Each of the NBA’s greats draws comparisons to those who came before them, and Carmelo Anthony and George Gervin are more similar than you’d imagine.
Today’s new-school stars get juxtaposed vehemently to their old-school counterparts, but all of them have wrinkles in their game that can are seen throughout history. LeBron James is the mutant offspring of Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, and the mad scientist even threw in a bit of Michael Jordan‘s athleticism. Anthony, a good friend of James, is on the downward trajectory of his superstardom, but even he can be compared to someone who came before him.
The resumes between Melo and the Gervin are eerily similar, and their games don’t differentiate as much as some might think. Once Anthony finishes up 2016-17, they’ll be equal in seasons played (14), so why not do what everyone hates and compare the two even though they played in entirely different eras?
What jumps off the board immediately is Ice’s place Hall of Fame, but don’t worry Melo fans, he’ll be enshrined in Springfield soon enough. Gervin crammed a ton of accolades into his NBA and ABA tenure, which started all the way back in 1972 with the ABA’s Virginia Squires. After playing 79 games that spanned a season-and-a-half, Gervin got sold to the San Antonio Spurs for a whopping $228,000 (roughly $1.2 million in today’s money) where he cemented himself as a superstar scorer. Along with his four scoring titles, 1978-80 and ’82, he landed on 12 consecutive All-Star teams and nine total All-League teams, five first.
He even brought home an All-Star Game MVP in 1980 when dropped 34 and outdid the likes of Adrian Dantley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone and Eddie Johnson.
Anthony’s nine All-Star nods don’t match Gervin’s, but his nine All-NBA teams do, despite him not making a single first-team. Regardless, Anthony has carved out an excellent career, and the numbers between the two are profoundly similar:
First, this table doesn’t include Melo’s 2016-17 stats because it felt weird using an incomplete season. But, look at how close those numbers are, especially the per game scoring average. Gervin’s prime years had much more volume, while Melo has stayed consistent throughout his time.
About one inch separates Anthony (6-8) and Gervin (6-7), but Ice was no thicker than two pencils taped together, while Melo was made fun of in recent years for letting himself go a little bit. Expectedly, their body types impacted how they played. Gervin was a slasher. Because of his slender build, he wasn’t a great athlete concerning explosiveness and verticality, but he was quick enough to beat his man off the dribble before finishing with his patented finger roll that he could nail from beyond eight feet. Actually, the more I watch, it was more of an underhanded floater than a finger roll. Regardless, it was unstoppable; like Kareem’s sky hook that went under your armpit instead of over your head. For the bulk of his career, Ice routinely kept his field goal percentage above 50 percent, and he retired with a mark of 50.4, a remarkable clip for a non-center.
He’s got a significant edge over Melo in efficiency, but Anthony was once considered the NBA’s best scorer. As a 22-year-old with the Denver Nuggets, Anthony averaged 28.9 points a game and was the 14th player do so at that time. When Gervin was 22, he put up 23.4. Anthony was a more explosive athlete than Gervin ever was, and he could play with more power and could also play with his back to the basket because of his strength. Gervin’s playing weight was around 180, while Melo has hovered around 240. A young Melo, when he had braids, would finish over you, not around you. And he’s among the greats when he plays out of the triple threat position. As he’s matured, Anthony became more of a jump shooter, and it’s hurt him to an extent.
No matter how you cut it, the two are close as can be when it comes to scoring. Arguably, Melo is more versatile. What’s not arguable is Gervin’s consistency and how it extended to the playoffs.
Ice never played in the NBA Finals, much like Anthony. However, the playoff game totals favor Gervin 84-66, and he was much more reliable when it counted. In the postseason, Gervin kept his field goal percentage above 50, while Melo’s dipped down to 41.7. Again, they’re almost equal in points per game — 26.5 for Ice, 25.7 for Anthony. You knew they were getting their points, but it was just a matter of how many shots it took to get there.
I guarantee you knew it was coming. Yes, it’s that time where I bring up Anthony’s one Conference Final to Gervin’s three. But hold on! There’s a caveat. Until the 1984-85 season, the playoffs were three rounds and not four. Each postseason started with the Semifinals as opposed to the First Round, so Ice played when it was easier to reach the Conference Finals — literally, it was easier. It took four wins instead of eight. If Gervin and the Spurs had to play the Showtime Lakers in the second round, there’s no chance San Antonio is making back-to-back Conference Finals in 1982 and ’83.
San Antonio got swept the first go-around but managed to push Magic and Kareem to six games the following season. Had Ice’s production not taken a dive off the Hollywood sign in games three, four and five (where he scored 15, 20 and 20), we’re looking at an entirely different series. He then would’ve gone on to play Julius Erving and Moses in the Finals, and don’t tell me that wouldn’t have been entertaining.
Both guys never had the playoff success that you would expect, especially Melo. Just once has he been out of the first round, and while most of it falls on him, his teams weren’t equipped to do battle with the Spurs (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker), Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol) and Utah Jazz (Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer). Anthony didn’t have his first legitimate wingman until a nearly washed-up Allen Iverson came to Denver. And that didn’t last long. Contrarily, Ice had teammates like Larry Kenon, James Silas and Mike Mitchell who could go for 20-plus, but the competition was much stiffer.
Oh, and the Spurs played defense as often as Halley’s Comet visits Earth.
The was true with almost all of Melo’s teams as well, and it’s no coincidence that they had no success. When your star player has no interest in playing defense, it’s tough to win. And that’s why both of them have floundered in the playoffs. They simply didn’t weigh both ends of the floor equally and, whether they’re open about it or not, it shows, and gameplan for their teams was to have to them win the scoring battle against their opponent’s best player.
If you’re keeping track at home, the only edge is Gervin in the scoring department. And even that’s slight. They’re both equally bad on defense and severely underperformed in the playoffs, and there’s been so much speculation about both Gervin and Anthony’s will to win. It’s not irrational to think that Iceman cared more about numbers than championships, and it’s true with his new-school counterpart.
Here are two quotes that, hopefully, provide some insight:
Anthony on winning three gold medals (June 2016): “Most athletes don’t have an opportunity to say that they won a gold medal, better yet three gold medals. I would be very happy walking away from the game knowing that I’ve given the game everything I have, knowing I played on a high level at every level: high school, college, won [a championship at Syracuse] in college and possibly three gold medals. I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career.”
Gervin on his legacy (1980): “I’m perfectly happy being known as George Gervin, scoring machine, because in this game the person who puts the ball in the hole is the person that usually gets ahead.”
Both guys have put together outstanding careers. Gervin, a top-50 player of all-time, is one of the greatest scorers ever, while Carmelo Anthony is among the greats himself. It’s just interesting to see how two of the most unlikely comparisons are so similar.
Data is courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
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