It’s Thursday, November 8th. After opening night got postponed due to Superstorm Sandy, the New York Knicks have rattled off three straight wins to kick off the season. Thanks to a Clippers win over the San Antonio Spurs, the Knicks are the only remaining undefeated team in the NBA.
Re-read that last sentence again. And one more time, while you’re at it.
A big reason why the Knicks have beat the Heat and the 76ers twice, you ask? There are three very obvious, hard-hitting analysis answers that we all know: 3-point shooting, defensive intensity, and Carmelo Anthony.
The numbers ‘Melo is currently putting up is really only half the story. Sure, it’s always nice to look up and see that he’s averaging 26.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and is shooting 43.5% from the field. But, the real story is the absolute control Anthony has of the offense when he’s running freely as the team’s power forward.
We talked about it a lot before the season started once Amar’e Stoudemire went down with his knee injury. Carmelo Anthony having free reign inside is a match-up nightmare for almost every team in the NBA. ‘Melo will take you outside and nail jumpers in your face until you literally can’t see anymore. If his outside stroke isn’t working, he’ll back you up inside and use a bevy of moves that include a fadeaway jumper and some baby hooks that barely kiss rim as they fall into the net.
Really, what ‘Melo at the four truly means is much more offensive spacing for his teammates. Defenses can’t lock down on their men because concern #1 is always where is Carmelo Anthony on the court. When Anthony is running around, cutting in and out of the box and along the baseline, or along the wing, the defense needs to stay in perpetual movement. That allows snipers like Steve Novak, Jason Kidd and Ronnie Brewer (who knew?) to set up shop in the corners. It gives players like J.R. Smith to do what he does best, which is cut in and out and take any open shot in whatever area code he finds himself in. It allows Raymond Felton to ochestrate the offense and keep everybody moving at all times.
Maybe most importantly, it frees up the lane. It allows Tyson Chandler to get down low, keep centers anchored inside and unable to provide help on screens and allows the big man to clean up the glass when 3s aren’t falling. It also allows Chandler to get every open look inside created by the players setting up along the wing. There is no longer a crowd underneath that we have seen when it’s both Chandler and Stoudemire on the court at the same time.
It’s that final reason why Mike Woodson is going to have to keep starting Carmelo Anthony at the power forward position even when Amar’e Stoudemire returns to health. Look, this isn’t the first time you’re hearing this, but the Knicks are a much better team if Amar’e Stoudemire is the sixth man. When Stoudemire is the big man on the court, with Tyson Chandler getting a breather, the offense gains a new edge while the defense is sacrificed slightly. Stoudemire and Chandler on the court at the same time creates more traffic under the rim than the Lincoln Tunnel during rush hour traffic on a Wednesday. It is not how this offense is built to run, and it limits what Anthony, the team’s unquestioned best player, can do.
Is it hard to believe we’re entering a world in which Amar’e Stoudemire, the team’s 2nd highest paid player, needs to be coming off the bench and playing around 30 minutes a night? Sure.
But you know what else is hard to believe? The Knicks having a 3-0 record, winning each game by 15+ points and not allowing an opponent, which includes the Miami Heat, to score more than 90 points.
As a New York Giants play-by-play guy once said, if it ain’t broke, don’t break it.