7 Reasons to Believe Carmelo Anthony Has Real Chance at a Title in 2012-13
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They're shooting well from the field, exhibiting great ball movement and playing extremely tough defense.
The Knicks are a lock for the playoffs, but securing a top-three seed will be key to making their road to the NBA Finals that much easier.
It's no simple task, but the road to the finals is not an impossible gauntlet. Here are seven reasons to believe that Melo and the Knicks have a real shot at winning the Larry O'Brien trophy this season.
Weak Eastern Conference
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The Eastern Conference is not particularly strong.
The Miami Heat are an excellent team, but they are mortal, as the Knicks proved in their opening night victory by a convincing 104-84 margin.
Outside of the defending champs, the elites of the East are the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. The Brooklyn Nets like to think that they're in that conversation as well, but each team has question marks.
The C's are decaying. While the Knicks are older on average, Boston's Big Two—Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce—are 36 and 35, respectively. Boston will rely partly on a patchwork rotation of players returning from injury (Avery Bradley and Jeff Green) and untested rookies (Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo).
The Pacers lack an elite scorer. If they want to advance deep into the playoffs, they need consistent offense. They've struggled without Danny Granger (sore knee) and are piecing their scoring together from George Hill, Paul George and David West (through four games, they're averaging 91 points, 25th in the NBA).
The Nets are a team that went 22-44 last season and only added Joe Johnson to the starting five. On November 5, they squandered a 22-point lead in the final 22 minutes against a Minnesota Timberwolves team missing Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love.
With this competition, the Knicks have a good opportunity to advance at least as far as the conference finals.
The 2012 Olympics
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In the summer of 2008, Carmelo Anthony captured his first gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. In the 2009 playoffs, he led the Denver Nuggets to the conference finals.
In the summer of 2012, Anthony helped Team USA to another gold medal in London.
Melo's Olympic teammate, Knicks center Tyson Chandler, stated that he sees a difference in Anthony, and the Olympic experience contributed to it (via NY Post):
He’s very motivated right now. I’ve only been with him for two years, but this is the most motivated I’ve seen him. He’s doing so much, not only what was on display [against the Heat], but in the film room and walk-throughs. He’s changed. He’s getting in early, putting up shots from everywhere, pulling guys to the side to give them advice. He’s being a great teammate. I think the summer experience definitely helped him.
The gold-medal performance over the summer could be the golden ticket for the Knicks.
Saying All the Right Things, Part 1
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The Knicks opened their season at Madison Square Garden on November 2, just three days after Hurricane Sandy spread devastation in wide swaths across the New York metropolitan area.
With many subway lines still shut down and residents in coastal areas around New Jersey, Long Island and the five boroughs cleaning up the historic damage from the storm, the Knicks took on the Miami Heat.
Carmelo Anthony addressed the Garden crowd before the game, saying, “It’s a most important time for the city to come together as one and help build the city back up. So thank you for supporting the New York Knicks" (via NY Post).
While the circumstances that necessitated Melo's address to the crowd could not have been foreseen, it's significant that in a trying time for so many fans, he rose to the occasion and exhibited leadership.
This was a gesture that New Yorkers are more familiar seeing from the likes of Derek Jeter, and it was a very positive sign for Knicks fans that Anthony appears to be a team leader at long last.
Saying All the Right Things, Part 2
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Anthony said after the Miami game that he was eager to thank the fans for their dedication and support during such a trying time:
“It was something that I wanted to do. They rarely hear from us and how we feel in situations like this. So it was only right, me being one of the leaders on this team, to step up to the forefront and give them some words" (via NY Post).
Seemingly all of a sudden, Melo sounds like he's changed his tune. He's seizing the leadership role with gusto. He's playing with a renewed focus and determination, hustling on defense and crashing the boards.
In training camp, he promised to sacrifice his own scoring stats for the sake of winning as a team, saying, "I'm done trying to score 30, 35, 40 points for us to win a basketball game...in order for this team to be successful with the guys that we have, we need a more well-rounded team. So if I have to sacrifice on the offensive end, I'm willing to do it" (via Newsday).
So far this season, he seems to be putting the team first as promised, and it shows in his new focus and demeanor.
More Time at Power Forward, Part 1
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Carmelo Anthony flourished last year when he played at power forward. When Amar'e Stoudemire missed time in late March and April last season, Melo flashed his versatility and slid effortlessly from the 3 to the 4.
Stoudemire was out with a lower back injury from March 26 through April 18. In those 13 games that the Knicks were without STAT, Melo broke out to average 30.6 points and 7.7 rebounds. The team went 9-4 over that stretch.
Now, Stoudemire is expected to miss six to eight weeks due to a left knee debridement (per Howard Beck of the New York Times, via Twitter).
Debridement is the process of removing dead tissue to aid the healing of the surrounding healthy tissue. It remains to be seen whether Stoudemire will be at 100 percent even after he heals from the procedure.
More Time at Power Forward, Part 2
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With Stoudemire having long faced various knee and back issues and backup center Marcus Camby missing the start of the season as well, Anthony will be heavily leaned upon to enforce at the 4 in the early going.
The Knicks have 30 games in November and December. If Stoudemire misses a full eight weeks and the team compiles a strong record—say 20-10, or even 22-8—it will be very hard to insert him directly into the starting lineup.
For many reasons (spacing, rotation, defense, etc.), the Knicks may be better served by Amar'e coming off the bench and Carmelo starting at power forward.
Stability at the Point
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After last season's carousel at point guard (Toney Douglas, Baron Davis, Jeremy Lin, Baron Davis, Mike Bibby, Toney Douglas...), the Knicks brought in three experienced point guards in Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni.
Felton and Kidd have a combined 25 seasons of NBA experience, while Prigioni has been playing professional basketball in Argentina and Spain since 1995.
Carmelo Anthony has never had so much talent around him distributing the ball. Aside from the Chauncey Billups era (2008-2011), Melo has never played with an elite passer. Likewise, the New York Knicks probably have not had such talent at the point since Walt Frazier donned the No. 10 jersey.
Depth of the Rotation
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Aside from just the point guard trio, the Knicks have a tremendously deep roster throughout, and they can beat you in many different ways.
Carmelo Anthony has simply never played on as talented a roster as he will this season.
The acquisition of Ronnie Brewer provides the Knicks with a defensively-minded swingman and gives the team great flexibility at the 2 and the 3. And that's even with Iman Shumpert still out while recovering from knee surgery.
The re-signing of J.R. Smith and Steve Novak provide the Knicks with two excellent scorers coming off the bench. They've also brought two seasoned veterans back to New York in Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas. Camby especially is a beastly rebounder and a former recipient of the Defensive Player of the Year award.
And if Rasheed Wallace can get into shape, they'll have a fearsome frontcourt of elder statesmen in the rotation.
Perhaps aside from the Clippers, a healthy Knicks roster is the deepest in the league.
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Carmelo Anthony is already blocking shots and jumping into the stands, and he contributed 10 rebounds in the season-opening victory over the Heat.
Tyson Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, praised Melo's effort on D (which has never been known as his forte), admitting, “I told him I was proud of him for his defense” (via New York Times).
But this is emblematic of the entire team. Through three games, the Knicks have held opponents to an average of just 85.3 points per game, the best in the league.
They're stacked defensively and are playing tough under the tutelage of Mike Woodson. That's the best recipe for success, because an old saw dictates that defense wins championships.
The road to an NBA title won't be easy, but there are ample reasons to believe that Melo and the Knicks have a real shot at winning the franchise's first championship in 40 years.