What Carmelo Anthony Must Do to Propel NY Knicks to NBA Finals
In the last calendar year, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has transformed from selfish underachiever to reborn, humble star, back to greedy ball hog and finally to banged up, oft-injured centerpiece of a franchise that just can't get over the hump.
As he showed us earlier this season, Anthony is capable of boosting the Knicks over the "hump"—also known as the first round of the postseason. 'Melo was playing with a type of fire that we've never seen from him before, and the Knicks were among the league's hottest teams and trendiest Finals predictions early on.
After experiencing the dramatic twists and turns of 2012-13—a season that still has a month to go—Carmelo should know what it takes—and what adjustments to make—to propel the Knicks to the NBA Finals.
Bring Back the Intensity
Carmelo Anthony's first month of 2012-13 was unlike any we've seen from No. 7 before. 'Melo was getting dirty for loose balls and diving into the seats on a weekly basis.
His dive into his own bench for a loose ball against the Charlotte Bobcats was the last of such plays by Anthony.
The Knicks star suffered an injured finger in the crash, which kept him out for that game's final play and the ensuing matchup with the Miami Heat. The play can be seen at the 1:37 mark below.
For whatever reason, this type of labor hasn't been put forth by Anthony lately. It's likely that various injuries have played a part in his slowed-down productivity and decline in hustle plays like the ones above—we'll discuss this in the next slide.
Carmelo will need to lead by example with impeccable effort levels—like he displayed early on—for the Knicks to have a chance at reaching the NBA Finals.
Be Honest About Injuries
Carmelo Anthony's production has fallen off since the season's early portion, and it'd be a safe assumption to attribute it primarily to injuries.
Through January 5, Anthony was putting up 29 points per contest in 37 minutes per game (while taking 21 attempts) on 48 percent field-goal shooting and 44 percent from downtown.
In the 26 games since, 'Melo has cooled off dramatically. His points per game are down to 25, and he's shooting just 40 percent from the field and 32 from behind the arc.
The drop-off in execution is hardly random. Some could argue that it's simply part of regressing to the mean, but Carmelo's health has played a role in the slide.
Anthony has been out of the lineup for six of the Knicks' last nine games and exited prematurely in two more, thanks to fluid buildup in his right knee. 'Melo initially opted for rest, instead of getting the knee surgically drained.
"I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent, to be honest with you, but I will play," he said on March 13, according to ESPN New York.
Well, he tried to play. But in that night's game against the Denver Nuggets, 'Melo shot 3-of-12 before heading to the locker room after 22 minutes with that sore knee.
That performance is what it finally took for Anthony to get the knee drained. It has seemed to solve the problem, but it brought a separate issue to light.
“It was from a slight hamstring pull,’’ Anthony said to the New York Post, “because it was in the back of the knee. It didn’t have anything to do with the actual knee, the ligaments. I tweaked a hamstring and fluid just drained down."
In an attempt to fight through the knee soreness, Carmelo tweaked a hamstring while overcompensating. It was a tweak that nobody had heard of before.
In his first game after the procedure, Anthony scored 21 points on 50 percent shooting against the Orlando Magic in 33 minutes.
Carmelo will need to be weary of the last two weeks and be up front with Mike Woodson regarding bumps or bruises of any kind. New York may be able to stay afloat without Anthony on a game-to-game basis, but a long-term hiatus would obliterate any chance the Knicks might have at an extended postseason run.
Don't Be a Hero
Nobody can dispute the fact that Carmelo Anthony is New York's best and most integral player. But it's imperative that the Knicks keep their offense well rounded and not excessively 'Melo-centric.
A convenient way to measure the validity of this is usage statistics (via NBA.com/Stats).
Looking at Carmelo's usage numbers divided up by the Knicks' team performances gives a good indication that the Knicks are at their worst when relying too heavily on Anthony.
We're about to take an in-depth look at some numbers, so buckle up.
The stats displayed in the image are sorted by team performances in which Carmelo accounts for the highest percentage of shot attempts. For example, when the Knicks lose by 16-20 points, Anthony takes 40.6 percent of the team's shots—that's his highest such mark. His next four highest percentages all come in losses, too.
Six of Anthony's seven lowest %FGA numbers come, not surprisingly, in wins. When the Knicks are at their best—winning by 16-20 and 21 or more points—Anthony is responsible for just 31.1 and 31.2 percent of the team's field-goal attempts, respectively. Those are his lowest percentages of this kind.
What these numbers are saying, in plain English, is that when Carmelo is taking more than 34 percent of the Knicks' shots, the Knicks will likely lose. When that number is 34 percent or under, you can put your money on New York coming out on top.
But what does it all mean?
We all know Carmelo is capable of scoring 40 on any given night. But the Knicks are at their best when Anthony is distributing the spotlight more evenly, and this is what they'll need in order to book a trip to the NBA Finals.
Like many Knicks this season, Carmelo Anthony has been guilty of losing composure during adversity.
Anthony has racked up 11 technical fouls through 53 games. Players receive one-game suspensions after their 16th tech and every two ensuing Ts (18th, 20th, 22nd, etc).
Below, you'll see one of Anthony's lowest moments this season, which illustrates Carmelo at his worst. He goes up for a shot while trying to draw a call, doesn't get the whistle and chooses to whine to the official instead of getting back to defend in transition. Patrick Patterson glided in for the easy slam.
Garnett used some choice words to get under 'Melo's skin (not unlike he does with many opposing players), and it may or may not have led to Anthony's 6-of-26 shooting night.
Anthony and several Knicks must learn to stay calm when things aren't going their way—whether it be on the scoreboard, in the officiating or wherever else.
Against other Eastern Conference playoff teams, the Knicks will face circumstances where they'll have to dig themselves out of a hole. Led by Anthony, they must be mentally strong enough to stay composed and weather the storm against teams like Boston, the Miami Heat and others.
Lead by Example
The surrounding cast will look to Carmelo Anthony as the team's best player in times of despair. That was never more evident than in this season's initial streak of success.
During the initial 18-5 run, Anthony was devoted to Mike Woodson's coaching system. The offense was centered around ball movement, and Anthony's unselfishness was front and center.
New York's five players would whip passes around the half court from open shooter to more open shooter, and each possession usually ended in a wide-open look. Anthony got his share of post-up opportunities, and when a double-team came, 'Melo wasted no time in flinging the ball to an open man.
He was active on the defensive end as well. Anthony was diving for steals and making a conscious effort to hang with his man defensively. And as 'Melo went, so went the Knicks.
Over the 43 games since that 18-5 start, Anthony has gradually reverted to his traditional style of basketball, and the fluid offense has disappeared, along with the gritty defense.
When Anthony was buying into a team-first mentality, the team followed suit—it's when the team was most successful.
If he can get back to thinking the way he was in November and December, it's not outrageous to predict the team will buy in as well, which would be bad news for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.