By John Schmeelk
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One constant refrain I’ve had about Carmelo Anthony is that he often says the right thing, but his play on the court tells a different story. He either never really bought into what he was preaching, or just didn’t understand things like “being a good teammate” and “team basketball” and “leadership.” If the first two games are any indication, that story is old news.

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The Knicks have won these first two games for a few reasons. They are moving the ball better than any Knicks team since the pre-Carmelo D’Antoni Knicks. There are smart passes into the paint, around the perimeter and even crosscourt. Guys are making the extra pass almost to a fault. It’s the reason why the team is shooting and making so many threes. They are all open and coming off of ball movement.

Players are cutting off the ball, and we’ve seen easy buckets from Ronnie Brewer and Kurt Thomas going towards the basket. Everyone is willing to give up and pass the ball because they know they will eventually get it back. The team is pushing the ball and getting open looks in semi-transition.

Defensively, the team has completely bought into what Mike Woodson is selling. The defensive rotations are great and timely. Players are fighting over screens and hustling to loose balls. Every rebound is being contested. The lazy switches are at a minimum.

Many times in the past, these things used to happen despite Anthony. Now he is leading the charge. He is doing everything right on both ends of the floor. Whenever a star player finally figures it out and works just as hard or harder than everyone else on defense and on the boards, it motivates the entire team.

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Offensively, Anthony has taken some bad shots, but that will happen with every great player. They have so much talent that they believe they can make even the most difficult attempts. Much more important is that Anthony, for the most part, is making his decisions quickly. The standing and holding is at a minimum. He is attacking the rim rather than settling for a contested mid-range jump shot. When the double team comes he gets rid of the ball to an open man almost right away.

He has even been more than willing to be the screen man on pick-and-roll plays. It makes it nearly impossible to guard since the defense gets more concerned with Anthony the screener than the point guard with the basketball. We saw the Heat try to trap off those plays, and the Knicks got the ball to Anthony for open looks again and again. In the second half, the Heat trapped far less. Those are the types of little things that help a team win.

Defensively, he bodied up and got physical with LeBron James. He has hustled for loose balls and even partook in a Charles Oakley-esque jump into the stands. He has even been good on help defense, with more than a steal and a block per game. His rebounding has been good at 7.5 per game. He is doing absolutely everything the Knicks have asked of him and more.

If Anthony continues to play with this sort of ferocity and focus on both ends of the floor, the sky is the limit for him and the Knicks. It won’t matter that Amar’e Stoudemire comes back. If everyone is sharing the ball and moving without it, he should be able to fit in seamlessly. It’s only two games, but if the Knicks keep playing like this they’ll get much closer to 55 wins this year than 45.

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It’s only been two games, but have you seen a noticeable difference in Carmelo Anthony’s play? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…