From the moment New York traded away half its team through to the Knicks’ recent win streak, the successes and failures—the fate—of the franchise and its superstar shooter have been inexorably linked.
Whether the Knicks are winning or losing, looking anemic or dominant, it is impossible to comment on the team without noting the player, and vice versa.
Take the last 20 games. This sample starts with a 99-93 loss to the Miami Heat in which Anthony scored 32 points.
Then, Anthony hurt his knee against the Cleveland Cavaliers, playing only 14 minutes. The Knicks won 102-97.
Anthony missed a third full game after that—a 113-84 beating of the Utah Jazz—only to return for arguably the Knicks’ ugliest loss of the season, a 92-63 embarrassment at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
He publicly left the next game, a 117-94 drubbing by the Denver Nuggets, after going 3-for-12 from the field.
What a mess. Let’s review: In these seven games, the Knicks were 3-1 without Anthony making an impact (including a very close loss against the Thunder) and 0-3 with him heavily involved (including a very bad loss to the Warriors).
Fans were again quick to state that the Knicks are better without Anthony. He’s too iso. He’s a black hole on offense. He mucks up the flow. If only he played some defense.
But the Knicks continued their sloppy play without Anthony (and Tyson Chandler who picked up a neck injury in that Nuggets game). They lost soundly to the Portland Trail Blazers, were a no-contest for the Los Angeles Clippers and came back in the second half to thankfully overtake the Utah Jazz and avert an 0-5 West-Coast swing.
Then, Anthony came back, and without Chandler, helped the Knicks to eight wins in a row. Chandler returned and New York won three more.
To sum, Carmelo Anthony—off an obviously nagging injury that was probably hanging around for awhile—took the New York Knicks on his back, and with a little help from his friends J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin, reversed the course of the season at the most critical time—down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Getting off to a good start may be equally as important. There, too, Anthony took the torch, and led this team to a 21-8 opening. In a way, he reversed the course of a mostly average franchise the past few years—to definite contender. We knew the Knicks were going to be good, but not that good.
In the process, Anthony forged a legitimate, early-on candidacy for MVP. Dare we say, Anthony has shown heart.
In between, the Knicks have had to make adjustments to account for Raymond Felton’s and Rasheed Wallace’s injuries, Jason Kidd’s slowdown, Amar’e Stoudemire’s and Iman Shumpert’s returns and Martin’s integration.
The fact is, while acknowledging the occasional bumps in the road, the Knicks are so much better with Anthony. Without him, especially with an eternally injured Stoudemire, there’s nothing left good enough to get to the NBA Finals. Is a Chandler-Smith led team really getting you there?
And this goes for the next few years. For the Knicks, it’s Carmelo Anthony or bust through 2014-15. Buckle up (if you haven’t yet).
What about for Carmelo Anthony? Is it Knicks or bust through 2014-15?
At least from Anthony’s perspective, he has escaped the yoke of George Karl. Sports Illustrated gave a peek of what it must have been like in Denver for Carmelo (and Karl),
"[Anthony] is a great player," said Ty Lawson. “He fills up the stat sheet, but coach, I guess, wanted a different style of play…[Karl] is definitely happier. There's a lot less stress on him. He's walking around telling jokes. He's having fun. Before the trade, he wasn't too talkative, wasn't joking too much, but now he's a different person."…"It's refreshing to have a more coach-able team," said Karl.
The ongoing tug-of-war between Karl’s old-school, team-play style and Anthony’s free wheeling (and their straight-up personalities) was always a hurdle to a Nuggets championship.
Things were immediately different in New York. Under “hey, go crazy” Mike D’Antoni, Anthony had a longer offensive leash, and under Mike Woodson there is no leash at all. The ball, and offense, is all Melo’s.
In the end, this may be the only way to maximize Anthony’s potential. Forget about forcing him into a two-man game or consistently drawing plays on offense.
The way the Knicks have played this season—the ups and downs, the periods of dominance and sloppy play—reflect one thing.
Is this at last the answer, proven to us during this huge win streak?
Anthony—and the Knicks—are better when he doesn’t have to gel with anyone. Smith has been a major contributor and Martin, too—but they are not gelling with Anthony. These guys are operating as opportunistic free agents, and it’s working.
The best scheme for Anthony is to let him play his isolation game and have it supported by a supplementary offense led by another mobile high-scorer (Smith) and a separate, complementary defense.
It sure seems a lot easier for Anthony and Smith to combine for 60+ points a game than any other combination. No gelling necessary.
Maybe it is just time to give up the resistance, work towards Anthony’s needs, succumb to isolation play, work a strong defensive scheme founded on Chandler and Shumpert and let it ride on the offensive end with Melo and Smith.
With this freedom, which the Knicks have afforded him, Anthony looks more and more like he can carry this team to the Finals before his contract is up.