If there's anything the New York Knicks learned last season, it's that there's only so much basketball leather to go around in a given game and only so much space available on a regulation-size NBA court.
And if there's anything we've learned about Carmelo Anthony of late—other than that he supposedly can't coexist effectively with Amar'e Stoudemire—it's that he's surprisingly well-suited to being a spot-up shooter.
Which, when you put two and two together, points to a new role for Carmelo as less isolation player/basketball equivalent of a black hole and more catch-and-shoot threat.
Let's first consider the issues with the status quo—that is, "Melo Ball".
Not to be confused with "Melon Ball", which is what the Knicks will revert to whenever Raymond Felton is running the show.
By "Melo Ball", I'm referring to the sort of isolation-based offense that Mike Woodson instituted upon taking over for Mike D'Antoni last season. It's the same approach he took with the likes of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith when he coached the Atlanta Hawks: give the ball to your scorer, clear some space for him and let him go to work.
Not the worst idea, especially when you have an iso scorer of Carmelo's caliber at your disposal. In practice, though, the problems are manifold.
For one, putting the ball in Anthony's hands means taking it out of the hands of Amar'e Stoudemire or, say, a point guard who might be better equipped to spread the ball around. As effective as 'Melo may be on his own, he can't do it all by himself all of the time, and the more Melo-centric the Knicks become, the less engaged his teammates will likely be.
And it's not as though Anthony is creating great shots for himself, either. According to Zach Lowe (formerly of SI.com), 'Melo led all players in share of possessions spent in isolation but, per STATS, drove to the basket in such situations just 3.1 times per game, fewer than Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce and on par with Luol Deng and Chandler Parsons.
Instead, he wound up settling for (contested) jumpers more often than not.
That being the case, if 'Melo's going to shoot from the outside anyway, why bother putting the ball in his hands from the get-go? Why not have him hunt for shots within the flow of a more inclusive offense, one that will keep his teammates more engaged on both ends of the floor?
Especially considering how well Anthony has fared as a spot-up shooter. According to Ryan Feldman of ESPN Stats & Info, 'Melo shot 47 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, which placed him fifth among players with 50 or more such attempts.
'Melo was even better in the Olympics—as well he should be, playing alongside guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. During Team USA's run to gold in London, Anthony connected on 53 percent of his jumpers (prior to the win over Spain) and piled up more than eight three-pointers per 48 minutes.
Granted, many of those threes would've counted as long twos in the States, on account of the FIBA line being significantly closer to the basket. Anthony, though, is eminently familiar with that range in the NBA, as he led all small forwards with 5.6 shots per game from 16-to-23 feet last season, according to Hoopdata.
His 35 percent success rate on those shots marked a significant drop-off from that seen during his time with the Denver Nuggets, though that may have as much to do with how he's getting those shots as with where they're being taken from. That is, 'Melo might be better off launching long twos and mid-range jumpers within the flow of an offense rather than as the outcome of operating one-on-five.
Again, comparing Carmelo's Olympic performance to his NBA game isn't exactly fair because he won't have the privilege of playing alongside the Durants and the LeBrons and the Kobes of the basketball world once the season starts.
But Anthony's success in London is illustrative of just how effective he can be when he's utilized as a key cog in an offense rather than as the offense itself. Anthony was productive in isolation during the Olympics, but spent only 14 percent of his possessions with the ball glued to his hands, as opposed to more than a third in the NBA. With Team USA, 'Melo parlayed his role off the ball into nearly 50 points per 48 minutes played.
It's not that 'Melo shouldn't be allowed to go iso at all, but rather that the Knicks would do well to stick him in such situations less frequently and to deploy him as a one-on-one scorer more judiciously. That way, opposing defenses won't be able to cue in on him so easily, he won't have to expend so much of his energy every time he tries to score, and the rest of the Knicks won't feel left out.
More spot-up jumpers for 'Melo may also mean less congestion in the middle, where Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler have already had their troubles working with one another. It's tough enough as is for STAT to do what he does best—operate in the paint and attack the basket on drives and cuts—with Chandler spending so much of his time so close to the rim.
At the very least. moving 'Melo away from the middle will give Stoudemire and Chandler space to work out their differences in that regard and allow Mike Woodson greater leeway to put all of his best players on the floor at once.
Of course, this isn't all to say that the Knicks should keep Carmelo out of the lane entirely. There will still be times when New York will need him to slide over to power forward, when Chandler and/or Stoudemire are sitting.
As well 'Melo should. According to 82games.com, Anthony registered a player efficiency rating (PER) of 29.5 in 2011-12—by far his best at any position. This makes sense, considering that much of Anthony's effectiveness in isolation stems from his ability to post up against smaller defenders.
What should the Knicks do with 'Melo?
Nonetheless, it would behoove the Knicks to make Carmelo's life on the court easier in any way they can, particularly if they need him to score 30-35 points a night to win games, as some have suggested. Jump shots taken in rhythm, like those Anthony pulled up for on fast breaks in London, and within a larger offensive scheme, like those Anthony launched in the halfcourt with Team USA, are much more efficient, in terms of both conversion rate and energy usage, than those fished for in isolation.
It's simple math for 'Melo, really. Less time in isolation + more spot-up opportunities = more efficient scoring + more residual energy to devote to other endeavors (like, say, defense).
Simple, like two and two.