When he's on the floor and scoring, he has a tremendous impact on how the Knicks attack. And not just in an obvious way either.
Since returning from a mysterious knee injury, Melo is averaging 34.7 points per game on 46 percent shooting, and he recently treated a short-handed Miami Heat team to a 50-point outburst, leading the Knicks to their ninth straight victory.
Antagonists of Anthony's volume scoring would hardly be impressed. Proponents of Melo's on-court proceedings would also argue that he's paid to score in excess, so watching him do just that—even when he drops 50—is routine.
Yet we shouldn't always be zeroing in on what Anthony's "routine" does for his reputation, stat lines or scoring credentials. Rather, the focus should be on how those routines affect the rest of the team, how his "hot hand" impacts the offense in general.
Short of Anthony dropping 50 points on a daily basis, it's difficult to draw a trend between him scoring and New York's overall success.
For scorers of Anthony's caliber, who can post 30-plus at will, it borders on impossible to distinguish yourself through scoring alone.
It's great that the Knicks are winning 68 percent of their games when Melo exceeds his season average, but they're also winning more than 64 percent of their games overall. I'm not discrediting Anthony's offensive output, but it's not that big of a difference.
The same rings true for Kevin Durant. He's posting 28.3 points a night on the year. When he surpasses his season average (29 or more points) the Oklahoma City Thunder are 19-14. Winning 58 percent of contests is postseason-worthy, but the Thunder have won 73 percent of their games overall this year.
On nights when Durant scores 29-plus, their win-loss record takes a dive.
But is the team truly suffering?
Regardless of the outcome, Melo and Durant will do what they do best—score. Their ability to impact the offense in an abstract manner must then come down to something more.
There's a reason the Knicks were able to escape Miami behind Melo's 50 points other than the 50 points themselves. Just as the Thunder are battling for the top spot in the Western Conference for reasons other than Durant chasing a scoring title.
In Anthony's case, it's all about his efficiency.
The star forward is shooting 44 percent from the floor this season, and he takes 21.7 shots to get his 28.3 points a night. Against the LeBron James-less Heat, he dropped 50 on just 26 shots (69.2 percent shooting), the first player in the NBA to hit at least 50 on 26 or fewer field-goal attempts since he himself did it in 2011.
When Melo hits on at least 45 percent of his shots, the Knicks are 21-7, or emerge victorious 75 percent of the time. And in 20 of those 28 games, they scored 100 or more points.
On nights when Anthony shoots below 45 percent from the floor, New York is 20-12 (62.5 winning percentage).
Terrible? Far from it. But significantly worse? You bet.
We can't draw meaningful conclusions from Melo's point totals when we don't accompany them with conversion rates. New York's offense isn't just 5.5 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor solely because he can score. The constant threat he poses means more, especially when he's "on fire."
Defenses are always going to crowd Anthony. Whether he's shooting 60 percent or 30 percent from the field, double-teams are a staple of opposing defenses. And if we're brutally honest, Anthony will often shoot it anyway. He's that kind of scorer.
But when those shots go in—when he's on a "hot streak"—there's almost no way to defend the Knicks.
Just look at his 50-point outing:
After a monstrous first quarter in which Anthony dropped 17 points, the Heat attempted to take away his spot-up game. For those who don't watch Melo on a daily basis, this is irregular.
He's known for creating with the ball in his hands, and teams will allow him to take that spot-up three or long two. Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), he's shooting just 40.3 percent on spot-up attempts.
I wouldn't say opponents encourage him to shoot it (he's shooting 37.7 percent from deep), but they would rather watch him jack up a long jumper than create space and post up.
Which brings us to the Heat game. As Melo's first-quarter highlights show, most of his points came off deep balls and essential catch-and-shoots.
By the second period, Miami was double-teaming him to no end and attempting to force him into those fadeaway shots he's prone to taking but would otherwise be considered low-percentage attempts.
Watch Mike Miller and Shane Battier converge on him here:
J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd are all wide open beyond the arc, as almost everyone on the Heat cheats toward Anthony.
He goes up for the shot anyway, and drills it, rendering the double-team unsuccessful.
What do you do then?
Well, knowing he won't hesitate to shoot it anyway, you swarm him even more.
Above, is the development of the play that ended the third quarter. You can't really see Anthony here, because he's engulfed by Battier.
As he makes his way into the paint, Miami's entire defense enshrouds him even more, almost positive he's going to shoot.
The problem? He doesn't shoot.
Instead, he kicks it out to one of the many open Knicks behind the three-point line. Steve Novak is the beneficiary here, and he nails a trey to beat the buzzer.
Moving right along to the fourth quarter, the Heat (for the most part) abandon the excessive swarming, for fear of any one of the Knicks' many shooters getting hot.
Look at how Battier and Ray Allen are so concerned with the ball moving around that both of them slide off Melo.
Allen is forced to close out on Kidd, who sends a touch pass Melo's way.
By the time Anthony has the ball, Battier is too late.
Melo needs very little space to get off a shot, and Battier is a considerable distance away as he enters his shooting motion.
Another three for Anthony.
These are just a few examples, but overall, this is the benefit of a potently efficient Melo. Miami was forced to adjust its defensive scheme too often to be effective or mitigate his impact.
Anthony wasn't missing the long jumpers they were giving him. For that reason, he was able to score on their double-teams and pass out of their triple- and quadruple-teams. In turn, the Knicks moved the ball to the point where Melo found himself in less-than-single coverage.
His hot hand opens up the floor for just about everyone, including himself. He's averaging just 1.8 assists over his eight-game tear, but he's not forcing the action either. He's kicking the ball out when he needs to.
The Knicks are also a team who prefer to swing the ball around the rainbow after the initial kick-out. A pass by Melo, if it's not immediately sent toward the rim, starts a chain reaction that isn't measured in the stat line.
We know it's not going to be this easy for Anthony every night. More than a few critics are already discrediting the performance we just evaluated because LeBron and Dwyane Wade weren't on the floor.
Those same critics are also missing the point.
Making a case for Anthony as MVP or the best player in the league isn't our intent here. He's neither of those things, but he is game-changing. He has the ability to shift the outcome of a contest, to manipulate entire defensive schemes with just his potential to be an efficient volume scorer.
That alone is a nightmare for the opposition. When he actually taps into his potential, it's something worse.
The Knicks' offense as a whole become unstoppable, because Melo becomes unguardable.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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