Yesterday, writing for SI’s The Point Forward, in his sprawling “Top 100 NBA Players” list, Zach Lowe delivered us number 11 through 20. For Knicks fans, only Chauncey Billups had previously appeared (at 59), and Wilson Chandler (92), Danilo Gallinari (80), and Ray Felton (89) were all, depressingly enough, present amongst the pile. Finding out where our two cornerstones ranked would be interesting; the list takes into account several different variables which encompass the complete value of a given player, making Carmelo and Amar’e's pole position a complete toss up. Despite them both starting in last year’s All-Star game, it was likely heading in that neither would crack the top 10.
Now, before we get into where both were placed and collectively turn our underwear inside out, remember the list’s criteria as written before each post:
The Point Forward’s top 100 list is designed to spotlight the best NBA players on both ends of the floor, regardless of salary or current team context. The rankings are based on where players stand at this very moment, with the (still theoretical) 2011-12 season approaching.
No set formula was used for this list; it represents my opinion after watching an abnormal number of games, scouring every statistic out there, recalling conversations I’ve had while reporting on the league and poring over hours and hours of clips on Synergy Sports. And even with all that information, separating some of these players amounts to making an impossible subjective call.
Lowe gives fair warning as to how he created the list, fully acknowledging the objective nature which exists in such a grueling project. It’s a brave and somewhat naked task, ranking players with no mathematical or provable formula. To say it’s difficult wouldn’t begin to describe how painstaking it is to ignore economics (DeAndre Jordan over Roy Hibbert); ancient, socially accepted facts (Manu Ginobili over Tim Duncan); and the roles each player has taken to make his team better (Luol Deng over James Harden), but with all that being said some mistakes were made.
Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire were slotted in at 20 and 19, respectively. Or, maybe not so respectively. Both in relation to one another and amongst all players who listed higher, where they ended up is a bit irksome—especially in Carmelo’s case. The main argument in putting him here is simple: Lack of defensive intensity. Defense is the Knicks’ global warming—if global warming’s rate were sped up and it instead was called global warmth. People dissect, analyze, and whine about the team’s defensive problems on an hourly basis, and with good reason. It’s a clear and obvious problem, and despite the answer on how to correct it being an easy one (grab a competent big man or two and try harder), actually doing so is not. But Carmelo isn’t a man afraid of dirtying his finger nails. He’s one of the game’s most underrated rebounders at the small forward position, a tenacious and tireless presence on the glass—defensive rebounding effectively ends an opponent’s possession, making it an integral part of defense as a philosophy and partly disputing Carmelo’s overall ability when grading his effort on that end.
But maybe instead of pointing out every weakness in the man’s defensive intensity, we should focus on how great he is on offense. Of every memorable individual playoff performance 2011 bestowed upon us—Dirk’s epic 48 point effort to snuff out OKC before they could even get things rolling, Derrick Rose doing likewise against Atlanta, Chris Paul asserting himself as the league’s current (and possibly all-time) best point guard in the first two games against L.A.—it’d be tough to match what Carmelo Anthony did against a rightfully feared Boston Celtics defense, scoring 42 points, grabbing 17 rebounds, and dealing six assists. Looking as unstoppable a force as basketball has, dragging the likes of Anthony Carter and Jared Jeffries along for the ride, his will to win cannot be disputed. In short, it wasn’t a performance that the “20th best player in basketball” could pull off.
Putting him at 20, behind Manu Ginobili and Paul Pierce, is appropriate three years ago, but right now Carmelo is a player who’s yet to show us his best. At 27 he’s just about to hit his apex–and we’re talking about a player already regarded as the game’s most complete scorer. I’m still a believer in his ability to utilize all that athleticism on the defensive end on a consistent basis, but I’m a self-realized naive person, so take these words with a grain of salt.
What I really don’t understand and won’t ever fully grasp, on a completely unbiased level, is how Carmelo is placed one spot behind Amar’e Stoudemire. Speaking briefly on this issue for just a moment—the two are 20 and 19, not 10 and 1—when we talk about value and who we’d rather have in the construction of a championship level basketball team, deciding between Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t an obvious answer. Each is one of the game’s best most imposing offensive players, and both have proven what they’re capable of on a large stage and consistent basis. For reasons that are too minute and insignificant to get into here, Carmelo’s always been my guy, though. And saying Amar’e is better by even the slightest margin might bother me more than saying he barely qualifies as a top 20 player.