The New York Knicks made significant strides this year, winning their first division title since the 1993-94 season and their first playoff series since 2000. Superstar Carmelo Anthony was the driving force behind the team's success, leading the league in scoring and finishing third in the MVP voting. However, Anthony and his teammates stumbled in the second round of the playoffs, losing to a lower-seeded Indiana Pacers team in six games.
When a team is built heavily around one guy like the Knicks are, it's easy to break down their performance between the dominant player and everyone else. If Anthony wants to avoid joining Karl Malone on the list of "great players who never won a title," general manager Glen Grunwald needs to give him a different set of teammates. Why? Because the current supporting cast isn't what Carmelo needs, and Carmelo isn't the superstar the Knicks need.
While the Knicks have improved in each season since Anthony came to New York, the current roster, which was the oldest in the NBA this season, is likely at its peak. Five of Anthony's teammates appeared in more games than him during the regular season: Steve Novak, JR Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. That group, which includes the now-retired Kidd, has an average age of 32.
In terms of personnel, the Knicks have a solid group around Anthony, including guys like Smith, Felton, Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert. Honestly, it's odd to think that Anthony in his prime can't bring this group of players to an NBA Finals, but a 22-year-old LeBron James carried Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic there in 2007.
Why hasn't Anthony been able to do so? A big reason is that his teammates don't do a great job of complementing his game. For all of his greatness, Anthony is still a high-volume shooter (league high 22.2 FGA per game) and ball-stopper on offense. It's overkill to have Smith, the team's second leading scorer, also be a high-volume shooter. Amar'e Stoudemire provides another example of redundancy in the Knicks' offense. Although he missed much of the season, Stoudemire, when healthy, can bring the offense to a halt just as much as Anthony does.
Who deserves the blame for the Knicks' lack of postseason success?
What would help this stagnant offense is a point guard who can better distribute the ball. The Knicks were last in the league in assists this season. Felton led the team with 5.5 assists per game, which would've ranked only 27th in the NBA had he even played enough games or recorded enough assists to statistically qualify.
Regardless of his teammates' weaknesses, Anthony needs the Knicks to get him more help first and foremost because he hasn't provided everything required of a true superstar. John Hollinger, then with ESPN, wrote in his pre-season evaluation of Anthony that he's an "elite scorer with a great handle," but an "average shooter who will force it."
In his analysis, Hollinger explained that Anthony is both overvalued and mislabeled:
"The move to New York pretty much guaranteed that Anthony would become the most overrated player in basketball, and folks haven't disappointed me on that front. Routinely referred to as a superstar despite the pesky fact that his teams don't improve all that much with him on the court, Anthony is better described as an extreme volume scorer."
Since Anthony came to New York, the Knicks are 14-13 when he hasn't played. That sample size is about one third of a full regular season, not huge, but not insignificant either. That makes the Knicks' winning percentage .519 without Anthony, as opposed to .581 when he is on the court. The Knicks do have good players other than Anthony, but shouldn't a team suffer more when missing its best player if he's truly great?
This season, Anthony essentially proved Hollinger right again. Yes, he led the league in scoring, but he remains an average shooter at best:
Anthony doesn't help his cause by falling in love with his jump shot. According to Hoop Data, Anthony took the largest percentage of his shots this season at the rim. However, the numbers drop to his lowest total once he moves out to 3-9 feet from the hoop. They only increase from there until he gets to the three-point line, his second favorite shot after those at the rim.
That being said, having another inefficient jump shooter as Anthony's sidekick isn't a winning formula. He and Smith made the Knicks one of five teams in the NBA with two players ranked in the top 20 in field goal attempts per game this season. Below are those teams and their two big shooters' average field goal percentages:
|MIA||L. James, D. Wade||54.3|
|OKC||R. Westbrook, K. Durant||47.4|
|POR||L. Aldridge, D. Lillard||
|NYK||C. Anthony, J. Smith||43.55|
|MIL||M. Ellis, B. Jennings||
When comparing these numbers to the league average of 45.6 percent, it's easier to see why the Knicks' reliance on these shooters cost them in the long run. Either Anthony needs to be more efficient, or he needs to be surrounded by more efficient teammates who will allow him to continue to be a high-volume scorer.
Realistically, it'd be easier for the Knicks to continue to build around Anthony's style rather than have him drastically change his game. If they want to keep their championship window open any longer, they need to get younger. They need to spread the ball more. They need to team Anthony up with more efficient scorers.
Can the Knicks win a title with Carmelo as their best player? Yes. They just need a few different pieces around him.