A game-changing forward is an essential part of success in today's NBA. Be they perimeter-oriented shooters, athletic slashers or back-to-the-basket types, the forwards whom teams are building around come from every mold. Carmelo Anthony and Blake Griffin are two of the NBA's most dynamic forwards for very different reasons. Anthony is the sweet-shooting flamethrower who's a threat to put 40 in the books on any given night. Griffin is the raw bundle of athleticism who combines a high-wire act with a smashmouth ground game. It's a contrast of styles if there ever was one.
Anthony and Griffin are the keys to their team's championship hopes, but who's better?
New York Knicks
APG: 2.6FG%: 44.7
Los Angeles Clippers
APG: 3.6FG%: 54.0
ANTHONY: HIGH POSSESSIONS
There are few better than Anthony at creating space on the perimeter from the triple threat position to get off the midrange jump shot. His size, first step and quick release make him a constant threat when facing up from 15-25 feet. But his best weapon is his jab step -- a hard stab or a gentle rocker -- which almost always gets defenders to bite. Anthony leads the NBA in points per 100 possessions with 38.3, but his 21.8 shots per game are also tops. For all of Melo's shooting ability, he shoots above 45 percent or better from just three of the 14 areas on the floor broken down by NBA.com. His most effective zone is the short corner right baseline (52.1 percent), where he drops in turnarounds or quick pull-ups. However, Melo only holds a microscopic edge over Griffin in points per possession: 1.012 to 1.004
GRIFFIN: STICK WITH POWER
It's become all the rage for power forwards to hoist midrange jumpers one after the other. Griffin has gone through his own experimental feel-out phase, with mixed results. His love for the jumper enhanced his versatility somewhat but took him out of his power game. While Griffin's outside shot has shown improvement, it's still not consistent enough (37.1 percent from 16-23 feet) to force defenders to honestly contest. On turnarounds he unnecessarily drifts several feet back, turning a routine shot into one with a high degree of difficulty. As one scout said, Griffin has solid mechanics but he needs to be more selective.
ANTHONY: LACKS EXPLOSION
Melo's key weapons are his strength and quickness, which he uses primarily inside the paint. He can bang with bigger players on the glass and prefers to outhustle for rebounds rather than plant himself for position. But much more useful is the quickness of his second jump, which, when combined with his strength, makes him a threat to tap in offensive rebounds. But Anthony too often doesn't get quality lift on his drives and fails to finish. He's converting a subpar 51.8 percent of his looks at the rim, which essentially wastes his athletic gifts. What's more, just two forwards are rejected more than Anthony, who's seen his shot returned 68 times.
GRIFFIN: ALL EXPLOSION
Griffin is one of the best athletes in the NBA. Everything begins with his explosive leaping ability, which has allowed him to author some of the NBA's most memorable highlights of the past several years. Griffin's 572 dunks are the most in the NBA since his rookie season in 2010-11. While his vertical game gets most of the credit, Griffin might be the league's fastest power forward from end-to-end, routinely beating smaller players down the floor. In many cases the result is an alley-oop dunk (he's fourth with 55 this season). Griffin shoots a sizzling 82 percent in transition (tops among players with at least 75 fast-break attempts) to Anthony's paltry 48 percent (second-lowest of any starting small forward). He's always had quickness in small spaces but now employs more body control to get the most out of his low-post bursts. Despite missing his entire first season with a knee injury, Griffin has not missed a game in three years since.
ANTHONY: LAX EFFORT?
Anthony has long been maligned for his defense and it's a storyline that continues to this day. One thing that has changed is the question of his overall defensive capability. It's clear Anthony has the tools. He's got the size and strength to body up slashers and the length and foot speed to help rotate and recover. His footwork while playing position defense can be very sharp, and when engaged, Anthony is as vocal as they come. But his effort still lacks consistency, which has kept Anthony from being recognized as a quality defender. "He still has to be pushed to exert himself defensively," says an Eastern Conference scout. "At his level it should be second nature."
GRIFFIN: GRIND THEM DOWN
Griffin's best attribute is using his considerable strength to lean on and grind down his man, preventing him from getting into an offensive rhythm by taking away position and clean looks at the basket. Griffin thrives in frustrating opponents into bad shots or mental mistakes. In recent weeks both Zach Randolph and Serge Ibaka drew techs by responding to Griffin's physicality. "He's physical and that's the way he likes it," says Randolph. "It's going to be a fight with him." Griffin has drawn 21 offensive fouls, ranking 32nd overall, while Anthony ranks just 146th. He's also rid himself of the habit of leaking out early in hopes of getting fast-break dunks in an improved overall commitment to defense.
ANTHONY: SMOOTH, FLUID
Anthony is widely regarded as one of the league's most talented pure scorers. His ultra-fluid mechanics on his pull-up jumper are nearly flawless and have been the centerpiece of his All-Star career. He also has developed a deft ability to fade away at the proper degree on his turnaround, which allows him to put significant arc on the ball. Though he prefers to pull straight up, he's gotten more comfortable with the step-back. Anthony's handle is far more usable in half-court isolation situations and primarily serves to put him in a better position to score. He rid himself of his Denver-era habit of dribbling away the shot clock on the perimeter in favor of a more triple-threat-oriented attack, which gets him to his pull-up quicker.
GRIFFIN: STILL IMPROVING
After developing some bad habits in his first couple of seasons, Griffin's basic fundamentals and skill development have climbed in the past 12 months. Nearly 75 percent of his possessions are post-ups, a drastic change from previous years. His footwork is still a bit choppy, but he's developed an effective one-handed turnaround on the right block that he often flips in off the glass. Result: his field goal percentage at the rim has increased every season, topping out at 75.9 percent this season. In pick-and-rolls, his 67 percent shooting (as the roll man) is tops in the league (minimum 100 attempts). He's added a live dribble face-up with a convincing head fake, followed by a between-the-legs left-to-right dribble he finishes with a right-to-left crossover for a jumper. It's a move he picked up by watching Chris Paul, that he uses almost exclusively on the right baseline.
And the Winner is:
Anthony is on fire right now, but score one for the upstart.
It's easy to contrast Melo's smooth, awe-inspiring talent with Griffin's awkward, brutish game and assume Anthony is better. But hot streaks that lead to 40-point games alone won't get it done. The Knicks are just 9-6 in 2012-13 when Anthony scores 30 or more; the Clippers are 12-4 when Griffin notches 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Anthony's singular brilliance in putting the ball in the basket without doing much else smacks of a far too one-dimensional game and isn't nearly enough to best Griffin. Griffin's overall imprint on a game dwarfs Anthony's. Griffin outshines the Knicks forward in many categories that a young player shouldn't be able to challenge a six-time All-Star, such as plus/minus (17th overall to 52nd), and-one percentage (fifth to 95th), assists (eighth among forwards to 16th) and field goal percentage (54.0 overall to 44.7).
Up until last week, Griffin held a season-long advantage in PER, not to mention higher rebound and blocked shot averages while playing five fewer minutes per game. And had Griffin been more effective on defense or had a bigger impact on the boards, his margin of victory over Anthony would have been even larger.