PLAYER: Carmelo Anthony
CONTRACT: $21,388,954 for the 2013-14 season. (‘Melo has stated publicly that he intends to opt-out of his contract and test free agency at the end of the season.)
ACQUISITION DETAILS: There was a big trade back in February of 2011. You might have heard about it. Here is what you didn’t hear, though. Until now.
Masai Ujiri: Hey Donnie, we’ve come up with a new trade proposal fo ryou. How about ‘Melo, Billups and some feces, and we get every player on your team not named Stoudemire, Fields or Douglas.
Donnie Walsh: Yeah, no. What do you take me for, anyway? I’m sort of thinking more along the lines of Wilson Chandl..HEY! What the…
(A brief struggle can be heard, followed by a loud THUMP and then silence.)
James Dolan: Hello, this is Jim Dolan. HELLO?!
Ujiri: Yes, yes, I’m here.
Dolan: HELLO MASAI!
Ujiri: Hello Jim. So, uhh, I was just talking to Donnie about a potential transaction. Any interest in Carmelo Anthony?
Dolan: SWEET, I LOVE ME SOME ‘MELO!
Ujiri: Great. Basically, we want everyone not named Stoudemire, Douglas and Fields. You get ‘Melo, Billups and a bag of… err, several indispensible role players.
Dolan: I like the sound of this. Tell me more.
Ujiri: Glad you asked. Because we’re also gonna need some draft picks. Like, all of yours.
(12 hours later, Walsh awakes to find himself bloody and battered on the floor of his office. A sharp and throbbing pain emanates from a grotesque bruise on his forehead that is oddly shaped like a phone receiver. His television is still tuned to ESPN News when he turns to see the ticker, which reads “KNICKS TRADE THE FARM TO GET ‘MELO!” )
Walsh: Aww, hell. I’m too old for this shit…
WHAT TO EXPECT OFFENSIVELY: It goes without saying, but Carmelo Anthony is really good at basketball. Last year, though, he was really, really good at basketball. In fact, the 2012-13 season was undeniably the finest of Anthony’s career. He lead New York to 54 regular season victories and won the scoring title at 28.7 points-per-game. The Knicks scored a whopping 108.6 points-per-100-possessions (up from a measly 101.4 mark the previous season), and ’Melo was every bit the centerpiece they had imagined when trading for him from Denver.
Not surprisingly, the Knicks relied on Anthony offensively more than any other team in the league relied on any other player. When he was on the floor, ‘Melo finished a whopping 35.3% of New York’s possessions – a mark that lead the league by a comfortable margin. While his detractors will make the “ball hog” argument, those who watched New York night-in and night-out will counter that Carmelo’s usage was by design. Consider this: the 2012-13 Knicks shot more threes than any other team in the league, again by design. Their offense was primarily initiated by a high pick-and-roll at the top of the key or an isolation to Anthony in the post or at the elbows. When the opposition collapsed down on the pick and roll, the ball was kicked out to spot up gunners stationed outside the arc. When Anthony was doubled, he did a good job to kick the ball out and initiate ball reversal along the wing. When he was left guarded one-on-one, he went to work.
And boy, did he go to work.
Beyond his already well known prowess in isolation, though, the most notable change in Anthony’s offensive game last year pertained to his shot selection. Since 2010, his three point attempts have been trending upwards after just 12.5% of his 2009 shot attempts came from beyond the arc. (‘Melo logged 16.7% in 2010, 19.8% in 2011, and a whooping 27.8% in 2012.) And last season, ‘Melo drained some 37% of those long-range attempts, which, considering the increased volume, increased his efficiency in a major way.
So what should we expect from Carmelo this season? Health permitting, more of the same, of course!
Though the arrival of Andrea Bargnani changes things somewhat (it sure looks like the Italian will push ‘Melo back to small forward), Anthony should be able to continue firing away from beyond the arc during the upcoming season. And even if a long-range shooting regression occurs, the shear volume of attempts should keep him more efficient than those shots were long 2′s. He and Bargnani have shown a fair amount of chemistry in the preseason and if Woodson is likely to call for the duo to engage in lots of two-man game. The downside there is the distinct possibility that such a deployment leads to far too many mid-range attempts. Those kinds of shots can be effective in moderation, but in general, offenses should try to shoot fewer of them, not more. The Knicks’ formula for success last season was that they shot a ton of threes and didn’t turn the ball over. If many of those threes become long twos instead, New York may more often than not find itself on the losing end of the box score.
Carmelo’s versatility on offense is one of his greatest strengths. Not only is he a great spot-up shooter, but he also works well at the elbows and in the post. He’s big enough to bully smaller players down low, and quick enough to create separation in isolation against his opponents. He feasted last season when guarded by traditional power forwards, a byproduct of the Knicks small-ball offense. He also handles the ball ridiculously well for 6’8 player. While ‘Melo will never be known as a great distributor of the basketball, he can do damage shooting the ball as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. Additionally, Anthony is extremely effective as a pick-and-pop screener on the perimeter, but he doesn’t often showcase that ability.
Much has been made of ‘Melo playing small forward, effectively diminishing his matchup advantage versus traditional fours, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be successful at the three. He did it in Denver for seven seasons, and he was obviously quite good at it. Sure, the concerns about where Anthony plays have a lot to do with New York’s defense, but a world of data suggests the Knicks’ offense works best with ‘Melo as a power forward. Per 82 games.com, Anthony’s 2011 player efficiency rating at power forward was 29.5 (very good) versus just 17.4 at small forward (not so good). His 2012 figures were 24.8 and 21.8, respectively. For all intents and purposes, Carmelo is a power forward in a small forward’s body. Of course, none of this means that the Knicks cannot be successful with their best player “out of position,” it just means that they might be a tad less successful than they could be otherwise.
Ultimately, New York pays ‘Melo a ton of money to score — and they’re going to pay him even more after he opts-out — and that is exactly what he will do. Coach Woodson will rely on Anthony to create shots for himself, but when the opposition’s defense mandates it, ‘Melo will have to create shots for his teammates, too. The presence of Bargnani as somebody who, in theory, can create his own shot should alleviate some of the pressure Anthony has as the primary creator. If Iman Shumpert continues to develop, if J.R. Smith keeps his head on straight, and if Amar’e Stoudemire gives the Knicks anything off the bench, everything will work out just fine on offense. Sure, that’s a lot of ifs, but hey, preseason is the time for optimism.
WHAT TO EXPECT ON DEFENSE: Yeah, defense. About that. In Denver, ‘Melo was generally thought of as one of the worst defensive players in the entire league. Not that the leopard has entirely changed his stripes, but Anthony has played significantly better on defense in New York, particularly at the four. Though he is big enough to bang down low, Anthony has made it no secret of the taxing demands that guarding larger power forwards make upon his body over the course of the season. Fortunately, teams seem to be following Miami’s blueprint nowadays, downsizing their lineups. (This is yet another reason to play ‘Melo at the four, by the way.)
Most scouts will tell you that Anthony is truly an abysmal perimeter defender. They’re not wrong. Though ‘Melo is capable of defending one-on-one at an adequate level when he wants to, he rarely seems interested in harassing the opposition away from the basket. Tyson Chandler often covers up his mistakes, but with many teams likely to get the Knicks’ center caught in high pick-and-rolls, that means that players like Bargnani or Stoudemire, abysmal defenders in his their own rights, will be tasked with rotating to protect Anthony’s backside at times. The Knicks had the 18th best defense in the NBA last season, but there is legitimate concern that they will be even worse this year. Sure, Metta World Peace was an upgrade and losing Jason Kidd and Steve Novak should help, but pairing Anthony and Bargnani for extended stretches might serve to inspire the confidence of opposing shooters.
The Knicks didn’t trade for Carmelo because of his defense, but they are not good enough elsewhere defensively for him to be a non-contributor. If New York is to make any noise this season, Anthony must maximum effort on the defensive end. He’ll never be great, or even above-average, but consistently solid effort will go a long way in helping the team achieve its goals.
REASONABLE SEASON PROJECTION: 25.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.9 APG and 74 games played.