New York Knicks Will Only Go as Far as Carmelo Anthony Can Grow

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 8, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 03:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks drives past a falling Shane Battier #31 of the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden on March 3, 2013 in New York City.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks started the 2012-13 season with a blistering six-week run that had everyone talking about a reborn superstar and a potentially transcendent team.

Since then, the Knicks have essentially played .500 ball. Anthony has looked very much like the high-scoring, non-transformative player he was during the first nine years of his career.

The Knicks' brief high and subsequent mediocrity proved a couple of things quite clearly. First, New York can only go as far as Anthony takes it. And second, Melo is going to have to make some changes to his game if the Knicks are to ever go from "pretty good" to "great."

Before addressing where Anthony needs to grow, it's worth noting that there's a precedent for late-career reformations. LeBron James, for one, has basically abandoned inefficient jumpers while also turning into a defensive terror capable of guarding five positions.

Both of those changes occurred because James recognized his weaknesses and made a conscious effort to address them. Remember, Anthony was in the same draft class as James and is less than a year older, so it's not too late for him to make the necessary tweaks to take the Knicks to the next level.


Defensive Effort

First among said necessary tweaks is Melo's defense.

Though conventional stats certainly try to convince NBA fans otherwise, defense is precisely half of the game. I'll let the novelty of that proposition sink in for a moment.

Anyway, as far as Anthony is concerned, it's not about proving he can be a good defender; it's about showing he's willing to be one on a consistent basis. The Knicks' early run was spurred just as much by a defensively hyperactive Anthony as it was by their red-hot three-point shooting.

In those first six weeks, Anthony was everywhere, bodying up power forwards and harassing smaller players with his quick hands. Not coincidentally, the Knicks' defensive rating of 100.3 in November was their best of any full month this year.

Somewhere along the line, that intensity waned, and the rest of the Knicks followed suit. December, January and February all featured defensive ratings between 104.4 and 105.3.

And for a reminder of just how critical sustained defensive intensity really is, take a look at the Eastern Conference standings. The defensive-minded Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls are surging, while the Knicks try to tread water.

Also note that based on defensive efficiency, the Knicks rank below every single playoff club in the East except for the Brooklyn Nets.

Per, Anthony's defensive contributions are basically negligible. He makes the Knicks less than one point per 100 possessions better on D when he's on the floor.

Clearly, the first area of growth Anthony must focus on is his defense. Until he becomes a legitimate two-way player on a night-to-night basis, he'll always be a notch below the league's best. And his team will remain outside the league's top tier of elite clubs as well.


Offensive Efficiency

It's not all about defense, though. Melo also needs to follow the examples of James and Kevin Durant by cutting down on inefficient shots. There are a thousand ways to go about explaining this part of Melo's game, but one example provides the clearest picture.

The worst shot in basketball is the long two. Anyone who's ever played, coached or studied any sort of advanced stats knows this. So it's no surprise that the league's two best players—James and Durant—have taken leaps in offensive efficiency this year by reducing their attempts from 16-23 feet.

Per, James only tries 4.1 long twos per game. In every other year of his career, he was right around 5.5 attempts per game. Clearly, he made a conscious effort to adjust. Similarly, Durant has gone from shooting as many as 6.7 long twos per game a couple of years ago to trying just 3.7 this season.

Anthony is still trying 5.3 long twos per game.

To be fair, that's a reduction over previous seasons, but the decline is partly attributable to his 6.6 three-point attempts per contest (by far a career high). He's still bombing away from the perimeter, but at least he's stepping behind the line more often.

Still, if Anthony hopes to refine his offensive game to the point where he's on par with the league's most efficient scorers, he's got to cut down on his jumpers. Making that change will go a long way toward improving the Knicks as a whole.


Hope and Change

It sounds strange, but Carmelo Anthony is still a work in progress despite playing in his 10th NBA season. This year, he has shown flashes of defensive dominance, a vastly improved three-point shot and even some occasional leadership.

But he's still shooting just 44 percent from the floor, and he's not doing much to make his teammates better. So, although he's shown signs of change, he isn't really all that different yet.

Hopefully, Melo will follow the trend of the NBA's best players by shoring up the weaknesses in his game. That'll be good for fans, the league and especially the Knicks, who'll only go as far as Anthony's potential growth can take them.