Nine years into his career, Carmelo Anthony's legacy is that of a career regular season scoring juggernaut (25 points per game) who hasn't consistently played strong enough defense to lead a team to an NBA championship. A career 17-37 playoff record supports this assessment.
However, according to a Western Conference scout in a interview with ESPN.com, Anthony is a capable defender when he wants to be, and New York Knicks' coach, Mike Woodson, may get s solid defensive effort out of the All-Star small forward in 2012-13:
"Carmelo was a guy who was kind of pushed by [Denver Nuggets head coach] George Karl on the defensive end and I've seen Carmelo when he wants to play defense," the scout said. "He can play defense. The question is: Does he take rest on defense? He obviously expends a lot of energy on offense; so does Amar'e [Stoudemire]. And it's hard to really be dominant at both ends, unless you're a guy like Michael Jordan or somebody close to that level.
"That's what separates the Jordans from the rest of the world. Kobe [Bryant] is close to that. He picks and chooses his spots, too, where he can kind of catch his breath defensively. But I think Mike [Woodson] will be able to get through to some of those guys, including Carmelo."
A nice point. Any player who has the speed and dexterity of a small forward with the size and strength (6'8", 230lb, with a seven-foot wingspan) of a power forward should be able to consistently play solid defense along the baseline and in the post.
Unless he is exerting an inordinate amount of energy on the offensive end of the floor. Over the past four years, Anthony has had possession of the basketball on the offensive end of the floor for over 30 percent of the time compared to the rest of his teammates: a ratio good for top five in the NBA (via www.basketball-reference.com)
So, one question becomes whether Anthony will continue to possess the ball more than 30 percent each game.
One way for Anthony to accomplish this is to develop a more versatile offensive skill set. The Knicks small forward is notorious for eating up the shot clock in isolation with seemingly no intention to pass the ball; a strategy that leads to a volatile mix of exciting and ill-advised isolation plays.
Elite small forwards learn how to quickly distribute the ball from the baseline into the low post, or, back to the top of the key. That cuts time of possession down, and, allows that player to more fluidly get back to the defensive end of the floor.
Anthony hasn't added that faculty to his game yet. Though, to his credit, Anthony hasn't played a full season with the Knicks' presumptive No. 2 scoring option Amar'e Stoudemire.
Much of Anthony's ability to take a spell on the offensive end of the floor and get back on defense easier will depend on Stoudemire's productivity in 2012-13. When healthy, Stoudemire is an explosive 20 point per game player who can grind interior defenses down with outstanding low post play.
If Stoudemire's knees and back are fully healed next season, then he should be the focus of the Knicks offense for long stretches of play, thereby permitting Anthony to get his rest on the offensive end of the floor and play more tenacious defense.
The more pressing question is whether Anthony will choose to shoulder the responsibility of being a baseline and corner defensive stopper on a nightly basis.
As a player who has focused most of his energies toward the offensive end of the floor, it's questionable whether Anthony can develop the focus and mentality to be a consistent defensive stopper for the Knicks.
Some may argue that Anthony's responsibility is to score, and not to anchor the Knicks defense. It is true that NBA Defensive Player of the year Tyson Chandler is the "heart" of the Knicks defense, and Iman Shumpert (when he returns to play in January) is a strong, aggressive perimeter defender. .
However, the road to a championship ring includes defending the likes of Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. These are players who operate on all areas of the floor and require, at times, that Anthony rotate on defensive assignments, particularly when these elite opponents choose to attack off the baseline and high post.
It's time for Anthony to drop the "scorer" label, as it were, and become a complete,elite player. His decision to do so will determinate whether he is a memorable regular season force, or a legitimate threat to lead the Knicks to an NBA title.
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