Over the course of the offseason, Buckets Over Broadway will be doing year-end report cards of the New York Knicks roster. The roster experienced a decent amount of overhaul this season, so we’ll simply be covering the core players of the 2012-13 team. Players will be analyzed by their offense, defense, and overall contributions throughout the season. First up is Carmelo Anthony.
Offense: Carmelo Anthony’s reputation in the NBA has always been as a scorer. It’s his first instinct on the floor and it’s really his only elite skill. This year, he did it better than anyone in the league. Anthony’s first full, 82-game season with the New York Knicks produced the best offensive season in his career. He led the NBA in scoring at 28.7 points per game, the highest average of his career. Though his overall FG% was down from his career rate, for some reason his three-point field goal accuracy jumped to the highest percentage of his career at 38%. Similarly, he posted a 56% True Shooting Percentage, which was almost two whole points higher than his career average. ‘Melo took a step forward in eliminating jap-step-happy deep twos and focused more on shooting three-pointers, taking it to the basket, or posting up defenders. His offensive eruption this year (a 50-point game and seven 40-point games) surely had something to do with his move to the power forward. He stretched the floor and knocked down jumpers on big men unwilling to come out to the perimeter. When they did, Anthony blew past them off the dribble. Then, when teams tried to cross-match with him, he posted up most small forwards.
The progression we saw in Anthony was also reflected in his passing. Though he had moments of regression, he took out some of his ball-stopping isolation habits for the most part. And even when he did regress, it seemed – for the most part – that he chose his opportunities more carefully, like when he was cooking from the field or had obvious mismatches with the defense. His assist numbers were down across the board, but this is a case where the stats don’t reflect the eye test. Anthony was a far more willing passer, especially out of double-teams. When defenses sent help, Anthony happily kicked out to the perimeter (sometimes on lovely skip passes) and let the ball swing until a shooter was open.
Unfortunately, some of these good progressions fell apart in the playoffs. His three-point stroke disappeared, he settled for jumpers, and defenses often denied the Knicks’ swing-swing-shoot offense. Nonetheless, we just experienced Anthony’s best offensive season in the NBA, and it was thoroughly enjoyable.
Defense: The lovely season Anthony blessed fans with also had to do with an increased focus on defense. Anthony wasn’t, nor will he ever be, a consistent, lock-down defender. However, more often than not, Anthony gave effort this year. He does much better battling power forwards who post-up or try to work off the dribble than guards or forwards who run off screens and curls. Anthony is quicker than almost any four in the league, and his strength is comparable, allowing him to bang in the post or stick with them should they try to isolate on Anthony. At times he was over-matched (see: West, David), but overall, Anthony gave a willing effort when he didn’t have to chase his man.
There were still let-downs, however. He’s prone to ball-watching, his effort on the glass wanes, and he doesn’t always hustle back on defense. When things on offense weren’t going ‘Melo’s way, we saw more defensive breakdowns. The Knicks were a tad better defensively with Anthony off the court than with him on, according to NBA.com/Stats, but he rarely appeared to hurt the team.
Overall: The Knicks just had their best season in 13 years and their star player just had (likely) the best season of his career. There’s not a lot to complain about there. Anthony is still an imperfect player and his flaws are glaring compared to other elite stars (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, etc.). However, a position change, a roster and coach he approves of, and a talented supporting cast brought out the best in Anthony. If he’s willing to build on the positive changes he made this season, he could only stand to improve while he’s in the prime of his career. For the first time in his short Knicks career, Anthony resembled a top ten player for most of the season.