Can Carmelo Anthony's Hero-Ball Offense Cover Up NY Knicks Obvious Flaws?
For the first time since his arrival in the Big Apple, most of New York is comfortable knowing that 'Melo is the lifeline through which this team lives through. Gone is the resentment that came with him (allegedly) pushing Mike D'Antoni out the door and forgotten are the rumors of his desire to be traded from the team he forced his presence upon.
The Knicks finally have the Anthony they traded for. He's alway scored, but it's taken him the better part of two years to win over the city and emerge as a hero, not a cancer. And some would still be inclined to disagree.
But whether you despise 'Melo for who he is or worship the hardwood he dribbles on, the profound impact he has had on the Knicks this season is not some fabricated mirage. It's genuine.
New York would fancy itself a supersteam. And with roughly $53 million committed to just three players this season, why wouldn't it? Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire and 'Melo are All-Stars, and the latter two are perennial superstars.
The Knicks aren't a superteam, though. The NBA is awash with them, but the Knicks just aren't one of them.
Most (if not all) of the season has been dedicated to battling not only for second place in the Eastern Conference, but waging war against injuries. Stoudemire has appeared in less than 30 games, Chandler has missed 11 and counting, and 'Melo himself has been sidelined for 13.
Stoudemire isn't what we would consider a superstar at this point either. Sure, he scored like one upon his return, but he's yet to prove he can remain healthy for more than a third of the season. Chandler isn't a conventional star as well. His impact is an intangible one, a brand of basketball that doesn't necessarily light up the box score.
Which is fine. But let's not make the Chandler, Stoudemire and the Knicks into something they're not.
Once we move beyond the absence of a dominant triumvirate, we're left with the Knicks as they are. Handicapped by age, injuries and an assortment of unproven talent (Iman Shumpert, Chris Copeland and even J.R. Smith), the Knicks are riding the offensive exploits of Carmelo.
Thus far, it's worked. The Knicks have clinched their first division title since 1994 and heading into their matchup against the Chicago Bulls, 'Melo is averaging 40.6 points on 58.6 percent shooting in the month of April.
Oh, and the Knicks have won 13 in a row and now hold a 2.5-game lead over the Indiana Pacers for the east's second seed.
Life is good. Fantastic, even. It is what Anthony has willed it to be. But can he "will it" any further?
Questioning 'Melo's ability to push these Knicks any further isn't an insult. Nor does it diminish how formidable a contingent they are. They must be taken seriously as a contender because, well, they are one.
They're only a threat to win a title, however, for as long as Anthony can cover up their potentially detrimental flaws.
Presently, the Knicks are operating on what seems like borrowed time. They rank 29th in assists per game (19.3); they're the oldest team in NBA history; their front line is beyond depleted, and injuries have been their Achilles heel all season long.
Still, they're second in the east, have the seventh-best record in the league and are in possession of the Association's longest winning streak. Focus on that. Focus on 'Melo playing out of his mind and scoring 30 or more points in five straight games on at least 50 percent shooting for the first time in his career. Focus on the Atlantic Division title. And forget everything else.
Except you can't.
Anthony's quest to win his first scoring title masks the other issues at hand. Inconsistent ball movement, advanced age and physical afflictions still exist, and we know they do. 'Melo's performance has overshadowed those flaws, though. All of them.
How much longer can that last? The rest of the regular season? Into the playoffs? Through to the finals?
We're kidding ourselves if we believe it can last to the point of championship attainment.
He scores. Often. And the Knicks win when he does.
And there's no reason to believe his year-long scoring barrage will cease to exist. He's attempting a career-high 6.2 threes per night on converting on a career-best 38.4 percent of them. His PER is the highest it has ever been (24.5) and he's on pace to set a personal best in win shares.
There's nothing to suggest that 'Melo will cool off. He (probably) won't drop 40 points a night in the playoffs, but leading into the postseason, he'll play through whatever (knee ailments included) and do whatever it takes to win, to lead.
Yet, what if that's not enough? What if the Knicks' injuries catch up with them and Anthony's offensive excursions don't get the ultimate job done? Or worse, what if defenses frustrate him and there's no one left to pick up the pieces?
We'd like to think there would be—that Smith or somebody else would be there to supplement 'Melo's production, but we can't be sure.
The Knicks are 5-6 when Anthony is held to under 20 points. While that doesn't seem to mean much, it stands to mean everything in the playoffs, when it's win or go home.
Will Carmelo Anthony be able to cover up the Knicks' flaws come playoff time?
There are going to come nights when 'Melo can't be the team's end all, when playing power forward (or even center with all these injuries) is overwhelming for him. When the Knicks' absence of frontcourt depth is too heavy a burden for him to bear alone.
Those are the nights that will define New York's season, the Knicks' postseason—the nights that force them to utilize depth they may not have.
It's also a time for the Knicks to reflect on what happens beyond April and into May, and how they're supposed to play into June.
'Melo will certainly will his team as far he can. He will cover up as many of New York's flaws for as long as he can. But the Knicks will only go as far as Anthony is willing to carry them and if they're able to cloak his greatest imperfection: that they're not built for him to carry them forever.
*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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