The New York Knicks have their highest playoff aspirations this season than in over a decade. A first round exit would make the season a failure; a second round exit would be a disappointment; getting to the Eastern Conference Finals has become the expectation, and the Finals has become the goal for the team. To do so, the Knicks will need to beat some tough opponents along the way, and they’ll need to play at their most efficient. Defense will take a team-wide effort, but on offense, it begins with Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony is coming off likely his best season in the NBA – a belief supported by analysts, coaches, teammates, and Anthony himself. ‘Melo logged his second highest points per game total in his career with 28.7 ppg on 45% shooting, and a career high 38% shooting from beyond the arc. Anthony’s dynamic offensive season has led to the Knicks’ offense going to him on over a third of their possessions. This season, Anthony had a usage percentage (USG%) of 35.3%, according to the NBA’s stat site. According to Hoopdata, in the past six seasons, Anthony has never logged a USG% above 33.4% (it’s important to note that this metric may not have been tracked before 2007, so it’s possible that Anthony could have logged a higher USG% in earlier seasons).
However, what ‘Melo chose to do with these possessions is even more important. As mentioned, Anthony’s scoring was absolutely torrid this season. In 67 games, he scored 40 or more points eight different times (one of those games being a 50-point eruption in Miami). He scored 30 or more points 31 times this season – nearly half of his total games. Though his offensive attack hasn’t changed much, it has generally improved. His shooting percentages – FG%, 3FG%, FT% – all improved since last season, and this year, he made life easier on himself. According to the NBA’s stat site, 40% of Anthony’s made field goals were assisted, and 60% were unassisted – an improvement from last year’s 38%-62% marks. In wins, however, Anthony’s assisted vs. unassisted numbers changed to 44% and 56%, respectively, which increased his overall shooting numbers to 46.5% FG and 39% from three-point range.
Anthony’s overall more efficient attack has improved he and the team’s overall offense. According to nbawowy.com, Anthony’s two highest percentage of shot locations were from 0-3 feet (28% of his overall attempts) and from three-point range (27% of his attempts). Whereas in previous years, Anthony was criticized for his tendency to hold the ball, stop the offense, and settle for deep jumpers (an inefficient shot), his attack has been more team-geared, and he’s made a point to get to the basket or shoot three-pointers.
All of this stands to highlight what he’s done for the Knicks’ overall offense. With Anthony on the floor, the Knicks offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) was 110.5, which tops the best mark in the league, the Miami Heat at 110.3. The Knicks, for the season, had an offensive efficiency of 108.6, third best in the league, per NBA stats. The Knicks’ overall offense functioned better with Anthony on the floor, and his teammates’ field goal percentages reflect this.
According to nbawowy.com, with Anthony on the floor, the Knicks other top seven most played players – Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni – shot a collective 47.7% on two-point field goals and 39% from downtown. On the season, the Knicks shot 44.8% total and 37.6% from deep, so Anthony’s presence alone greatly increased the team’s offense.
Even though Anthony’s assists per game were tied for a career-low this season, and his assist percentage (teammate field goals a player assists on – AST%) was markedly lower than previous years, Anthony’s offensive prowess was simply enough of a distraction to put opposing defenses in a bind – leave Anthony alone to score on a helpless defender, or double Anthony and risk leaving teammates open. This year, the eye test alone witnessed a much more willing passer in ‘Melo, as he consistently passed the ball out of double-teams instead of forcing the shot. Often times, Anthony’s passes out of the double-teams didn’t lead to assists, however. These escape passes usually led to a series of passes to find an open shooter as defenses scrambled to recover. This action supports Anthony’s lower assists numbers despite his clear willingness to pass.
In the playoffs, the Knicks and Anthony must continue these practices. They will face a tough defense in the Boston Celtics, and then, likely, equally stingy defenses in the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat (assuming they make it there, of course). On the season, the Knicks as a whole shot 47% and 40% from deep in wins. Those numbers fell to 41% and 33%, respectively, in losses. Too often the Knicks have a tendency to revert to one-on-one, stagnant offense, usually led by Anthony, and followed by players like Smith and Felton. The key to the Knicks’ winning ways, however, was always unselfishness, rapid ball movement, and accurate marksmanship from beyond the arc.
Anthony must lead the way for the Knicks in these playoffs, but it’s a two-way street. Anthony’s own prowess begins with his accuracy from all points on the court. When ‘Melo is hitting his shots, defenses react to his presence, which then opens up opportunities for the Knicks. If Anthony is unselfish and passes out of doubling defenses, his open teammates have to hit their shots, especially three-pointers. If so, the Knicks’ offense will be too much to overcome for many teams, and can win them a handful of games by itself.