Last week Beckley Mason of ESPN’s TrueHoop network wrote a memo to the Knicks saying Carmelo Anthony is a power forward. Mr. Mason argued that Anthony’s time in the power forward slot during his dominant April of the 2011-12 season, and his role with the US Olympic team should be enough to convince the Knicks to move Anthony to the four slot. And he isn’t wrong.
During ‘Melo’s torrid month of April – in which coach Mike Woodson moved him to starting power forward as a result of Amar’e Stoudemire’s extended absence with a back injury – he averaged 29.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game, while shooting (likely unsustainable) percentages of 49% from the field, 46% from three-point range.
Anthony’s game may be best suited as a power forward; he enjoys the physicality of big men, and while he’s quick, he doesn’t possess the same speed and athleticism of other small forwards of, say, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or even forwards like Rudy Gay or Andre Iguodala. At power forward, Anthony’s quickness gives opposing big men trouble at both ends of the floor. On defense, his hands and feet are quick enough to swipe the ball from face-up power forwards, or deny their drives; on offense, Anthony is quick enough to blow by them off the dribble, or to beat them down the court in transition. This is also evident in Anthony’s success with USA basketball, and their uptempo, often small-ball style of play.
These are all points Mr. Mason mentions in his terrific article.
However, there is still a problem standing in the way of the Knicks moving Anthony to a full-time position at power forward. A $65-million problem: Amar’e Stoudemire. Stoudemire, who, in case you forgot, is also still quite good at power forward. (In arguably his worst season in the NBA this past season, he still managed to average 17.5 points on 48 %FG, 8 rebounds, and 1 block per game).
Of course, spacing remains the biggest issue. Anthony at the four allows him to work in the pick-and-roll as a screener and finisher, as opposed to handling the ball. It also spreads the floor on offense, where there is more room for guards to drive, slashers to slash, and Tyson Chandler to eat up baskets in the paint, as Anthony pulls another big man out to the perimeter. Mason describes a play with team USA in his piece, where Chris Paul ran a pick-and-roll with Anthony, who caught the ball on the roll, and then slipped a pass to LeBron James for a baseline dunk. Mason points to how the Knicks could run a similar play with Raymond Felton (or Jason Kidd) as the ball-handler, and Chandler as the recipient for a baseline dunk. The same could be said, however, for Amar’e Stoudemire, who, in case you forgot, is a good finisher around the basket.
If the Knicks don’t end up moving Stoudemire to another team (and it doesn’t appear they will), they could seemingly find harmony where Anthony and Stoudemire take turns operating in the pick-and-roll and facing up and isolating on the elbows (another play they both love and excel at). It’s more likely that Tyson Chandler is the reason that Stoudemire and Anthony often end up getting in each other’s way on offense, but Chandler’s defense and rebounding is too valuable to the Knicks to leave him off the floor for any large portion of time.
While some may point to making Stoudemire come off the bench as the easy solution, that would only work for so long. Assuming Stoudemire would be OK with the demotion, the Knicks could start Anthony at power forward, and when he goes to the bench, insert Stoudemire there. However, at critical points in the game, a team needs its best players on the court, so what happens when the Knicks need both players on the court? Avoiding the issue won’t fix it.
Another problem the Knicks could run into playing ‘Melo at the four is injury. Anthony, who has lost weight this offseason, only spent about a month playing power forward with the Knicks. How his body would hold up in an 82-game season consistent banging with bigger players is another issue.
For New York, they must find a balance in Stoudemire and Anthony’s games to make the offense succeed. As we’ve seen (and read), Anthony can succeed at the power forward, posting up, facing up, and playing the pick-and-roll. The same goes for Stoudemire. The Knicks have figure out a way to diversify both players’ games, so that the offense can have a two-pronged attack they can lean on. The same two-pronged attack that they dreamt of having when they combined the two stars.