The Knicks desperately need bench scoring. Carmelo Anthony is still looking for one last stand in the NBA. Could there be something there?

Before you ask, no, this is not a nostalgia grab.

The New York Knicks are 29-26, good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Life without Mitchell Robinson has been grueling, the defense has plummeted to the seventh-worst defense in the league over the last five games. In that same stretch, the team is 3-3, with impressive wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers, but also two forgettable losses to the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets.

 

Beyond the defensive concerns sans Robinson, the Knick bench has not been the bedrock it has been for the team the past few seasons. Hidden underneath the stellar play of Sixth Man of the Year candidate Immanuel Quickley — over his last 24 games, Quickley has averaged 16 points per game and shooting nearly 40.0% from three-point range — is an anemic bench unit.

Even with Quickley the bench unit ranks in the bottom five of the league in scoring. Obi Toppin could help improve this situation, but Tom Thibodeau has yet to play him 20 minutes since returning from injury. Deuce McBride is many things, but a reliable scorer is not one of them. Derrick Rose, Cam Reddish, and Evan Fournier have all been exiled with likely no return. 

During Toppin’s injury, Thibodeau became infatuated with playing a two-center lineup of Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims. The lineup sacrifices points for control of the boards and could work on paper if Hartenstein was a fraction of the shooter the team thought he could be when they signed him. Hartenstein has been the furthest thing from a stretch five, connecting on a meager 24.2% of his three-point attempts, despite already surpassing a career-high for three-point attempts (33) for a single season.

This has culminated in a massive scoring void on the second unit. Thibodeau has worked around this void by playing RJ Barrett with reserves, and simply playing the starters as much as he can. Julius Randle has played the third-most minutes in the league, and over the last ten games Randle, Barrett, and Jalen Brunson have averaged at least 37.0 minutes per game. Playing the starting lineup nearly the whole game is not sustainable, especially if the team hopes to be fresh for postseason basketball. 

Trading for a young wing makes the most sense and is something the front office is actively planning for. SNY’s Ian Begley has reported that Knick brass is interested in Toronto Raptors wing OG Anunoby, a player who would be a massive boon to the team’s perimeter defense. Malik Beasley, the spark plug scoring guard on the Utah Jazz, has been another name brought up as someone who can address the second-unit scoring woes.

Given the front office’s frugality with assets in past trade discussions, a significant trade in the coming weeks feels 50/50 at best. And even if the team could land an Anunoby or a Beasley, some depth would be sacrificed to get it done. 

A trade would not drastically swing the playoff pendulum too far in either direction. The Knicks are not a move or two away from serious contention, nor are they bad enough to trade a few players and immediately enter the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. That is why, regardless of the route taken at the trade deadline, it makes sense to finally think about the Carmelo Anthony reunion.

On its surface, bringing Anthony back feels like the classic Knicks move. A player past his prime who will be asked to do more than he can, a la Kemba Walker. Only that would not be the case. Anthony would not be asked to step into the starting lineup and score 20-plus a night, he would be asked to come in for seven to 12 minutes and shoot the basketball.

The team has kicked the tires on this before. It is a given with Anthony’s former agent being Leon Rose. The latest word on this is the Knicks are not interested due to defensive concerns, which are valid, yet a concern that feels overblown when you see Evan Fournier play extended minutes.

The vision would be for Anthony to replace Fournier’s current role. He would get any spare minutes available in the second unit, occasionally more if he is shooting the basketball well. But the first and foremost assignment would be as the spot-up guy.

Sure, Anthony is not the star he was when he left New York, but he is certainly good enough to fill this role. He should be willing to as well. Unlike in years past, there is no team to save. The ask for Anthony would be simple: hold down the fort while the starters get a breather while doing what he does best, shoot.

Following his forced sabbatical, Anthony relented and made the move to the bench. This was not the case when he was traded to Oklahoma City. The Carmelo Anthony we have seen since the Portland Trail Blazers signed him has been an agreeable one. He adjusted to a bench role in year two as a Trail Blazer, and served a similar role for the Lakers last season.

As a Laker, Anthony shot the ball at a decent enough clip, 44.1% from the field and 37.5% from beyond the arc. He still had games where the vintage Melo came out.

From Tom Thibodeau’s perspective, it could not hurt to have another friend around. Not that Anthony and Thibs are best friends, but it is clear there is mutual respect at the bare minimum. Back when Anthony hit free agency, the Chicago Bulls were the most realistic destination if he left New York, with Anthony being a fan of Thibodeau’s system. Throwing Anthony non-consequential minutes now is an easy ask that can have a decent payoff. 

Then there are the non-basketball reasons. This has been one of the odder Knicks teams, with no firm identity still. An Anthony signing would be a boost of energy for the fan base, and a real chance for the team to give one of the franchise’s best players a worthy ride off into the sunset.

Anthony recently confirmed he is not done yet.”If you didn’t hear it from me, you didn’t hear it from nobody.”

Coming back to New York for one last run makes too much sense for Anthony, too. It allows him to return while still remaining close to his son Kiyan who plays high school basketball in the area. Then there is the mentor role he could play for a struggling Barrett. What better person for Barrett to learn from on dealing with the pressure to produce nightly than Anthony? Derrick Rose’s second act is a good blueprint for such a situation, with the point guard serving as an effective big brother to Quickley and Toppin.

Even if none of this comes to fruition, it still makes sense now for the reunion. New York has always felt like Carmelo’s true basketball home. The timing feels right this time for the team to pay back a player that was willing to be the guy.

This is not a nostalgia grab – okay, well, maybe just a little.

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