Carmelo Anthony has never missed the playoffs in his career, a statement that can’t be said of LeBron James, Kevin Durant or even Kobe Bryant. If he does for the first time this year, it will say more about the quality of his supporting cast than Anthony himself. For proof, look no further than his stat line compared to last season’s 54-win campaign:
Anthony is averaging a career high in minutes and rebounds all while posting the league’s ninth best player efficiency rating (on its third-worst team).
Since sitting out the last three games with a bum ankle, his scoring prowess, rebounding and – dare I say – defense have been missed as the New York Knicks have surrendered an average of 111 points per game without Anthony. In fact, on the season they have a 104.1 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) with him on the court and a 110.6 defensive rating when he rests, which contradicts the tired “no defense” narrative on Anthony.
The Knicks start a $50 million frontcourt (Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani and Anthony) and a backcourt that plays like it isn’t worth two cents. To examine their backcourt is to see the root of the Knicks’ problems. Defensively, they struggle mightily with opposing point guards, as speedy opponents ring them up to the tune of 24 points and nearly eight assists per game against them. The problem isn’t much better at the “two”, where opposing shooting guards hang over 20 points per game on the Knicks.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem if the Knicks’ backcourt was able to keep pace offensively, but they aren’t – the backcourt is outscored by an average of 18 points per game. The Knicks are a net scoring positive at the other three positions.
Nowhere is the backcourt problem more evident than in Iman Shumpert. The third-year guard has been the worst rotation player on the team, with a team-low player efficiency rating (PER) of 9.1. In fact, he’s one of only three players in the league posting a PER below 10 while playing at least 27 minutes per game. For comparison’s sake, the league average PER is 15.0.
It’s been an alarming step-back year for Shumpert, who is shooting 36 percent from the field and 30 percent from downtown while making a habit of getting burned defensively several times a game on backdoor cuts for easy layups. A few weeks ago there were trade talks involving Iman Shumpert and Kyle Lowry; on Friday night Lowry torched the Knicks for a near triple-double (32 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds) while Shumpert put up six points and two assists in 29 minutes after being held completely scoreless the night before. Who wouldn’t want to revisit those trade talks now?
The Knicks’ other major shortcoming this year has been the coach, Mike Woodson. After being dealt what seemed like a golden-ticket last year – a small-ball, 2-point guard fueled, post-and-three based offense – Woodson has gone away from most of the principles that made the Knicks successful, and predictably the NBA’s third-best offense last season has disappeared.
Woodson, seemingly haunted by the playoff loss to the tall Indiana Pacers frontcourt, has elected to start Bargnani, ruining one of the Knicks’ offensive advantages – Carmelo Anthony at the “four”. Carmelo thrived at the power forward position last season where he was too quick in the post and had too much range for traditional PFs, who weren’t used to guarding out to the three-point line.
In explaining his shift to the big lineup, Woodson proclaimed “the East is big, man,” failing to recognize that the 7-footer he’s inserting into the starting lineup – Bargnani – plays more like he’s 5’9”.
Even with Bargnani starting 28 of the team’s 30 games, the Knicks have the third-worst rebounding margin in the league.
Woodson’s other flaw this year has been unimaginative late game play-calling, where the coach seems too content to dump the ball to Anthony and see what happens. The Knicks are 0-4 in games decided by three points or less. Following a close win over the Chicago Bulls on December 12, Woodson explained his late-game philosophy: “I’ll take a shot from Melo all day long [in that situation],” further explaining that some of the isolation plays were by design.
Anthony, on the other hand, was not content with the crunch-time play: “Guys are kinda waiting around for me to do something – we’ve gotta get away from that. And we will.”
Since owner James Dolan proclaimed the coach isn’t changing anytime soon and major roster moves aren’t expected, Knick losses are likely to mount. Anthony is having a solid year, but it takes an entire team (coach included) to make a successful season. As of now, no one else is doing their part.