Donovan rely on them to take that last shot?
Sure, the game has evolved into the art of three point shooting. The teams who can make the most threes are on top of the heap - Houston, Golden State and Cleveland. Take the Warriors in particular. They’ve dominated the league in the last four years primarily because of the Splash Brothers. And now add Kevin Durant to that line-up too.
But when the playoffs come, the defenses are different. The airspaces are more tight. And there will be plenty of games that will go down to key possessions in the fourth period. And what do teams do? They rely on their top scorers to create the points. For the Thunder, that’s where Carmelo Anthony comes in.
Westbrook is the team’s primary creator. George is the second option. But who knows when both are going to struggle in games and God forbid, one or two might get hurt at some stage. Or, if the defenses tighten up on both, who are you gonna call? Not the Ghostbusters but Carmelo Anthony.
Look, you can all the more say that he is the most overpaid player in the league because he makes $26.2M to be just an insurance policy in the postseason. And they may not need that insurance policy at all. But again, would you rather keep him for yourself than lose him to a team you might play against in the playoffs? That’s another argument. But let’s stick to Melo being the insurance policy here.
Anthony is an equally gifted scorer. And while his current numbers pale in comparison to Westbrook and George, it’s not necessarily because he has faded. It’s has been by design. Remember that the Thunder were 9-12 after December 1? That early, many folks were saying the PG13 and Melo experiment were failures. That OKC was too small a city for three superstars with three big egos.
Back then, Anthony was competing with Westbrook and George for numbers, especially in scoring. George looked lost on offense while Westbrook had to sacrifice his scoring for the sake of his new superstar teammates. The result? OKC was a disaster and many were talking about Paul George getting traded before the deadline.
Playing a Different Role
And then it happened. Head coach Billy Donovan talked to Carmelo Anthony some point during the struggles and asked him to play a different role for the Thunder. Here’s how it went, according to the ESPN report:
"Carmelo," he said, "I think for our team, we're going to need you to fill a role. You're going to have to stretch the floor, and you're going to have to recognize mismatches. We're going to need to create space for Russ and Paul to play downhill and be creators for us. There might be times when you go four or five or six possessions and you don't get the ball. You might get missed on the break. Those are all adjustments, but we can't be the full team we're capable of being unless you're playing well."
Carmelo’s reply was a simply shocking: “OK coach, I’ve got it.” It wasn’t the reply expected from someone in the stature of Carmelo Anthony but if that’s what he really said, then that’s what the Forbes valuation report cannot capture. Carmelo Anthony’s value goes beyond his numbers. He has willingly sacrificed his personal interests to make this season work for the Thunder.
"I had to tell myself, 'OK, this is different,'" Anthony says. "Russ did things his way here. Paul did things his way in Indiana. I did things my way in New York. We were all solo artists. So now the question is, how do you bring your solo artistry to this band? We all bring something different to this band. I think once we realized and appreciated what we bring to this band, that's when things started to click for us.
The OKC are just a middling 33-26 at the All-Star break. They are 1.5 games behind 4th seeded Minnesota but are also just 1.5 games ahead of 8th seeded New Orleans. The Top two seeds - Houston and Golden State are almost impossible to catch up with. But San Antonio at #3 and the Wolves at #4 are still a possibility, most especially for a dangerous team like the Thunder.
Sure the Thunder are just 4-6 since losing Andre Roberson to a season ending injury. But just as they adjusted from 9-12 to start the season, count on them to make the adjustments after the All-Star break. With plenty of firepower and if they remain healthy to the end, everyone knows that the Thunder are going to be a handful for anybody, the Rockets and Warriors included.
Last season was the Thunder’s first without Kevin Durant and it was all Russell Westbrook. Westbrook won MVP and broke Oscar Robertson’s triple double record. But do you think he wanted to go through the same thing all over again this year? The Thunder also needed Westbrook to re-sign this summer. They didn’t want to lose him like they lost KD. And getting George and Anthony were a big part in that. Now OKC has Russ locked in until he’s 34.
George has always been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers. But he said that if they accomplish something real in OKC this season, it will be hard for him to leave. With Westbrook staying and Anthony having a player option for next season, there is a good chance that PG 13 is going to re-sign with the Thunder this coming summer.
What Melo Is Worth
As for Carmelo Anthony, he still has a $27.9M player option left in his contract. Given his situation, he’ll most likely pick up that option and stick with the Thunder for at least one more year. When Forbes comes out with their overpaid list next season, you can be sure that Melo is going to be on top of that list once again.
But Anthony couldn’t care less about what the media is going to call him. He’s here in OKC for one thing and that’s winning the title. He may or may not do it this year or even next season. But one thing’s sure. For someone whom many thought wouldn’t be able to evolve with the game because of his isolation style, Carmelo Anthony has done very well. He’s put his ego below his team and put his desire to win over his pride. That’s nothing really in terms of basketball value. Moreso in Wins Produced.
But if you look at what it’s done to the Thunder organization, Melo may be worth every penny. The Thunder have found new life after feeling dead when Durant left.
They got Russell Westbrook to stay for another five years. Now it looks as if Paul George is going to stay despite all the Lakers rumors. And Carmelo Anthony? Well he’s not having Carmelo Anthony numbers. He’s never going to get them in OKC.
Call this wishful thinking but I envision a playoff game where the Thunder are going to need Melo down the stretch. He’s going to put himself in that familiar spot, 17 feet away from the basket, right elbow. His back to the basket, leaning on the defender. Ball held high and tight. He may turn around, face the defender and give a couple of fakes. Or he could just rise up and shoot over the defender’s outstretched arms. Swish. Nothing but nylon. Basket is good.
This may go on for several plays down the stretch. The man has a million moves when he gets to that spot. It may be a game winner. With or without the hood. Melo is still deadly inside the basketball court. He may not show it as often, but he’ll get it done when he needs to. As he himself says: Don’t confuse sacrifice with surrender.
So is Melo the most overpaid player in the NBA? Not by a mile. Not at all.
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