Breaking Down How New York Knicks Can Maximize Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony scores. It's what he does. And he does it well. Really well. You didn't imagine him winning the 2012-13 scoring title or averaging 24.8 points per game for the past decade. That actually happened.
If you're like me—curious with a spectacular haircut—you've also stopped to wonder if he could be even better, if the New York Knicks are using him properly. The answer to our query is no, which is less of an insult and more an acknowledgement that nothing and no one is perfect.
Used correctly, Anthony should be able to showcase his wide-reaching scoring talents, maximizing his offensive potential in ways neither he nor the Knicks could imagine.
Before jumping to the happy, point-filled ending, though, he and his team have to understand a balance must be found. Offensive sets must cater not only to his strongest desires, but also his greatest strengths.
Once that equilibrium is established, then 'Melo can redefine himself as a scorer while the Knicks reinvent themselves as a winner.
Flaunt Everything You Have
Isolation sets are movement killers.
Even in half-court-oriented offenses like the Knicks', they can have a negative impact. You're essentially forcing four players to stand by as one does most of the work, and removing 80 percent of your lineup from the equation is never a good thing when done excessively.
Most players value scoring opportunities. The more you run isolations with one player, the fewer shots that are available for others. Quite obviously, that's not good for team morale.
It's also not fair to the player in question or, in this case, 'Melo. Encouraging him to create for himself too much diminishes his off-ball exposure. Though he may prefer to manufacture his own shots, it's imperative he become accustomed to various sets—plays that involve multiple players and differing individual movements.
In other words, versatility is key.
Look at how many of 'Melo's offensive possessions came via post-ups and isolations last season compared to everything else:
Nearly half of all his shot attempts came in such situations (47.9 percent). For offensively limited bigs, concentrating so heavily on a few areas is acceptable. For one of the best scorers in the game like 'Melo, it should be taboo.
Part of the intrigue surrounding Anthony is his ability to score from wherever, whenever and however. Scaling back on other areas where you're effective in favor of a more predictable attack makes no sense.
Anthony can score in a multitude of ways. We know this. It's just time for him to flaunt what he has a bit better—all of what he has.
A great way to involve others in the offense while allowing 'Melo to maintain control of the ball is through pick-and-rolls.
Whether he acts as the ball-handler or roll man, at least one additional person is having an impact on the play. Someone needs to set a screen or be the roll man when he's not. Those not directly involved are also given further incentive to move off the ball in anticipation of a kick-out.
Turns out 'Melo is pretty good when running pick-and-rolls, too. He's actually great. And according to ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling, 'Melo wants to use more pick-and-rolls next season.
"I want to continue doing that and figuring that part out, but that comes along with the territory and the game situation," he said. "It's all about just trying to tighten up those screws that you already have, and just having fun with it."
There's a reason why pick-and-rolls are so much "fun" for him. 'Melo's 1.07 points per possession as the ball-handler last season ranked third amongst all eligible players in the NBA, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), and his 1.33 as the roll man were fifth. Within all pick-and-roll sets, he also combined to shoot 50 percent from the floor.
Often described as an iso-heavy scorer, 'Melo isn't considered the ideal pick-and-roll option. Which is stupid.
Built like a gazelle, but with the nimble feet and grace of a ballerina, 'Melo is actually the ultimate option. He can barrel through the paint like a bruising tower or outpace his defender like a slippery point guard.
By design, pick-and-rolls are supposed to help at least one player traipse his way to the rim. And any extra looks 'Melo can get at the rim are a plus. Per Hoopdata.com, he knocked down 54.9 percent of his attempts at the rim in 2012-13. While that's below the league average of 64.7, we'd be fools to deter 'Melo from shooting anywhere on the floor from which he has a 54.9 percent success rate.
Pick-and-rolls are also about creating space, not just getting easy looks at the basket. Those who have watched 'Melo over the years know he needs space like Mike Woodson needs a haircut. So, he doesn't.
Next to no room is needed if Anthony wants to hoist up a shot. His quick release combined with the lift he generates off his jumpers permit him to shoot over just about anyone.
Extra room never hurt anybody, though. Not that I know of at least. Coming off a screen provides Anthony with just enough space to take what he would call a wide-open jump shot.
Notice what happens on the possession below:
Chandler is one of the better screen setters in the league. He's not particularly beefy, but his points of contact are flawless, stopping even the strongest of defenders on a whim.
With George wrapped up by Chandler, guarding 'Melo becomes Roy Hibbert's responsibility. Blocking shots is his business at 7'2", but because Anthony is so quick off the dribble, he can't afford to crowd him.
Playing off 'Melo even the slightest bit gives him enough of a gap to get off a shot:
Hibbert rises up with him, but not even his wingspan is enough to make up for Anthony's speed.
The same principles apply here:
Yet again Anthony gets the ball behind the rainbow. This time it's Kenyon Martin who comes up to set the pick:
Martin has never been what I would call a strong screen setter. Watching him, he always seems to roll off too soon or fail to draw contact at all. His pick here works, if only because Anthony is dead center and Martin just left Hibbert closer to the right corner:
Once 'Melo goes around the screen, there's more space left between him and Hibbert because of the distance Martin travels in the first place. Anthony rises, fires and hits again:
Running more pick-and-rolls with Anthony has to be a top priority for the Knicks. He's hitting too high a percentage of his shots within them to be living off post-ups and isolations.
See for yourself how his field-goal percentage in pick-and-rolls compares to that of everything else:
Even though he posts the third-highest clip in pick-and-rolls, they account for under 13 percent of his total offensive possessions. Meanwhile, we have post-ups and isolations making up nearly half, and he fails to shoot above 43.2 percent in either one of those.
Additional pick-and-roll sets amount to more ball movement and a higher conversion rate for 'Melo himself. Substitute them for any number of isolations and post-ups, New York's offense becomes more difficult to defend, 'Melo becomes more potent and unpredictable, and everyone in general is simply better off.
Playing Off the Ball
Nothing could be further from isolation and post-ups than having 'Melo play off the ball. It may not be his cup of tea, but there are obvious advantages, none more pressing than his value as a stretch 4.
Anthony had his best season as a floor-spacing 4. Playing against forwards typically thicker and therefore less agile than he, offensive mismatches went New York's way almost every night.
The ideal stretch 4, however, does more than just shoot threes; he plays off the ball in order to shoot those threes. Defenses won't be spread wafer thin if Anthony is constantly attacking off the dribble, even if he resorts to using his trusty pull-up jumper.
You have to give the opposition an ultimatum: Do they cut off the dribble penetration or post-up (of someone other than 'Melo), or do they keep someone on Anthony at all times?
Allow me to point you toward this:
Raymond Felton gets inside and the Indiana Pacers defense is forced to converge. George tries to stay within reach of 'Melo, but as you can see, he's already journeyed too far. New York now has the option of kicking it out to him.
Once more, with feeling:
This time, Felton gets so far inside there isn't a defender within seven feet of him. Felton can now send a bullet his way or shoot it over to Pablo Prigioni in hopes the Pacers begin to close out on him and he makes the extra pass to a wider-than-wide-open 'Melo.
No matter the decision, the Knicks win. Felton is free to attack, Amar'e Stoudemire can set up with his back to the basket against single coverage or they find an open 'Melo beyond the arc.
The more 'Melo hovers around the three-point line, the more treys he shoots; the more bombs he launches, the bonier defenses become; and the skimpier defenses become, the easier it is for the Knicks to score.
In both instances, that's exactly what happens. Both times, Anthony drains the three.
If that looks good to you, then your mind is about to be seduced.
Success was found from the outside when using 'Melo as a spot-up, long-range gunner. He knocked down 39.2 percent of his spot-up threes, according to Synergy, a demonstrative number.
Anthony wasn't shooting threes periodically either. He attempted a career-high 6.2 deep balls per game last season and drilled a career-best 37.9 percent of them.
Typically, the more 'Melo has actually shot threes, the more efficient he's been.
Save for a couple of aberrations over the past 10 years, he's been at his best from deep when he's shooting more. So they should station him behind the rainbow more and beg him to shoot. It's there he'll stretch the defense while raining down threes in volume.
Consider your mind wined and dined.
Using Isolation Intelligently
You can't not embrace the use of isolation with 'Melo. He's a dangerous one-on-one scorer, and it's how he got started. Ignoring his value as a self-sufficient creator would be a disservice to New York's offense.
The key is to not abuse that ability. After that, it's all about placement.
When Anthony gets the ball and the Knicks clear out, where should he be? Behind the three-point line? In the paint? The corner? Enter left from the stands?
Were you to answer "none of the above," you're a genius. That or you're looking over my shoulder, in which case you're a stealthy stalker.
On the occasions when the Knicks run isolation sets tailored to Anthony and him alone, he should be in no-man's land, bear hugging the implementation of a mid-range game. And no, that's not a misprint.
Attacking from beyond the arc and recklessly attempting to get toward the rim is cool, but like we discovered before, Anthony's point-blank clip isn't all that impressive. He shoots 54.9 percent; the league average is 64.7.
I shudder to think what his percentage would be if he wasn't so aggressive following his own shots. His offensive rebounding percentage for his career (6.1) destroys that of LeBron's (3.7).
Instead of racing toward the rim—where he's a mediocre converter—Anthony should use his strong mid-range touch to his advantage and set up just behind the block. There he'll be able to face his opponent and raise up for a quick jumper.
Those already demanding my head or worse—insisting I never eat pizza again—I implore you to look at how 'Melo's shooting percentages by location compare to that of the league average:
Smack my face and call me Frankie Muniz's doppelganger, the further 'Melo is from the basket, the more distance he puts between himself and the league average.
Just for kicks, here's how it looks when broken down into just two areas:
For even better measure, let's see how it can and has looked during games as well.
In this particular set, Anthony sets his feet with the ball just behind the free-throw line:
Following a couple of ball fakes, he goes up for a jumper in the same spot:
He nails it.
Moving on, this is what often happens when Anthony takes his opponents off the dribble, no matter where he begins his possession from:
Although the play starts beyond the three-point line, 'Melo dribbles inward. Once he gets David West to drop back behind the free-throw line, he goes up before West has an opportunity to effectively close out.
Long twos will remain the most inefficient shot in basketball, one many of the Association's players prefer to avoid. That's not going to change. Nor is it comforting that 'Melo is below average at scoring points when he gets to the rim.
What do the Knicks need more of from Carmelo Anthony?
Isolations aren't ideal to begin with anyway. I don't care who you are—LeBron, Kevin Durant or that guy from Juwanna Mann. Ball movement is better and more difficult to defend.
But iso sets are a necessary evil. They're a part of the game and a form of hero ball teams must accept if they wish to house talented scorers like 'Melo. And there is a way to use them successfully—by using them sparingly.
New York has a reigning scoring champ on its hands, someone who can score anytime or anywhere. Ensuring that 'Melo's versatility is actually used guarantees that he reaches his full potential as an efficient scorer.
"I'm trying to just push the limit," he said of next season, via Zwerling.
The more he pushes his limits, the further the Knicks will go.
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