By John Schmeelk
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It’s important to note before you read the rest of this that I’m not blaming Carmelo Anthony for the mess the Knicks are in. Guys like J.R. Smith are playing much worse than Anthony, injuries to guys like Tyson Chandler have hurt the team and the coach hasn’t done the team any favors with his mind-boggling lineup decisions, either.
Anthony’s totals aren’t bad — he’s averaging more than 26 points per game and grabbing nearly 10 rebounds per contest — but he isn’t delivering in many of the key areas that someone who is going to want $25 million in the offseason should be.
Last week Anthony lamented the loss of veteran players Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace and how the team is not the same without them. First, it’s important to note that other than the first two months of the season, none of those three players made any sort of tangible contribution on the floor. Anthony talked about how each led in their own way and that made all the difference with the team. Some were vocal (like Wallace, I’m sure), but others led by example by always playing their hardest, doing the right things on the floor and everything and anything needed to win (Kidd). He said the team has sorely missed them this year. I think the leadership thing is overrated myself, but let’s take Anthony at face value.
Is it too much to ask for Anthony himself to pick up the slack in one of those leadership areas? Just one? He is at the point in his career where he shouldn’t need someone else on the team to be the leader while he just “does his thing”. He has been in the league for 11 years! Lead! Tell the guys what to do. Hold them accountable. Fill the void left by those veterans yourself! Does LeBron James, Chris Paul, James Harden or Kevin Durant need other people to lead for them on their respective teams? No, they own their teams and lead them. It’s pretty obvious by Anthony’s own words that he’s not able or willing to do that. Even if he can’t lead with his words, he can at least lead with his play, right?
The problem with Anthony is that, often times, he does the exact opposite out there on the basketball court. His rotations to shooters and driving guards are often either late or nonexistent. His transition defense is often poor, and there are many times he can be found arguing a foul call rather than running back on defense. It inevitably costs the team points. He, more so than others, switches needlessly when faced with a screen or pick.
We have all seen the countless times he goes to that turnaround-fadeaway baseline jumper when a double-team starts to come rather than moving the basketball to an open shooter. Those types of plays do not inspire teammates. They do the opposite. The two things Mike Woodson has pleaded his team to do better this year is play defense and move the ball, two things no one would argue are Anthony’s strengths. If he is not willing to do those things, why would his teammates, who make far less money and get less attention? Anthony simply does not lead by example.
The Knicks also have to (or should) limit the lineups they play because of his deficiencies. Playing him alongside Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire at forward are defensive disasters. Most of the other players considered superstars don’t need to have such specific players with certain skill sets to cover their weaknesses. The other stars, instead, give their coach more flexibility due to their well-rounded and varied skills. Again, I stress tbat Anthony is still a top 20 player, maybe 15, but he also will want to be a $25 million-a-year player next year. That’s a huge number. Is he worth it?
In fairness, Anthony has been absolutely relentless on the boards and has rebounded better than he ever has in his career. Some might point to the fact that many of his rebounds come off his own misses, which gives him an opportunity to score, but that’s unfair. Give him credit where it is due. He has improved as a rebounder, something the Knicks did need this season. But that is not enough. Anthony said earlier this season that he is the player he is going to be, and he isn’t going to change much. It appears that’s a problem because right now he is not good enough to elevate this team out of the hole they are in.
Even the things Anthony has been known to be great at have eluded him so far this season. Despite scoring over 26 points per game, he is shooting just 42 percent from the field, which would be the worst season total of his career. His 28 percent from behind the arc would be the worst he has shot from there since 2006-2007. He is averaging more turnovers than he has since his days with the Nuggets. His assists (2.5) would be the lowest number of his career. He also has struggled mightily at the end of games. The Knicks have had many opportunities to win late in games during this losing streak, and he has failed to deliver.
His PER is no longer in the top 15 in the league. His win shares are the lowest since 2008-2009. Perhaps most importantly, his team is now ranked in the bottom third of the league offensively. If you are a superstar solely because of your offensive game, you need to make your entire team better in that category. He has not done enough of that this year. It’s understood that he hasn’t had virtually any help, but his game has deteriorated, rather than improve.
Much of his slow start can probably be blamed on the fact that he had to rehab his shoulder all summer, rather than work on his game. But the fact remains that the Knicks are going to have to ask themselves a question, either during this season or afterwards: Can they win a championship with Anthony taking up $25 million of their cap space given his many limitations as an all-around basketball player? By his own admission, he is not going to change much as a player moving forward. Is he good enough to allocate such a high percentage of the team’s resources? If he isn’t, wouldn’t the team be wise to trade him before the season comes to an end? The only possible answers to those questions are no and yes.
The Knicks have time to figure this out and thankfully don’t have to make these decisions in the throes of a terrible losing streak. I do sincerely hope that the Knicks’ front office and ownership are willing to confront these difficult questions as the season proceeds. They, above all else, will determine the health of this franchise moving forward, even in a contract year.
This team isn’t close to winning anything, so bringing back its core player for more money is counterintuitive. He has the most value and the Knicks can get the most for him in a trade. This team has so many flaws and it doesn’t look like it is going to win anything anytime soon. If this thing doesn’t turn around soon, that is the franchise’s only true option.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for all things Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
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