Much was made about the anticipated trade between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets just a few years ago. After years of Isaiah Thomas induced torture Knicks fans seemingly found the light at the end of the tunnel when Carmelo’s strong arming and Donnie Walsh’s allegedly supremely talented NBA brain landed the Knicks a superstar.
Two and a half seasons later (though one was strike shortened) the Knicks have a 7-14 record in the playoffs and do not appear to be very close to winning a championship. Obviously this is not all Anthony’s fault, he isn’t horrible at running rotations, he didn’t brick every shot against the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs last year, and he didn’t let Roy Hibbert do whatever he pleased in the same series.
One has to wonder though; Carmelo Anthony is the fifth highest paid player in the NBA and likely won’t take a pay cut. Is he really worth being your best player? Can a team win a championship with what essentially is a DH leading the way?
When looking at Anthony’s season last year in a vacuum, it becomes increasingly difficult to rationalize letting him walk. Carmelo set career highs in Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares per 48 minutes, and points per 36 minutes. He also had well above career average years in True Shooting % and Effective Field Goal %.
Carmelo did all of this primarily playing at the power forward and destroying bigger and slower defenders. If Anthony were to remain at that position for the foreseeable future his value would be much higher than ever before.
Despite a career year and being the leading scorer on an elite NBA offense that was based on small ball and threes, Carmelo Anthony would prefer to return to small forward. He has also called the Bargnani trade a “steal” and opted against the more certain route of surgery for his torn labrum, which will mean he needs less contact so he will likely get his wish of playing the small forward.
While neither small ball Carmelo nor small forward Carmelo play particularly well defensively small ball Carmelo allows the Knicks as a whole to shred opposing defenses.
23 of the last 24 NBA finals teams had a top ten defense with only the 2006 Dallas Mavericks coming up short with the 11th ranked. Team defense is a tone setting concept that starts from the top down. When your best player doesn’t make defense a priority then it is unlikely the rest of the team will.
Three times in Carmelo Anthony’s career has he been on a top ten defense, twice in Denver where the team was 8th and once in New York when they were 5th.
Carmelo Anthony throughout his career has been a mediocre defender. He usually finishes every season with his team performing better defensively when he sits compared to when he plays. For his career, according to basketball-reference.com opposing teams score two more points per 100 possessions when Carmelo Anthony is on the floor.
Carmelo fans may point out that this is only one basket and not really a huge deal. Well for his career his team scores just three more points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor. This coupled with his career offensive rating and defensive rating being virtually even, (108 and 107 respectively) has to provoke thought over just how valuable he really is.
There also is the factor that is out of Anthony’s control, the Eastern Conference. The Eastern Conference lacks depth but is very top heavy. The Bulls, Nets, Heat, and Pacers could all very well finish ahead of the Knicks and put the team in a tough spot in the first round.
With a startling lack of youth in the rotation (except for the wing spot with Iman Shumpert and possibly Tim Hardaway Jr.) the Knicks are clearly built to win now. What happens if their best opportunity to win now though was with Rose, Granger, and Rondo all out with injuries and Wade playing with a bone bruise throughout the playoffs? What if in that same season the team had a top three offense, a career year offensively from its franchise player, and had the sixth man of the year?
Carmelo can’t really be blamed much at all for last year’s playoff failure. Tyson Chandler, JR Smith, and Mike Woodson let the team down far more than anyone else. With almost zero trade assets and a high salary cap though, how many more chances does this roster get?
It is a pretty difficult to say the Knicks window for a championship is still very much open after the NBA gods rolled out the red carpet last year and the Knicks tripped on the way down.
Carmelo Anthony is a very good player and certainly an All-Star. In fact, basketball-reference.com’s hall of fame probability chart has Anthony as about 82% likely to make the Hall of Fame and their calculations are typically very accurate. Is his career resume enough to garner him absolute must keep at all costs status though?