Do NY Knicks Finally Have Right Supporting Cast Around Carmelo Anthony?
Owner James Dolan axed general manager Glen Grunwald to install Steve Mills, a man less competent but more connected to Anthony's circle than his predecessor. And Mills practically bent over backward to offer unsolicited praise for 'Melo during the Knicks' media day.
Yet, for all those 'Melo-centric maneuvers, the Knicks still haven't been able to provide their best player with a sensible supporting cast. Heading into a pivotal season, that failure could prove all of the Knicks' other moves meaningless.
It's Not All Bad
Don't misunderstand; the Grunwald-led Knicks managed to surround Anthony with a couple of complementary pieces. Tyson Chandler provides the defensive toughness and interior presence that star wing players like Anthony love. He erases mistakes, has championship experience and does all of the little things necessary to make deep playoff runs.
Well, at least Chandler did those things before a neck injury in March reduced him to a much less effective version of himself. Now, the same "injury-prone" whispers that plagued him during the first half of his career are resurfacing.
Iman Shumpert, now a full season removed from his torn ACL, should give the Knicks the lockdown perimeter defender they need. Perhaps more importantly, the man with the high-top fade turned himself into a deadly spot-up shooter last season. According to Tom Haberstroh of ESPN (subscription required), Shumpert nailed 43 percent of his corner threes in 2012-13, making him a perfect floor-spacing complement to Anthony's iso-heavy game.
Even Metta World Peace, wacky as he is, represents a smart, budget-conscious option to put alongside Anthony. Stars need teammates who can handle the opponent's toughest matchups, and although MWP is nowhere near as dominant on D as he once was, he can help keep Anthony fresh.
And for all his faults, J.R. Smith is the kind of guy who gives 'Melo a break every so often by taking over the offense.
That's pretty much where the praise for New York's supporting cast ends, though. There's plenty of talent scattered throughout the roster, but the players whose skill sets allow Anthony to be maximally effective are few and far between.
The Power Forward Problem
This is where things start to get ugly.
The Knicks' decision to trade for Andrea Bargnani this past summer was indefensible. They took on additional salary that will put them even further into the luxury tax, gave up a pick in the loaded 2014 draft and got a player whose skills couldn't possibly fit worse alongside Anthony's.
If there's even a sliver of an upside to the Bargnani acquisition, it's that the Knicks managed to buy low on a former No. 1 overall pick. The Toronto Raptors had toyed with amnestying the Italian forward, but the Knicks swooped in and saved them the trouble.
Actually, now that I think about it, that's the furthest thing from a defense of the deal. So forget that bit about a "sliver of upside."
Amar'e Stoudemire's presence on the roster compounds the problem, as the Knicks now have a pair of power forwards who absolutely cannot see the court at the same time. Well, they could technically play together but only if New York wants to trigger some kind of defensive apocalypse.
And the following information should pretty much eliminate any case for playing Stoudemire with Anthony:
|Anthony w/ Stoudemire||107.0||110.6||-3.6||.474||.544|
|Anthony w/o Stoudemire||111.3||103.0||+8.2||.507||.563|
Knee problems and the revelation of a secret offseason surgery—Stoudemire's third in the past year—might wind up being a mixed blessing for the Knicks. It'll potentially keep STAT from doing more than providing short stints of playing time, which will allow Anthony and Bargnani more opportunities to tackle the impossible task of forming some kind of chemistry.
Of course, it'll also result in the Knicks paying almost $22 million this season to a guy who might not give them more than 15 minutes per game. So no matter how things shake out for Stoudemire, it's hard to call his situation anything but a disaster.
Worst of all, both of the Knicks' expensive, unproductive power forwards are going to force Anthony to move back to the small forward spot, a position in which he's far less effective. New York could try Bargnani and Stoudemire as backup centers, but it'll soon realize that any lineup with either of those players as the last line of interior defense is destined for catastrophe.
The fact is that the 2012-13 season proved 'Melo was nearly unstoppable as a small-ball power forward. With Stoudemire theoretically ready to play in more than the 29 games he logged a year ago, Anthony was already going to lose some time at his most effective position.
Adding Bargnani makes it even tougher to slot Anthony at the 4.
The Knicks decided to embrace small ball last year, and it helped them finish with their best regular-season record in more than a decade. Their playoff failure raised real questions about the efficacy of that strategy in the postseason, but given the personnel on the team, it's clearly the best option they have.
Now, they've assembled a remarkably expensive frontcourt rotation that leaves them no choice but to adopt a more conventional lineup—one that doesn't maximize Anthony's talents.
Minor By Comparison
Good news: The Knicks' point guard situation is nowhere near as disastrous as the one up front.
Of course, the bad news is that only Pablo Prigioni did much to make Anthony's life easier last season. He was precisely the type of sweet-shooting, ball-moving facilitator that generated easy baskets for everyone on the team.
With Prigioni on the floor, 57.4 percent of the Knicks' baskets were assisted on. But when he left the court, that figure dropped to just 50.5 percent. How bad is that? No team besides the Knicks posted an assisted rate below 55 percent last season, according to NBA.com.
We all saw it: The Knicks fell apart as isolation sets and poor ball movement led to an easy series win for the Indiana Pacers in last year's postseason. Prigioni is one of the only players on New York's roster who gets the ball hopping, something that allows Anthony (and others) to get buckets without working quite so hard.
Unfortunately, Prigioni's age and the guy ahead of him on the depth chart will conspire to limit his opportunities to help.
Raymond Felton is essentially an average NBA player whose skills as a pick-and-roll operator don't do much to help Anthony. He's also not a consistent threat from long range and isn't a natural facilitator.
There are plenty of places where an aggressive, shoot-first point guard would fit nicely. The Knicks just aren't one of them.
Beno Udrih, another offseason acquisition is also a player who has his uses. But because he's not a viable three-point threat and suffers from the same lack of natural passing instincts as Felton does, he's also not an ideal teammate for Anthony.
Is 'Melo the Problem?
It shouldn't be so hard to build around a star like Anthony. Usually, finding a guy who wants to take tons of shots and has shown he can do so with decent efficiency is the tricky part. But the Knicks have that guy in 'Melo.
Nobody has ever accused him of being a leader on the other end, and he hasn't ever proved that he can elevate the play of his teammates. But Anthony is ridiculously talented and blessed with the kind of offensive versatility that allows for some leeway in overall roster construction.
In theory, his supporting cast should be made up of defensive stoppers, solid spot-up shooters and guys who move the ball.
'Melo is far from a perfect player, but the Knicks should have been able to fashion a more suitable lineup around him. Perhaps the fact that Stoudemire was already in New York when Anthony arrived is part of the problem. Were it not for Stoudemire's bloated salary, the Knicks might have been able to spend some money on the free-agent market over the past two offseasons.
Thanks to the combination of bad contracts, injuries and ill-fitting parts, it seems like the Knicks are primed to take a step backward this year. Anthony is almost certainly going to get a hefty share of the blame, but that's the price of being a superstar in a major market.
He'll deserve some of it, but the truth is that the Knicks simply haven't put 'Melo in a good position to succeed.
With the ability to exercise his early-termination option in the summer of 2014, Anthony may not give the Knicks another chance to prove they can find the right pieces to put around him. And it won't be a mean-spirited decision if he ultimately decides to bolt New York, leaving the Knicks on their own in a difficult situation.
It'll just be 'Melo returning the favor to a franchise that has done the same thing to him over the past few years.
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