With the help of head coach Mike Woodson and his teammates, Carmelo and the Knicks have put up some of their strongest defensive performances in years. At the same time, they have had a few lazy showings.
Three times this year the Knicks have yielded more than 100 points to their opponents. In those games, they are 0-3. In the other eight games, they are 8-0.
Clearly, defense is important.
Carmelo has also been trying to improve on offense with better passing, hustle and rebounding. I'll take a look at what the advanced stats tell us so far about Carmelo's progress, and where he stands compared with the NBA's elite.
The most general rating of a player's overall play on both offense and defense is win shares.
Win shares computes how many total wins a player is responsible for giving his team. Carmelo currently ranks 87th in the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes played according to Basketball Reference. That puts him one spot behind teammate and shooting guard J.R. Smith, who has been having an improved year.
Win shares per 48 minutes does some disservice to Carmelo because he plays so many minutes, and if we look at total win shares, we can see that. In terms of total win shares, he ranks 36th in the league, only slightly behind Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez.
One last general stat to consider is PER, which is a measure of the production per minute a player is giving his team. Carmelo's 22.4 PER—an above average one for him—puts him at 28th in the NBA.
It is clear that Anthony has increased his energy on defense along with the rest of his teammates. Unfortunately, he has not yet cleaned up all of his defensive mistakes, and that shows in total defensive rating.
His 106 rating (lower is better) places him a bit behind the league average of 100 and at 268th overall in the NBA.
Looking specifically at rebounding, his 11.3 total rebounding percentage puts him at No. 152 in the NBA, but his 17 percent defensive rebounding percentage puts him higher, at No. 134. He still has trouble rebounding against power forwards, which contributes to the Knicks' 27th ranking as team in rebounding.
An interesting point of contrast is the play of Carmelo's supporting cast, which is improved from last year. The team as a whole has been winning more than last season, and those wins have to come from somewhere.
The most surprising source has been point guard Jason Kidd. Kidd ranks 12th in the entire league in win shares, ahead of Carmelo but also ahead of all-stars Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo.
Less surprisingly, center Tyson Chandler—who led the Knicks in win shares by far in 2011—is next for the Knicks at No. 15 in the NBA. The last Knick who has himself high in the rankings is J.R. Smith at No. 44.
If you buy into the detailed metrics, it is the improved play of Chandler and Smith, along with the addition of Kidd, that has earned these eight wins so far. The eye test agrees with this claim, especially looking at the big win against the San Antonio Spurs that happened during a bad game for Carmelo.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Carmelo is doing better than last year both, on offense and defense. If he can continue to buy into Woodson's system and improve his game, he has the potential to climb up into the top tier of NBA players.
That is what the Knicks need from him if they are to be true contenders.