Or so he says.
Per Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal, less than two percent of Melo’s points come off dunks (a career low), and he’s okay with that:
Anthony’s dunk marked just his 19th slam of the season. His 21 dunk attempts make up 1.8% of his total shots—a career-low, and a far cry from the 4.2% they accounted for just three seasons ago. In the mid-2000s, Anthony was among the NBA’s most frequent dunkers, dunking on more than 10% of his shots.
All of which raises the question: Why isn’t Anthony dunking anymore?
Anthony says dunking isn’t that important, and that he has become more conservative about going for highlight plays since joining the league at age 19.
“You have to pick your spots unless you’re one of those super athletic guys who dunks every time you get a chance,” said the 28-year-old Knicks star. “So for me, dunking’s not real big on my radar. If it’s there, I’ll do it. If it’s not, I’ll lay it up.”
In some ways, Anthony has a point. He’s athletic, more than most people give him credit for, but he’s bulkier than LeBron James, Blake Griffin and teammate J.R. Smith. He’s just not built to soar as much.
From an aerodynamic perspective, you then appreciate his willingness to forego the opportunity to assemble a highlight reel and look for the “easy basket.”
That said, is dunking really not important? Forget about what it would do to the allure of going to an NBA game. Aside from bringing us to our feet and earning the dunker in question some in-game cred, does it have a function? Or is it really not that important?
Melo is statistical proof that you don’t have to dunk to be effective, but there is a function and an upside to throwing it down.
Going up strong to the rim decreases the likelihood that you’re blocked. Look at tape of the most spectacular blocks today. How many of those come after the ball has left a player’s hand? A lot. JaVale McGee knows what I’m talking about.
Putting that ball up in the air even if only for a split-second, leaves it susceptible to being swatted into the stands. It’s simply more difficult to block the rock, to block a dunk when it’s still in someone’s hands. It’s even harder to do it and not be called for a foul.
I point you to some video evidence from years ago. Anthony’s Denver Nuggets were facing LeBron James’ Cavaliers and Melo, recognizing that LeBron was closing in on him in transition, dunks it.
Effective, right? Knowing that James was hot on his trail, Melo took it strong to the hole, diminishing the likelihood that his opponent came away what even then was a signature chase-down block.
Fast forward to this season and we see a similar situation below.
James once again closes in on Anthony on the break, and not only is Melo not looking over his shoulder (he may not have had time), but he doesn’t go as strong to the rim. While it appears he was going for the dunk, the aggressiveness when taking “flight” just wasn’t as prevalent as it was in Denver.
Now, let’s turn back the clock just a little bit again.
In the first round of last year’s playoffs, Anthony gets around Shane Battier and LeBron rotates over from the strong side to contest the shot. Melo, however, has two hands on the ball, clearly going for the slam. James blocks the shot anyway, and while it appears clean, he still gets called for the foul.
That’s what dunking can do. Laying it in often requires the use of one hand, leaving the ball more exposed. Going up strong to the rim, not letting the ball leave your hand(s) makes the shot harder to contest.
As we saw against the Orlando Magic in the last week, it also renders Melo not just an alley-oop threat, but a legitimate alley-opp option.
Of course, Anthony is roughly a decade into his career, and playing below the rim could have more to do with an ailing body (bully ball!). If we’re to believe him, and the evolution (regression?) of his craft is by choice, he may want to reconsider his stance.
“Because of that, it’s always nice to see him throw one down, just to remind people he can still do it,” said Marcus Camby of Melo’s dunk against Orlando (via Herring).
Perhaps its time Anthony started reminding us he can “still do it” a bit more frequently.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.