A small percentage-point difference in shooting efficiency can have a huge impact on wins throughout a season.The box score statistics tracked by the NBA can be translated—as explained here (and in a few academic publications)—into how many wins each player produces.
For example, across this last regular season we see that Durant produced 19.4 wins, James produced 17.8 wins, and Anthony produced just 6.9 wins.
Yes, although Anthony had scoring totals that matched Durant and James, his actual production of wins was quite a bit lower. But what would have happened if Anthony were able to shoot as well as James? If Anthony matched James shooting efficiency—and nothing else about Anthony changed—his production of wins would have been 16.3 in 2013-14. So the Knicks could have won 10 more games in 2013-14 if Anthony could have simply shot like LeBron. And if that had happened, the Knicks would have been in the playoffs, and Mike Woodson would probably still be the team’s head coach.
It’s important to emphasize, though, that this was not just a problem in 2013-14. In 2012-13, James produced 21.1 wins, Durant produced 19.2 wins, and Anthony only produced 4.1 wins.
Again, Anthony can score like James and Durant. But because his shooting efficiency isn’t far removed from average, his production of wins doesn’t come close to what we see from Durant and James.
You might be thinking: Okay, Anthony’s not as good as two historically great players, but he’s clearly an elite scorer in the NBA. To see how surprisingly mediocre Anthony’s shooting is, we can compare his shooting efficiency to entire teams’.
Again, his effective field goal percentage this year was 50.3 percent. This past season, 14 teams shot better (or nearly half the league’s teams). In his career as a Knick, his EFG has been 49.5 percent; 16 teams shot better this past season (or more than half the league’s teams). When we take into consideration free throws, in true shooting percentage, Anthony looks a bit better, because he’s quite good at drawing fouls and hitting shots at the line. Still, six teams had higher true shooting percentages than Anthony last year (in fact, on the San Antonio Spurs alone, nine of their 12 players with more than 500 minutes on the court this year posted a higher true shooting percentage than Anthony.)
It’s hard to believe that there are half a dozen teams who collectively score more efficiently than one of the “best” scorers in the league. The alternative is: Anthony is not a terrifically efficient scorer.
It's Not About More Help
While some think that the Knicks have simply not provided Anthony with enough help, when we look back at 2012-13, it’s clear that this story doesn't stand up to scrutiny, either.
The New York Knicks had their best season of the 21st century in 2012-13. Not only did the team win more than 50 games (for the first time since 1996-97), the team also advanced out of the first round of the playoffs (for the first time since 1999). But the team still fell far short of the Miami Heat. Some people might argue that the difference was the teammates surrounding both James and Anthony. But when we look at wins, a different story emerges.