By John Schmeelk
» More Columns
Even through all the ups and downs, this is why the Knicks had to make the Carmelo Anthony trade last year. There are only a handful of basketball players on the planet that can single-handedly carry a team’s offense like Carmelo Anthony has the past two weeks. Getting very little help, he is the reason the Knicks have a two-game lead over the ninth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. As a bonus, he’s still playing with tenacity on defense that we haven’t seen for most of his career.
As uncomfortable as he looked in Mike D’Antoni’s system, he looks just as comfortable in the role he has now: The Centerpiece. With Baron Davis slowly deteriorating as the team’s only real playmaking point guard, more and more of the onus is going to be on Carmelo Anthony to not only score, but give his teammates the ability to score. Mike D’Antoni tried to do this as well, but he tried to initiate the offense off of high screen and rolls, something Carmelo Anthony is not comfortable with.
Mike Woodson, on the other hand, is putting the ball in Anthony’s hands on the wing and letting him go to work. It’s isolation basketball that can sometimes be tough to watch, but it’s working because of Carmelo Anthony’s decision making. He is shooting a high percentage and for the most part, making the right pass out of double teams. Other players are getting open looks because of him. He is making his teammates better.
Everyone has seen me argue against isolation basketball here for a long time, but right now the Knicks have little choice. Baron Davis is injured and too broken down to be an initiator at the point guard position. Toney Douglas looks lost and Mike Bibby still looks geriatric. Iman Shumpert is still young and needs to work on his decision-making. It has to be Carmelo Anthony. It’s the only way the Knicks are going to win basketball games, and he is delivering in spades.
Since the game against Milwaukee on March 26th, Carmelo Anthony is averaging 30 points, 3 assists, 7.4 rebounds and just less than three turnovers per game. He is shooting 50% from the field in that same stretch. Those are MVP quality numbers. The Knicks are 6-3 in that stretch.
Anthony isn’t doing it completely on his own offensively. During that same stretch Iman Shumpert is averaging 14 points per game and JR Smith just under 13. Neither player is efficient and both take some bad shots, but they can create their own looks. When Anthony is off the floor, they are the only two other players that can make a move to open up their own shot or set up a teammate. A lot of people questioned the Knicks when they signed JR Smith, but without him now the team would be in a lot of trouble.
JR Smith might be the most frustrating NBA player to watch. He has all the skills to be an excellent player, but his decisions are maddening. No one knows how to turn a possession into a low-percentage, step-back jump shot like JR Smith. He over-dribbles at times. He’s a chucker. But the Knicks need him. He’s a shot-maker. When he is on the floor with the second unit (Bibby/Douglas, Jared Jeffries, Steve Novak), he is literally the only guy capable of creating offense. Same for Iman Shumpert if he is on the floor with that group. Fire away boys!
Things might change a little once Amar’e Stoudemire comes back, but for now, the Knicks need Carmelo Anthony to be the centerpiece. They need JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to take their shots. All three need to make some shots, or the team simply can’t win. How long the Knicks sustain playing like this is an interesting question. We’ll find out soon enough.
You can follow me on Twitter here for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
Can the Knicks make the Eastern Conference Finals if Carmelo is at his best? Sound off with your comments below…