New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love?
Oct 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) steals the ball from Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) in the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland won 117-88. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The bulk of trade reports about the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers concern Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love. Who would you rather have?

  • New York Knicks (22-29)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers (33-15)
  • Saturday, Feb. 4, 8:30 p.m.
  • Madison Square Garden, New York, New York

The New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers square off for the third time on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, but no one is going to be talking about the game. The focus is on two of the opposing star players, the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony and Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love. Before the Feb. 23 trade deadline they could switch places.

There’s been speculation about both players. One side has wondered why Cleveland would even consider the trade. Love is four years younger, and Melo is breaking down. The other is wondering why Cleveland hasn’t pulled the trigger already. Melo and LeBron James together? Come on. So the real question is: Anthony or Love, who would you take?

The Knicks are intent on moving Anthony regardless of his performance. More accurately, Phil Jackson does. The man had six 30 plus point games in Jan. and averaged 25.4 points while shooting over 40 percent from three-point range. That hasn’t been enough. The national media loves to talk about that. What they don’t talk about is how much Anthony and Love have in common.

Anthony is run down by his boss, but Love has repeatedly been run down by someone even more important than his boss. The man who runs the show, King James. Before they won a championship, Love admitted he and James weren’t “best friends” and even during the NBA Finals (a rough time for Love) James didn’t show his teammate a break with the infamous high-five blow off. All seemed forgiven after a championship banner was raised, and Love was named an All-Star this season.

Maybe it was, but if James had the choice, he would rather play with his BFF (Anthony) than his frenemy (Love). This isn’t about LeBron James. That dude has gotten enough attention recently. This is about Melo and Love. Who would you rather have?

It depends on what kind of basketball guy you are. If you like the flash and flare, you want to roll with Anthony. The 32-year-old might be slowing down, but he’s still one of the league’s best scorers. Anthony still has one of the league’s most efficient mid-range games. Per NBA.com, he’s second in mid-range attempts (456) and 26th in percentage (out of players with at least 100 mid-range attempts) converting at a 45.2 percent clip.

His phenomenal stretch of 30-point games and a 45-point game last week against the Hawks is proof that he can still pull a rabbit out of his hat now and then. He’s not the player he once was, but in Cleveland (where the All-Star snub wouldn’t have to be the No. 1 guy) he would thrive.

Anthony has been one of the most efficient players in the league on spot up possessions in 2016-17. On 172 plays, his effective field goal percentage (stat which adjusts for the fact that threes mean more than twos) is 60.4 percent (via NBA.com).

Anthony has become a perimeter-oriented scorer solely at 32-years-old. He’s converting at 52.8 percent in the restricted area, and only 22.5 percent of his FGAs have come from inside the paint.

His scoring isn’t the problem. It’s everything else. If Anthony’s not scoring how can he help you win? If there was a precise answer to that question, Cleveland might have made this trade already.

Anthony’s defense is the main issue. ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus rates him 74th out of 79 small forwards. The Knicks are allowing 2.7 points per 100 possessions more when Anthony is on the floor. Anthony has been one of the worst defensive players on one of the worst defenses in the league. No wonder the Cavs have been so hesitant to make a move.

The Cavs are thinking about making a trade for one reason: To beat the Golden State Warriors. Anthony has never been a strong defender, but playing in a bad situation in New York he’s become lazy and complacent. Will he be able to pick things up in a championship atmosphere in Cleveland during the middle of the season? It’s a significant risk.

Kevin Love was relentlessly criticized for his defense in last year’s finals and rightfully so. He was limited to 12 minutes in Game 6 due to foul trouble. This was before his Game 7 stop against Stephen Curry. That had to buy him some good will with LeBron.

Love’s value comes in other areas. Like Anthony, he’s been one of the league’s most efficient players on spot up plays (per NBA.com) currently rating in the 83rd percentile of points per possession. Love’s been good, Anthony’s been great.

Love, like Anthony, has become almost solely perimeter-oriented when it comes to his contributions on offense. The 28-year-old is slightly better than Anthony in the restricted area (56.4 percent conversion rate) and more active near the rim.

Unlike Anthony, Love struggles in the post. He has struggled with his back to the basket for the second straight season.

On 178 post up possessions, Love has converted at less than a 40 percent clip and is just in the 33rd percentile of points per possession.

Anthony is a better scorer than Love. That’s a given, but Love surpasses him in other areas.

Anthony’s rebounding numbers have significantly dipped this season, while Love remains one of the best in the game on the glass. Love is second among

The four-time All-Star is second among active players in career rebounds per game and second among active players in career defensive rebound percentage. The Knicks, ranked 27th in the league in defensive rebound percentage, could use a guy like that. Most teams could, including the Cavs.

Love is no Rudy Gobert, but he’s having one of the best defensive seasons of his career. The Cavs are allowing 3.1 points per 100 possessions less when Love is on the floor. That’s the best mark on the team. Love’s foil was defending the pick and roll. In 2015-16, he finished in the 34th percentile when defending the roll man. They scored against him 45 percent of the time.

This season has been a different story. Love’s jumped up to the 68th percentile while opponents are only scoring 34.6 percent of the time. It may not seem like a huge improvement, but if you watch some one of the many unflattering videos and then watch him now, it’s easy to tell he worked on his defense over the summer.

Two pretty strong resumes there. A 28-year-old who can dominate on the boards, step out and bury a three, and he’s also playing the best defense of his career. On the other hand, you have the 32-year-old nine-time All-Star whose elite scoring could be the final piece to your championship puzzle.

It’s a harder decision than the so-called experts on TV want you to think. It’s about more than just Love’s age and Anthony’s playmaking ability that LeBron publicly acknowledged he wants. This is a decision that will shape the league for years to come.

If Cleveland pulls the trigger, it drastically shortens their championship window, and Kristaps Porzingis finally moves to the five in New York to make room for Love at power forward. So who are you taking?

 

 

NYY

NYM

NYG

NYJ

NYK

BKN

NYR

NYI

NJD

SJU