Despite the New York Knicks still lingering under the .500 mark on the season, star and leader Carmelo Anthony deserves much credit for his play thus far.
By Robby Sabo
When a player moves into 32nd place all-time in scoring, there’s a pretty solid chance that player is a special one. 21,624 career NBA points doesn’t just happen by accident.
Neither does 25.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, happen through great fortune.
You’d think these accomplishments would be reason enough to celebrate such a player, but in New York City, they’re not.
Carmelo Anthony’s five-plus seasons with the New York Knicks have brought very little by way of warm and fuzzy feelings. Since the words “I’m coming home” officially rang through the Madison Square Garden air on Feb. 23 of 2011, lack of team success has been the major focus.
Only one winning campaign – 52 wins in 2012-13 – can the Knicks claim as their own during the Melo era. Even this season took a few turns for the worse after rattling off a few win-streaks to push their record to an even .500.
As of tonight, the Knicks record stands at 17-19, and while it’s not anything to write home about, the feeling around the city, as Facebook posts are shared and Tweets are tweeted, is one of hope and optimism.
And no, it has very little to do with another Kristaps Porzingis put-back slam. It instead revolves around the Knicks leader: Carmelo Anthony.
Granted KP is the top source of optimism surrounding the franchise this season, but the other key step in the process seems to be taking place right before our very eyes.
As the Knicks were fending off the tough Atlanta Hawks down south on Tuesday night, a mini scuffle broke out between young Porzingis and Kent Bazemore.
After KP hauled in a key offensive rebound, play stopped due to an Atlanta foul. Bazemore decided to let a little frustration out as he snagged the ball furiously from Porzingis. Of course, the fiery competitor he is, KP went right up to the third-year forward out of Old Dominion.
The beautiful part about the entire old-school scuffle was when the Knicks leader came into the picture.
Carmelo Anthony wasn’t having any of it. To him it didn’t matter who was at fault – he was going to get the back of his little brother no matter what. Even if the monstrous Shaquille O’Neal was picking on the 20-year old Latvian, Melo would’ve stepped up in full force.
Carmelo has Kristaps’ back. https://t.co/MEhvP67m4W
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 6, 2016
A video posted by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on
For a split second Knicks fans started to reminisce of days involving Patrick Ewing, John Starks, the Indiana Pacers, and the Chicago Bulls.
But alas, this is the Charmin-soft version of the NBA, and I digress.
Even better than Melo’s big-brother attitude though, was the strong sentiment regarding his overall play.
Instead of Iso-Melo to finish a tight game in which the Knicks saw a double-digit lead get cut to as little as three points, the Knicks continued to flow within their offense. Anthony refused to allow the solid ball-movement to suddenly become stagnant.
When was the last time you saw Calderon even sniff the paint?
Anthony finished with 23 points on 8-of-22 shooting. While that 8-for-22 wasn’t as efficient or selfless as Sunday’s performance (4-of-10), he added 11 rebounds and an astounding seven assists in Tuesday night’s impressive victory.
In fact, the case can easily be made that Anthony is the Knicks best passer at the moment. He’s averaging 3.6 assists per game, only 0.2 behind his career best of 3.8 all the way back in 2006-07.
When he’s not forcing the issue, allowing the ball to travel more through the air, and letting the points come to him (rather than him going after his points), the Knicks offense actually works. And this is without a true point guard running the show.
His 18.0 field goal attempts per game are on pace to be the lowest since his second season in the NBA (16.4 in 2004-05).
The reasons for anti-Melo concerns are obvious. The man’s 19.7 field-goal-attempts-per-game average is the 13th-highest all time and the seventh-highest of the three-point era, per Basketball-Reference.com.
On the other hand, his play this season should bring many more pro-Melo feelings to the table in effort offset the previous anti-feeling.
Anthony is currently assisting on 20.0 percent of his teammates’ baskets while on the floor. This is the second-highest mark of his career, behind only the 2011-12 season (21.0 percent). Anthony’s usage rate of 30.7 percent is also at its lowest point since his second NBA season, all the way back in 2006.
It’s painfully obvious that when Melo decides to fade into the background a bit scoring wise, and step up in all the other areas of the game, New York finds tremendous success just as they did tonight in picking up their second straight win over Mike Budenholzer’s team-oriented, tough Hawks squad.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 6, 2016
The idea of winning two tough games consecutively need not be the key point for fans. What should be is Melo’s attitude and play on the court.
Instead of a leading man in the points column of the box score, he’s slowly becoming the leading man of the locker room.
If he continues on this pace, Derek Fisher, Phil Jackson and the rest of the New York Knicks organization now has that second piece of the puzzle penciled in as completed.
The first piece was Porzingis; second is Melo’s leadership; what’s third will excite many in the Big Apple because when that’s achieved it’ll officially mean they’re true contenders.