Now seven games in, it’s becoming clear that the New York Knicks are on the right track in keeping Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis separated.
They respect each other. They enjoy playing with each other. They even love each other like a bright-eyed youngster and veteran baller mentor should.
The problem is, for the New York Knicks, things are better off when they’re separated.
Carmelo Anthony is the bonafide leader of the squad. A probable Basketball Hall of Fame player, the moment he arrived on Broadway was the moment he took hold of the franchise. As rough a statement as this may be, the superstar development of Kristaps Porzingis is put in fourth gear instead of pinned thanks to the mere presence of Melo.
This isn’t Melo’s fault. It’s simply reality.
KP cannot act as the No. 1 option on as many occasions as needed, like, say, a Karl-Anthony Towns can in Minnesota. Anthony is, and for great reason, the top dog.
This is why what Jeff Hornacek is attempting to do recently works. In taking out Porzingis midway through the first quarter — at some point before the final five minutes — he allows Melo to represent the top option for a solid period of time. Porzingis then comes back into the game in the second quarter when Anthony exits, providing him a chance as the top option on offense.
This same model is mimicked in the second half, in keeping them separated.
Unfortunately, the starting lineup just doesn’t allow enough flexibility for each to flourish.
New York is essentially starting three power forwards. Joakim Noah, while he plays center, can easily be passed off as a 4-man. KP is, of course, a four. And Melo has enjoyed his best days as a Knick playing the four under Mike Woodson. He’s not nimble enough to excel at the three in many situations in today’s extremely quick NBA.
The only solution to solve the starting-five issues would mean benching Noah — asking him to come off the bench as the first big. This isn’t happening anytime soon.
Against the Nets, Hornacek wasn’t so quick to sub out KP. Lance Thomas came in for the young Latvian at the 3:45 mark. But Porzingis entered the game again with just eight seconds to go in the first frame. He then played Melo-free until the 7:37 mark of the second quarter when Melo subbed him out. KP didn’t re-enter until the 3:01 mark.
In the third quarter, Porzingis left the game at the 5:11 mark. Anthony then proceeded to rip off 13 consecutive Knick points to end the frame. He, along with fresh bench players such as Sasha Vujacic and Mindaugas Kuzminskas took control of the game.
Porzingis re-entered the game a the 1:10 mark of the third for Anthony. Not until the 6:28 mark of the fourth quarter did Melo re-enter the game, and, again, he entered while KP left the game simultaneously. Porzingis stayed on the bench until the 2:29 mark thanks to Brooklyn’s chances far gone.
To recap, the number of times Melo and KP subbed one another out amounts to a whopping four. This action rarely happens with two starters.
- Melo played 16:13 without Porzingis on the floor
- Porzingis played 11:05 without Anthony on the floor
- Melo & KP played 20:42 together
The trend is clear and concise. Hornacek is making sure each player receives his own time to shine on the court without the other one getting in the way. And never, at one point, were the Knicks without at least one of them on the floor during the 110-94 victory against the Nets.
The combined 27:18 of time on the court with the two separated accounts for more than half the game.
It will continue. It makes all the sense in the world.
Let’s just hope when it comes to crunch time that these two have enough of a familiarity with each other to get it done when it matters most, together.