The Miami Heat's 33-point rout of the New York Knicks on Saturday can't be pinned on Carmelo Anthony. Sure, he was dominated in his positional matchup with LeBron James. It wasn't even close: James scored 32 points on 14 shots; Anthony had 11 points on 15. The plus-minus numbers were diabolically symmetrical: The Heat were plus-35 with James on the floor; New York was minus-35 with Anthony. There is always a lot more going into a blowout of that scope than one matchup but, still, the disparity certainly didn't help.
That was the first postseason head-to-head matchup between James and Anthony, but they've met 15 times during the regular season dating back to Anthony's rookie season in 2003-04. Anthony's teams have won nine of those games. James has averaged 25.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists in the head-to-head matchups; Anthony's average line is 23 points, 6 boards and 2.4 assists. The usage rates and true shooting percentages are virtually identical.
I haven't seen any Gallup Poll results on the topic, but my impression is that few people think that Anthony is better than James, as well they should. However, it doesn't seem like people appreciate just how much of a gap there is between these players. Perhaps it's those head-to-head matchups that skew perception, but it probably has more to do with the fact that Anthony and James are basically marketed in much the same way -- as if they are peers. They are in that they are both professional basketball players. But James operates on a whole different plane than Anthony.
We'll put some numbers to this topic, but let's begin with a general description of the perceived differences between the players. Anthony is seen as a pure scorer with a great midrange game who excels at drawing contact. He can take over games down the stretch and makes his teammates better because of the amount of attention defenses must commit to keep him from going off. James is an explosive athlete whose strength, speed and explosion allow him to flourish in the open floor. He's also a gifted and willing passer, with a point guard's ability to set up teammates. James is a much better defensive player and it's his all-around ability that marks him as a better player. But how much better?