By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks have lost two straight as they desperately chase the Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
In those two games, the most important of the season, Carmelo Anthony was a shell of himself. Considering how much he was used this season, it was inevitable.
We have seen Carmelo Anthony break down physically in the fourth quarter before, and now it is fair to wonder if he will be himself for what remains of this regular season.
No one, anywhere, has played more minutes than Anthony this season, as he’s averaging 39 minutes per game. He has only missed three games all season. In fairness to Mike Woodson, there were many games this season where Anthony had to play 40 minutes if the Knicks wanted to win.
But there were other games where he played big minutes for little or no reason. Last week’s blowout victory over the Nets was a perfect example. The Knicks led by double digits throughout, won by 29, yet Anthony still played 37 minutes.
The fatigue has manifested itself consistently in fourth quarters of games over the course of the season. He is shooting just 38 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range, down from 45 percent and 40percent, respectively. His shooting at the end of games has been uncharacteristically bad this season, one of the reasons why the Knicks have lost so many close games.
This has also been a season where Anthony has put a more consistent effort in on the boards and has been a very physical presence in the paint. That extra hustle has been a welcome addition but it has also put his body through the ringer, leading to those end-of-game issues.
There is no question that those bumps and bruises have contributed to his late-season shoulder injury. It has hampered his jump shot, but even more has prevented him from using one of his biggest weapons: his strength. Anthony hasn’t been able to fight for post position or even move people around for his patented offensive rebounds. It is a shame that a player that has tried so hard all season, but gotten little help, has to try to carry his team during a playoff push with a bad shooting arm.
But that is the hand Anthony has been dealt. It’s not fair, but is something he will have to deal with.
The bigger red flag is whether or not this type of attrition is a sign of things to come for the Knicks’ star. He’s a free agent this offseason and the Knicks need to ask themselves serious questions about how much Anthony has left in the tank. He will turn 30 in May and has 11 seasons under his belt, amounting to nearly 800 games. He’s a physical player that has taken a pounding.
The Knicks have to calculate how long Anthony’s health is going to hold up, and whether he can maintain this level of play. It has been two straight season now that a shoulder injury has hampered his play late. What if he is destined to be banged up and less than 100 percent for the playoffs each year? The Knicks can’t afford to invest in a player like that.
It is one more thing Phil Jackson has to take into consideration when deciding what type of contract he should over Anthony. Is he willing to invest five full years? If so, for how much per year? It is a legitimate question. No one wants a 34-year-old Carmelo that can barely walk taking up $25 million of cap room in 2018, when he will still have one more year on his contract.
Heck, there’s no way to know if Anthony is going to be the same guy at 32, only two seasons from now. He has always been a virtually unstoppable offensive player, but at some point something will stop him: his own body.
Follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk
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