By John Schmeelk
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Carmelo Anthony could very well be the Knicks’ power forward on opening night. This position switch has a lot of Knicks fans and NBA statistical gurus excited. I understand some of their sentiment, but much of it is based on wishful thinking rather than reality.
The basis for the excitement is a look at the Knicks’ success last year with certain small lineups on the floor. Those situations came primarily in a 13-game stretch from 3/26 – 4/18, leading to the problem of small sample sizes with those statistics.
Those small lineups had very high points per possession numbers, and Anthony played some of his best basketball during that stretch. It’s the same argument that analysts used against Jeremy Lin, since his great play came in a similarly small sample. I don’t think Anthony’s success would continue at that high of a level over a longer period of time. Anthony always played small forward when he was in Denver (with Kenyon Martin and Nene Hilario in the frontcourt with him), and no one doubted his production there.
The statistics do show that Anthony and the Knicks played their best basketball last year with him at power forward, but the question needs to be asked: Was he was playing well because he was at power forward, or was he happening to be playing power forward when he was playing his best basketball?
At the time of those games, Anthony was just getting healthy and the Knicks made a change at head coach. Determining a cause and effect relationship between his play and the position switch is near impossible with the surrounding circumstances.
The theory is that with three shooters on the floor Carmelo Anthony, he has much more room to work with around the rim. It’s a sound one if the Knicks stick with a ton of isolation plays. In addition, by playing Anthony at power forward, he can get favorable matchups against larger and bigger defenders that allow him to use his quickness to get to the hoop and create higher-percentage shots.
I would like to split the lineups into two distinct categories. The first comes with Steve Novak joining Anthony in the frontcourt with a traditional center and a pair of guards. I don’t see how this lineup creates many mismatches, since opponents will still place their best perimeter defender on Anthony and put their power forward on Novak. Novak would keep potential help defenders out of the paint, but the advantages here seem to be at a minimum.
The other lineup would feature Anthony with a trio of guards (J.R. Smith theoretically at the three) and a traditional center. This lineup would create some mismatches for Anthony, but only if opponents stick with a traditional lineup on the floor. The truth of the matter is that there is a dearth of good big men in the NBA, and other teams will match the Knicks’ small lineups. The Heat can go small and put LeBron James at the four and still be very effective. The Nets can do the same with Gerald Wallace at the four. The Celtics can use Jeff Green, or even Paul Pierce at the four if need be. These aren’t bad lineups for those teams.
With that being said, there can be some good matchups depending on the team. The Pacers, for example, are at their best with David West and Roy Hibbert on the floor. Chicago is best when they go big, as are the Hawks. Against teams like those, a smaller lineup with Anthony at the four can be effective, since it would force them to go with weaker lineups or roll the dice with mismatches against Anthony. But the Bulls, for example, still played Luol Deng against Anthony when they played during that short stretch of games.
The bottom line is that a short term, game-by-game adjustment, is not a long-term fix for the Knicks. They are not challenging the Heat with Amar’e Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler on the bench, so Anthony can go one-on-one against other teams’ power forwards. That is not a long-term winning formula. Stoudemire and his contract isn’t going anywhere. Those three players need to work together and play well on the floor at the same time. It’s the only way that this team will reach its full potential and challenge the Heat.
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Will Carmelo be even more dynamic at power forward? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…