The Next Best Scorer In The NBA: LeBron Or Carmelo?
Kevin Durant is without a doubt the best scorer in the NBA. There it is, out in the open. Feel free to weigh in, debate, prepare a case or just babble ignorantly if you’d really like (everyone has that one friend anyway). Bring your best stuff, see, I’m not worried.
On one hand, I’m the Bobby Cox of handling flawed sports opinions, and on the other hand, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. Why? Because I won’t be listening. (One more time) Kevin Durant is without a doubt the best scorer in basketball. Ergo, I simply won’t doubt it.
With that being said, on the subject of the league’s next best scorer? Of course I’ll dabble. Any well-versed basketball fan would. Likewise, any well-versed basketball fan will, and should, reserve the next spot for either LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. For obvious reasons.
These two, plus Durant, and SOMETIMES Kobe Bryant (like using “y” as a vowel) round off the top shelf, the Cristal, of basketball’s scoring elite. No disrespect to Mamba – we’re all aware of his statistical resurgence, and it’s still sensational watching “Kobe being Bryant,” but some nights he just lacks that certain explosiveness at age 34. Not to mention some of the shots he takes in the 4th…
The way I see it, the question of “who is the league’s next best scorer,” in actuality is, “who’s a better scorer: LeBron or Melo?” Simple. (After Durant) Carmelo Anthony is the world’s best shot-maker. Then LeBron (we’ll get into this later). Then Kobe. After these 4 there’s a considerable drop off. Just so you can get an idea, here’s how I round out the rest of the field:
1.Derrick Rose (Would probably be Tier 1 right now, sans knee injury)
- Paul Pierce (Can still hit from anywhere on the court. Evidence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjm4wwqrKFA)
- Dwyane Wade (Casually having another phenomenal year, the model of consistency)
- Russell Westbrook (Didn’t want to put him here, but he makes it too difficult not to)
- James Harden (Product of Houston’s system? We’ll see…)
- Kevin Love (Love, respect thy game)
- Kyrie Irving (Moving up by the day)
- Stephen Curry Stephen Curry (Sample size is small, but also speaks for itself)
Now, before I go any further (or even touch on the Carmelo/LeBron debate), I want to make sure we’re all on the same page with what exactly a scorer is.
What is a scorer?
Scoring is not points per game. These two are not synonymous. Are they related? Sure. I guess using elementary logic (thank you LSAT prepbook), the end (PPG) justifies the means (ability to score), but PPG is a statistic and scoring is an art. Think of scoring the basketball like scoring with women. Despite what you tell your fraternity brothers after a few “regrettable nights,” it’s about quality, not quantity.
For example, George Gervin is the essence of a pure scorer. Watching him put the ball on the deck baseline, gracefully bound from the outside the paint, and finish with a finger roll is the scoring equivalent to the bar scene in “Hitch,” where Will Smith first meets Eva Mendes. Sheer grace. No way to stop it.
Scoring is the ability to put the rock in the cylinder, and like anything else in life, variety improves overall experience. This is why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors, Juicy J raps about “white b*tches,” and nobody in the history of mankind has ever tried a plain Chobani yogurt.
I think you guys get the idea. So, back to the topic. Who’s the better scorer, LeBron or Carmelo?
What we’ve all been waiting for: The Marquee Matchup: King vs. Melo
Initially, for this part of the piece, I planned a simple black and white, compare/contrast of Melo and LeBron’s respective scoring abilities. Maybe a quick summary of pros and cons for each, perhaps throw a few stats here and there. But not anymore. I have recently decided to follow a new, impromptu approach to completing this article. Please, don’t ask any questions; just keep reading.
This spur of the moment article change was spurred on as I was jabbing away at my Apple keyboard, trying to finish up this very piece. I decided, “why not check Twitter quick before finishing up? I deserve it.” What I saw appalled me:
Why did the Knicks come back last night? Because Melo got hurt @espn_colin
— Brett Shuster (@ShuNation) March 5, 2013
You see, this is one perfect example of why LeBron fanboys are some of the most arrogant, ignorant, belligerent inhabitants of the world of sports, and I can’t let it go much farther. Enter Brett Shuster (@ShuNation).
Shu (as he’s known by his homies), a special buddy of mine, spends his days enjoying all of the wonderful amenities Long Island, NY has to offer. Yet, for whatever reason – refuses to invest any devotion to New York sports, and the state he has called home for 20 years (he’s like your typical misplaced sports fan without ever being displaced).
As an avid LeBron “fan,” the amount of arguments Shuster and myself have encountered over the years, is countless. (By the way, Shu, who did you like before LeBron? Did you discover basketball in ‘04?)
Anyway, thank you, Brett. Consider this the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, and your last piece of basketball ineptitude. I have now dedicated the body of this article to you, and the foolish arguments you (and the rest of the LeBron endearing world) make every time the scoring discussion comes up.
I present to you, 5 arguments you will hear in defense of King James (directly quoted from a self-proclaimed LBJ fan), and how to respond to them from an unbiased, enriched basketball perspective. Enjoy.
1. “LeBron James has averaged more points per game in 10 of 11 seasons”
Ok. Impressive. But stats aren’t very telling. Allow me to show and prove. Rewind to the ‘06-‘07 season. Tracy McGrady averaged 24.6 PPG. Yao Ming averaged 25 PPG. Tracy McGrady was 27. Yao Ming was 26. (Essentially the same age.)
They were teammates, and subsequently played in the exact same system, with the exact same opponents/circumstances. According to the rationale promoted by this argument, Yao Ming was a better scorer than Tracy McGrady? Right? That’s rich.
You see, that’s the distinction right there. Yao Ming clearly could score the basketball (25 PPG), but he could never be considered a scorer (he was just 7’6″). I’m not saying LeBron James isn’t a scorer either, however I will say that a good portion of his PPG comes from strictly raw freakish athleticism. He’s 6’8″ 250 (and the fastest player from baseline to baseline in the league), he’s equally as much of a physical anomaly as Yao Ming was.
Carmelo scores the basketball because he straight up knows how to find the bottom of the net. Post game, pull up game, mid range jumper, out of the gym range – his PPG are a result of being a scoring virtuoso. Not a freak of nature.
2. “LeBron James doesn’t try to score”
This one might be my favorite. Every time someone says, “LeBron doesn’t try to score,” I simply reply, “well why not?” Seems like a fair rebuttal, no? If you’re making the case for LeBron James, as the league’s next best scorer, shouldn’t he be trying to score?
I’ve never heard anyone say “Bill Russell could’ve averaged 40 rebounds a game if he was trying to rebound.” That’s because he wasn’t off to the side, boxing out for his teammates “to make them better.” He was improving his team by doing what he did best – rebound the basketball himself.
To say LeBron James is one of, if not the most, dominant scorer in the league (without trying to score), just makes him sound like your pal who could’ve applied himself a bit more in class and studied at Stanford (instead of Community College).
Scorers should try to score the basketball frequently, to quote our partying President, that is the point. Defending LeBron’s ability to score by saying he doesn’t try to do so, is the most counterintuitive concept in sports, please stop. Regardless of what anyone says, at least Carmelo tries.
3. “Lebron only needs 15 shots, Carmelo needs 25″
This is a very provocative argument. For me it means two things.
- LeBron is a more efficient scorer. I think this one goes without saying.
- LeBron is a better offensive player, a more complete player, but a better scorer? I’m not sure.
In ‘07, coming off of back-to-back MVP’s, Steve Nash averaged 18.6 PPG on 53% shooting. That same year, Allen Iverson averaged 31 per contest, but shot a dreadful 41% on almost 25 attempts per game. Did I mention Nash averaged his 18.6 points on only 12.8 shots (almost half of The Answer’s).
Mistaking efficiency for the potential to score is a fatal flaw. Nash scored his points in the flow of the offense. Key here: flow of the offense. Both the Heat and the Knicks have clearly found their respective “winning” formulas that come with a tailored offensive flow. For Miami, LeBron taking 15 shots just works, and likewise, the Knicks work best when Carmelo IS taking 25 shots.
If Steve Nash shot 25 times each game in ‘07 (at 53%), he would theoretically (using math) average more points than AI. Nash would never do this though because that wasn’t his game – he was looking to pass, use picks, and set up his whole team for success.
Also, the game doesn’t work like that. If Nash shot 25 times, his FG% would dip tremendously. Allen Iverson’s game was to score, and likewise help his team as a scorer. LeBron’s game is no longer to score, and he’s shifting closer and closer to the Nash style than the AI style on the Nash-AI spectrum (which is fine). He wasn’t a champion shooting 25 times from the field in Cleveland.
4. “LeBron led the league in scoring, in Cleveland, with no help.”
This statement is relatively fair, but like an umpire calling low strikes in a baseball game, you need to keep the strike zone consistent. What I mean is, if you use this argument, I wouldn’t expect you to ever comment on his supporting cast in Miami. But obviously, it doesn’t work like that.
The same people who use this point as an argument with Cleveland LeBron, usually contradict themselves later by saying that Miami LeBron would average more points if he wasn’t playing with another elite score (Dwyane Wade, shouldn’t really need to clarify, but okay).
So: LeBron would’ve averaged more points in Cleveland if he had some more help, and LeBron would average more points in Miami if he had less help? It’s a catch-22.
Don’t get caught up with the supporting cast (to an extent). Good scorers will score regardless of their teammates, because like I said before, scoring is an art (predicated on an artist, not an art-team). Paul McCartney could’ve written a studio album backed by Taylor Swift’s band, would it have been as successful as The White album? Probably not. Would it have still topped the Billboards? Probably.
Steph Curry scored at Davidson (with a team full of who is he’s?) and he’s still scoring now. MJ scored at UNC with elite talent (Perkins, Daugherty, Wolf, Kenny Smith) and continued to score with the Bulls (also with elite talent).
And, not to mention, for the first few seasons of Carmelo Anthony’s career, his supporting cast was arguably worse than LeBron’s. In ‘06, Melo averaged 27 PPG. The next leading scorer was Andre Miller, who was no more prolific back then (13.7 PPG). In ‘05, Kenyon Martin was the runner up with 15 per game.
5. “LeBron can get to the rim every play, Melo can’t do that”
This is the truest argument you will ever hear from an LBJ head. Honestly. LeBron James actually can get to the rim whenever he wants, every play. The problem? He doesn’t do this! Would you like to know when he especially doesn’t do this? LATE IN BASKETBALL GAMES. Why? HE’S AFRAID TO SHOOT FREE THROWS!!!!!
One of the greatest adrenaline rushes in the game of basketball is the game winning shot. Go search “Michael Jordan game winning shots” on YouTube and have a field day. When was the last time you searched “Michael Jordan game winning dunks” on YouTube? Most likely never, because nobody ever tries driving the lane with 4 seconds on the shot clock, down a point, to slam the pill.
The scary thing is, if LeBron did do this (instead of settling for long 2′s or looking to make the “right” pass), the odds are, more times than not he’d end up with his hands hanging on the rim – or at the very least, his feet at the charity stripe. The fact remains the same, he just doesn’t look like he wants the ball in winning time. This is odd for someone who can allegedly get to the rack without struggle.
I know “scoring” and “scoring late in the game,” are two completely separate beasts – but they do say something. First off, late in the game you need scoring, so whom do you turn to? Your best scorer. Secondly, the best scorers will score late in the game, with the climax of defensive pressure, the good ones can reach inside that bottomless, “Paul Pierce” bag of tricks and pull something out to beat the D.
What bag of tricks does LeBron have (aside from “getting to the rim every play)? A mesmerizing first step? Which leads to what…an awkward step back jump shot? Granted his game has come lightyears since the ‘11 playoffs, but still, take it to the rim LeBron. Get a shot in the post. Do ANYTHING besides pulling a long, off balance 2.
Hypothetically, Kevin Durant never exists. You’ve been forced to assemble a team of NBA superstars, to have a grudge match against The Monstars of Moron Mountain (and they’re just hankering for revenge from the whole MJ fiasco). “The Mean Team” is up one with 10 seconds to go. Who do you give the last shot to, Coach? I think I’ll leave you with a cliffhanger. Choose for yourself, deep down we all know the right answer. Put them 3′s to the dome.
Editor’s Note: This article was published hours before LeBron James won a game for his team, attacking the rim. Proof that the basketball gods exist.
Dan Scotti | Elite.
For more from Dan, follow him @scottipippen and visit pippenbalotelli.com.