By John Schmeelk
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Even the NBA’s best shooters go through good and bad shooting stretches, and it’s no different for Carmelo Anthony. His 41 percent shooting percentage in January, however, is not simply random chance. It has everything to do with ball movement and Anthony making quick decisions with the basketball.
No one is advocating Anthony taking 12 three-pointers per game, but the Knicks will be far better off if he is doing a lot more catching and shooting, and a lot less holding, waiting, dribbling, pumping and forcing.
Raymond Felton is the catalyst that gets the ball moving, and it was no different on Sunday night. Since Felton’s injury on Christmas Day, Anthony had only shot above 50 percent in a game once until Sunday night. Without his point guard getting the offense moving, he had to work far too hard for his points in isolation situations that start 20-or-more feet away from the basket. Since Felton’s injury, Anthony has shot just above 41 percent, a huge dip after shooting 47 percent in November and December. Last night, Anthony was assisted on nine of his 15 made baskets. Eight of those assists were on three-pointers, which means that only one of this threes (where he shot 9-of-12) came without help from a teammate.
As he showed during the Olympics and early in the season, Anthony becomes a much more efficient player when he makes quick decisions. They can be open three-pointers, like they were for the majority of Sunday night’s game, or the quick drive to the basket he made on Josh Smith before the Hawks could set up their help defense properly. It becomes easy to make quick decisions when he is getting the ball off of good passes when offense is created by ball and player movement. Anthony shot only 6-of-16 on his two-point baskets, and if you take out the final layup, it dips to 5-of-15.
Those attempts came largely on isolation plays where Anthony had to beat the primary defender off the defender from 20 feet away, and then pull up for a contested mid-range jumper because the help defense is set in the lane. They are inefficient plays and they drag the Knicks’ offense to a grinding halt. This isn’t to say that Anthony can’t get one-on-one opportunities, but start them in the post of after he runs off a couple of screens so he can make quick decisions or catch the defense before it is set. I still don’t for the life of me understand why they don’t use Anthony in the pick-and-roll with Amar’e Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler in crunch time. Making Anthony do everything himself is asking too much of anyone. It isn’t his fault. It’s on the coaching staff to put him in better situations.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, that is often what their offense degenerates into at the end of games, and it was no different on Sunday night. Before Anthony’s layup, the Knicks scored just four points in the final four minutes of the game, two of which came on Stoudemire free throws on a broken play. Anthony shot 1-of-3, J.R. Smith missed two forced jumpers and the Knicks committed two turnovers. Mike Woodson has shown a penchant for reverting back to simple isolation plays at the end of these games, and it has the potential to kill the Knicks in close playoff games unless Anthony gets hot.
He needs to take a page out of Doc Rivers’ book, who runs some of his most creative plays in the final minute. If the initial action doesn’t work, then Paul Pierce can work in an isolation situation, or Kevin Garnett can get a look in the post. The Knicks have a huge advantage over many teams in that Anthony is better than most scoring one-on-one. But that’s a luxury to use when a play doesn’t work, not a crutch that should be leaned on in every late-game situation.
Use it when necessary, but don’t count on it. If Woodson starts doing that, Anthony’s numbers will look a lot better and the Knicks will have a lot more success at the end of games. Felton’s presence will help, but in the end it is up to Woodson to put his superstar in a position where he has the best chance to succeed.
– After playing good defense for a few straight games, the Knicks took a huge step backwards against the Hawks, and predictably it came from a quick penetrating point guard in Jeff Teague. The Knicks guarded the pick-and-roll poorly and Felton was beat off the dribble a number of times. I’m not sure why Woodson didn’t put Iman Shumpert on him earlier in the game.
– Stoudemire darn near looks like himself offensively, and he has been passable on defense until the last two games when the entire team struggled. I’d like to see him start playing upwards of 30 minutes per night and get more looks as the pick guy in the high screen-and-0roll. As promised, he is also showing a more polished post game. and I would like to see some more touches down there. His 8 rebounds was also a very good sign.
– Felton and your 10 assists — welcome back. The Knicks had 22 assists on 39 field goals overall. Not bad.
– Doesn’t it sometimes seem like Steve Novak hasn’t hit a shot since 2012? With Felton out there just wasn’t a lot of ball movement to get him open shots. Hopefully that will change with the Knicks’ point guard back in the lineup.
Where do you think Melo ranks among the league’s best scorers? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…