With all the points Carmelo Anthony is scoring this season it's about time we discuss his chances at earning the scoring title. One of Melo's biggest friends in his quest to lead the league in points is his ability to get to the free throw line, where he's currently shooting a career best 86.1%.
This piece comes out two days after Kobe Bryant usurps the current NBA scoring lead from Melo with his 44 point performance against the Golden State Warriors on December 29th. Nonetheless, Melo will be in the scoring hunt the rest of the season as the Nuggets need their star to keep filling it up as they rack up wins.
1.) Kobe Bryant 30.4
2.) Carmelo Anthony 30.0
3.) LeBron James 28.9
4.) Kevin Durant 28.4
5.) Dwayne Wade 26.6
I've never been one to glorify individual scoring, but what Melo is doing this season has to be recognized. If Anthony can win the NBA scoring title it'll be the first time a Nugget has won the award since Alex English did it in the 1982-83 season when he averaged 28.4 points per game. The funny part about English winning the title that season? He had two other seasons in which he netted a higher averages and his '82-83 numbers don't even make the Nuggets top five scoring seasons of all-time.
Denver Nuggets Top 5 Scoring Seasons:
1.) Spencer Haywood 30.0 (1969-70 ABA)*
2.) Alex English 29.8 (1985-86)
4.) Carmelo Anthony 28.9 (2006-07)
5.) Alex English 28.6 (1986-87)
The most impressive aspect to Melo's game this season?
The evolution of Melo's free throw shooting has been absolutely remarkable. During Melo's first six seasons in the league he couldn't crack better than 80.8% from the charity stripe. In fact, Melo has only submitted two seasons slightly above 80% from the foul line and shot just 79.3% last season. Melo's 6.8 free throw percentage increase this season from 79.3% to 86.1% is practically unheard of at this juncture of a player's career, especially considering he's shooting more free throws now than he ever has.
For example, Paul Pierce, another big bodied small forward and an 80% career free throw shooter, turned in his highest free-throw shooting rate of 10.3 attempts per game in the 2005-06 season, but shot just 77% from the line. Pierce has since seen an increased free-throw percentage in his last three seasons in Boston around the 84% mark. His best season to date is the 2007-08 season when he made 84.3% of his freebies, but Pierce saw a decrease in his trips to the line averaging just 6.1 attempts per game.
Just take a look at Melo's numbers that follow and pay close attention to his attempts versus his percentages and you'll really appreciate the work he's done on his free throw shooting.
|Season||Avg. Made/Attempted Per Game||Percentage|
(thru Dec. 31, 2009)
To be shooting more attempts than ever (9.9) and a career high percentage (86.1%) is a rare thing and shows just how hard Melo has worked on the easiest points you can get in the league. Free throw attempts per game tell you a few things about a player. Most notably, if they play aggressively the higher attempts will reflect that, also how crafty they can be at getting to the line without being overly aggressive attacking the rim ... like Chauncey Billups and other NBA players who seem to be able to get to the line when they need to by pulling their arms through on hand checks and other veteran moves.
Melo currently finds himself among the league leaders in just about every free throw category. He ranks 2nd in attempts per game (9.9), 1st in free throws attempted overall (316), 1st in free throws made (272) and 11th in percentage (86.1%). It's no secret that his free throw shooting has a lot to do with his career high 30 points per game average.
Melo only needs 152 more free throw attempts to break his mark of 468 from last season, but he played in just 66 games. The mark we should be looking at Melo breaking is his 709 career-high free throw attempts during the 2005-06 season. Melo needs just 393 more attempts to break that mark and still has a possible 50 games left to do it. At his current pace Melo is on schedule to shoot 495 more free throws (although we can probably expect him not to reach that projection).
After watching J.R. Smith struggle at the foul line this season, it's been nice to see Melo's vast improvement. Now when games go down to the wire the Nuggets have two "coolers" (as Bill Simmons call them) that can ice the game for the Nuggets in Billups (90.3%) and now Melo and we all know that inbounding the ball to your best shooters can be dicey late in games.
Biggest competition for the scoring title?
The top five scorers in the league are not going to change much the rest of the way. There will be jostling between Kobe, Melo and LeBron as the season wears on, but I think we can expect number 24 to be Melo's biggest competition for the title.
Kobe is surrounded by guys who can score the ball with Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum, but the offense still is built to let Kobe shine when he wants to and if you think he'll let up in hopes of winning more games, then you don't know The Black Mamba very well. Winning the West, the scoring title, the league MVP, the Finals MVP and the NBA Championship in the same season would be Jordan-esque and Kobe is obsessed with being the best to play the game and certainly doesn't want to let Melo take anything from him ... friends off the court notwithstanding.
Through 31 games Bryant has amassed 941 points and Melo has notched 961 points, but in 32 games. This could come down to final games of the season and best case scenario...we see a little repeat of history with the legendary George Gervin vs. David Thompson scoring binge on the last day of the season April 9th, 1978. That day Thompson scored 73 points, but Gervin turned in 63 points later in the day and won the scoring title by the slimmest of margins 27.22 to 27.15 (maybe just a made free throw of a difference). Hopefully things will work out a bit differently for the Nuggets this time around.
Any way you slice it, Melo is having an incredible season on the offensive end and one that could earn him some high individual accolades. The trick will be balancing those individual marks with team goals, but for now the Nuggets need their star to keep on gunning.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos: Robert Durell