The Denver Nuggets have recently moved into the number one spot for true shooting percentage, which is field goal percentage adjusted for three pointers and free throws, at 57.4 percent and ahead of Boston’s 57.1% and San Antonio’s 56.5%. They’re also the top team in terms of offensive efficiency. While this would normally not be newsworthy because Denver is known for its “high octane” offense, the team’s leading scorer is having a terrible shooting year. Carmelo Anthony’s true shooting percentage (TS) is a low 52.3%. To put this in perspective, there are 36 small forwards listed on ESPN’s website as having a better TS. He is well below average in this respect.
So how well would the Nuggets be shooting without Carmelo, or at least a better year for him? I calculated that Denver’s players besides Anthony are shooting 58.7%. This is a mark few teams have ever matched. The Suns’ hit 59.0% a couple times last decade.
The Nuggets are accomplishing this due to the exploits of Nene and Afflalo, who are both shooting at a level that’s hard to believe. Afflalo’s shooting 64.4% because of his three point shooting, and Nene is at a remarkable 69.4%. He’s making nearly two-thirds of his field goals and hitting 75% from the free throw line. According to basketball-reference.com, this is a historic mark because Artis Gilmore holds the record with a TS at 70.2%. However, Tyson Chandler is threatening the record too with a percentage of 73.2. Billups is once again excelling with a TS% of 61.9% and Ty Lawson is having a great year at 58.6.
While it’s unwise to assume that Denver’s other players, their non-stars, would be shooting that well without Carmelo because of the defensive attention he creates, it’s probably a rare occurrence that the leading team in offensive efficiency has most of its shots taken by a player with a 52.3% true shooting percentage. Also, Carmelo isn’t a great passer, so his reputation and defensive pressure aren’t directly rewarding the team’s other players. And if you do a rough adjustment of their offensive efficiency to find out how efficient the team is sans Melo, they would have a number around 112, which would put them in exclusive company and would challenge the Nash-era Suns and Mavs for the greatest offensive efficiency number relative to the league average.
A huge story right now is that Carmelo wants to leave, and that Denver should be pitied because of how they’re losing a great talent, a guy who’s starting on the all-star team. But the rest of the team’s players are playing like one of the best offensive teams in history. And I don’t think anyone is noticing.