Dating back to his days at Syracuse, Carmelo Anthony was always a gifted scorer who could light up the scoreboard and look terrific doing so.
The ease with which he jab-stepped defenders, took a hard dribble and then pulled up for a beautiful jumper is incredibly hard to ignore when watching him play.
His spin move is a rare delicacy given its effectiveness as well as its fluidity when transitioning into a shot at the rim on a seemingly unprepared defender.
His dunks are intimidating, but his layups are far more enjoyable given that they are so smooth, especially when he finger rolls the ball into the basket over the reach of a frustrated defender.
Long story short, Melo is a sensational scorer with the uncanny ability of making scoring in the NBA look like a hobby he picked up after school, no matter how difficult his shots are.
And yet, his improvements as a basketball player this season have nothing to do with his prowess as a scorer.
For the longest time, I was critical of Anthony.
Words such as "overrated" and "overhyped" were frequently used when discussing the former Denver Nugget because his teams always faltered in the postseason, and more importantly, because he did little else besides put the ball in the basket.
Melo scored effortlessly, but his relatively good efficiency went out the window in the playoffs–41.1 percent career field goal percentage–when defenses studied his tendencies more closely and put him in situations where he had to go to his least favorite options. He got his points, but sacrificed his shooting percentages and any synergy with his teammates.
His performance in the 2011 playoffs in Boston–in Games 1 and 2–where he averaged 38.5 points, 13 rebounds and 4.5 assists on 44.4 percent shooting were postseason aberrations as mediocre play became the norm for him once mid-April hit.
But this season, Carmelo has showed a different game.
There’s no way to tell if Carmelo's game will stay this way, but the Knicks superstar is playing much like many had always envisioned. Fresh off a gold medal at the Olympics, Anthony is finally playing the part that many questioned whether he could: that of team player.
This isn’t to suggest that he was once a ball hog, but rather that he has tailored his gifts and strengths this season to better fit with those of his teammates.
He currently leads the league in usage rate (percentage of possessions used by a player) and is utilizing just a few more possessions than last season, but it’s the way that he uses them that’s made a difference this season.
The five-time All-Star is now starting at power forward for the Knicks–where he has been devastating– and has stopped hijacking the Knicks’ offense with long, drawn-out isolations. Instead, he is now catching the ball and being decisive with it in attacking his defender.
There are no more ball-stopping offenses where he just endlessly dribbles the ball on the wing and fires away a low-percentage shot; instead, he is taking what is given to him or simply trusting his teammates to make plays when necessary.
The stats reflect it.
According to MySynergySports, last season Anthony spent 35.4 percent of his possessions in isolation situations, which is an awfully high figure considering that this scenario typically leads to poor shooting figures. Indeed, the mercurial small forward converted 37.1 percent of his shots in isolation, but this season, he has embraced a slightly different role.
MySynergySports tells us that this year, Melo is seeing the ball in isos 24.6 percent of the time and has replaced those possessions with postups, where he is, for the most part, unstoppable. Last season, the superstar saw the ball in the post 13 percent of the time whereas through eight games this season, he has seen it on 24.1 percent of his possessions on the block, where he converted 47.1 percent of his field-goal attempts.
A more efficient Melo means a more efficient Knicks offense, which translates into wins. In a stunning “coincidence,” the New York Knicks (7-1) have the best record in the NBA.
The sample size is obviously quite small, and teams will see these adjustments on film and probably force the Knicks’ leading scorer to beat them through different methods by fronting him, doubling him, loading up on him defensively and also playing zone against him, but for the time being, a lot of teams are still searching.
If this is the Carmelo Anthony that Knicks fans are going to get for the rest of the season, the franchise’s playoff ineptitude of the last decade may soon be forgotten…