By John Schmeelk
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The following is purely for entertainment purposes.
Carmelo Anthony looks to the wise man that stands with him before a throng of Knicks’ fans.
Phil Jackson: “I’m trying to free your mind, Melo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”
Confused, Melo looks away from the preacher, and towards dimly lit 32nd Street.
Phil Jackson: “Please Melo, you have to trust me.”
Phil Jackson: “Because you have been down there, Melo, you know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”
Melo gazes up at the words shining in orange and blue on the Madison Square Garden marquee.
Phil Jackson: “It means know thy self. I wanna tell you a little secret, being ‘The One’ is just like being in love. No one needs to tell you you are in love, you just know it, through and through.”
Knicks Fans: “You are ‘The One,’ Melo. You see, you may have spent the last few years looking for us, but we have spent our basketball lives looking for you.”
Anthony turns back towards the bright lights of the Garden, picks up the basketball and walks in.
The wise man let the smallest of smirks crawl across his face.
Phil Jackson: “He is beginning to believe.”
When the Knicks traded half their roster and much of their future for Anthony in 2011, he came carrying on his shoulders the hopes and and dreams of a fan base starving for a championship.
With different coaches and an ever-rotating roster around him, Anthony showed the same strengths and weaknesses he had displayed in Denver. He was a great offensive player, but failed to do the little things often required of a team’s best player in order to win consistently. It was too often “shoot” before “pass.” The effort on defense was either lacking or absent. By his own admission, he was not a vocal leader.
All of that is finally starting to change. Why? The list is long. The team around him is full of mature players that have proven trustworthy. Jackson and Derek Fisher have put him in a system that encourages team play. A serious knee injury that required surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation might have convinced Anthony it was time to change his methods before time ran out. Or, perhaps, it was glimpse of the twilight of his career combined with all the losing of past seasons that convinced him it had to be done a different way to secure his legacy of winning.
No one but Anthony knows for sure, but in the end, the why doesn’t matter. All that matters for the Knicks is the way he is playing basketball.
Dating back to the middle of December, when the Knicks returned from their West Coast trip, something really started to change. Since then, they are 8-5 and much of it has to do with Anthony, how he is playing, and the positive effect he has had on the rest of the team. The team’s defense went on hiatus between Christmas and New Year’s, but since then the Knicks have been playing great basketball.
Look at some of Anthony stats during that 13-game stretch:
- 17 field-goal attempts per game (fewest shots since his second NBA season — 19.4 career average)
- 8.7 rebounds (best of his career — 6.5 career average )
- 4.9 assists (best of his career — 3.1 career average)
- Opponents are shooting nearly 7 percent less against Anthony than they do otherwise (over an entire season)
Some advanced metrics:
- 27 percent usage rate — percent of plays used by player (lowest of his career — 31.7 percent career average)
- 21.7 percent assist percentage – percentage of teammates’ baskets he has assisted on (best of career, 16.1 percent career average)
- The Knicks’ team net efficiency rating with him on the floor: plus-7.5 points per 100 possessions
- The Knicks’ team net efficiency rating with him off the floor: minus-14.1 points per 100 possessions
Throughout his great career, Anthony has gone through streaks like this. He has always shown the ability to get hot and carry his team, but that usually happens with his scoring. Over the last 13 games, Anthony is averaging 21.5 points on 47.5 percent shooting. Those are good numbers for sure, but they pale in comparison to some of his other hot streaks in years’ past. Anthony is still carrying the team, though just not with his scoring.
Sometimes stats defy what you see, but that isn’t the case here. Everyone can see Anthony passing up more difficult shots (sometimes easy ones) to set up teammates for better ones. He is running the offense with the pass often his first option. Anthony is moving off the ball with energy and enthusiasm, setting himself up for easier shots. He is even making the right play in crunch time, giving up a tough contested shot to find an open teammate, like he did with Jose Calderon against the Spurs the other night.
Anthony is more engaged defensively than he has ever been before. He is closing out on shooters. He is challenging players at the rim. He is communicating and staying locked in when his man doesn’t have the ball, as opposed to in the past when he would often get lost and wander. He isn’t automatically switching on all pick and rolls. He is running back on defense in transition. He is doing all the things that drove Knicks fans absolutely insane up until this season. He looks like a different player on defense. Everyone always knew he could be a good defender, but it looks like he finally wants to be one.
Against the Bucks the other night, Anthony scored 24 points on 16 shots, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out eight assists, and blocked a shot. That looks a stat line that belongs to LeBron James, not the old Anthony. Most impressive about this streak the Knicks are on is that they are beating good team like the Hawks (twice), Heat, and Bulls. They played the Spurs, who are impossible to beat at home, to the final possession, and lost only because Calderon missed an open 3-pointer.
Off the floor, Anthony seems to have taken on more of a leadership role. He has said himself that in years’ past he has been a leader by example, and not a big talker. The impression (only the people in the locker room know if it is true or not) is that Anthony has become more vocal, especially with younger players like Kristaps Porzingis. He is acting like a superstar in every way.
Perhaps most important, Anthony is showing no affects from the offseason knee surgery. Despite poor shooting in the season’s early games, Anthony looks as athletic as ever and has thrown down a couple of dunks that harken back to his younger years.
After signing his mega-contract and then getting hurt last season, there was legitimate fear his contract would become an albatross if his injury sucked away some of his skills and he didn’t change his game. Neither of those have been the case this season. If Anthony plays with this sort of attitude and mindset the rest of his career, and stays healthy, he could play out his contract and be a good player well into his mid-30s. Paul Pierce would be the player to model himself after.
We’ve seen these changes for a few weeks. Some, like his defense, have been present for much of the season. The question that remains is whether or not all of it will continue. It can. These aren’t things that will regress to a mean. It is completely up to Anthony. He has talked about doing these things in the past, but he is finally doing them consistently. He is beginning to believe. If he decides this is the player he wants to be, his legacy will change, and he might just bring the Knicks to the playoffs this season.
As for the future, maybe he might have a chance to do something far more significant with Porzingis down the road, after all.
Carmelo Anthony might just be “The One” Knicks fans have been waiting for.
Follow John on Twitter for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports at @Schmeelk