Nylon Calculus

How will Carmelo transition to the Rockets?

With the dust having settled on the Houston’s offseason, it is fair for Rockets fans to wonder exactly how the team will transition from Trevor Ariza to Carmelo Anthony on the wing.

Ariza, who signed a one-year deal with the Suns, displayed incredibly efficient shot selection by basically only launching from 3 and in the paint. Conversely, Anthony heavily favored the mid-range, with a whopping 5.9 field goal attempts per game from the area this past season, the fifth-highest total of any player in the league. While Ariza’s shot selection had to be viewed as ideal by the Rockets’ numbers savvy front office, Anthony’s has to be viewed as something to adjust.

Given that Houston’s management is surely aware of this, it would stand to reason that there is a plan in place to address this. Indeed, this is not the first time that the Rockets have brought in a star player (or at least a player who shoots like one in Anthony’s case) with a heavy reliance on the mid-range. The following is Chris Paul’s 2016-17 interactive shot chart, his final season with the Clippers.

Paul’s 5.3 field goal attempts per game from the mid-range are obvious, as the right side mid-range is his most favored area of the floor. The following is Paul’s interactive shot chart from last season with the Rockets.

While the mid-range shot isn’t totally gone, a clear gap in front of the 3-point line does indicate that Paul has eliminated a lot of the long 2s from his game. The peaks at the rim and spread out beyond the arc show that Paul’s shot selection has noticeably improved. Paul cut his mid-range field goal attempts per game nearly in half, added 0.5 shots per game in the restricted area, and added 1.5 shots per game from beyond the arc. Despite a modest decline in overall field goal percentage of 47.6 to 46.0 percent over the last two seasons, Paul’s effective field goal percentage stayed about the same, going from 55.5 to 55.0 percent over the same time frame.

One reason for optimism regarding Carmelo Anthony’s offense next year is how much potential improvement exists in his shot selection. Because Anthony’s 39.3 field goal percentage in the midrange was so dreadfully bad, if he makes the same changes in restricted area, mid-range, and 3-point attempts that Paul did, all while shooting the same percentages from each area as he did last year, his effective field goal percentage would jump from 47.6 to 50.1 percent, a fairly substantial 2.5 percentage point increase. It is also certainly not unreasonable to think that having Paul and Harden facilitating for him could allow Carmelo to improve even beyond this mark, deferring isoball for better ball movement.

All this is not to say that Anthony’s tenure in Houston is guaranteed to go wonderfully. Even if Anthony’s effective field goal percentage does make the aforementioned leap, 50.1% is still comfortably below league average. It also assumes that Anthony takes to D’Antoni’s style of play well as Paul did, which given Paul’s noted headiness and much of the drama that has followed Anthony throughout his career, seems rather dubious at best.

Next: How many possessions will the new shot clock rule impact?

While the integration of Chris Paul into the Rockets serves as a positive example of Houston’s ability to incorporate a star player, one only needs to remember Houston’s Dwight Howard saga and Howard’s unwillingness to abandon the inefficient post-up in favor of the pick-and-roll as an example of it not always going that smoothly. Carmelo is only as adaptable as he wants to be. Nevertheless, given the obvious physical talent that Carmelo still possess, as well as being thrust into one of the best teams and most efficiently run offenses in the NBA, the upside is obviously there. Now only time will tell if Carmelo Anthony helps himself and the Rockets reach that upside.

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