Will Carmelo Anthony's Job Be Easier as NY Knicks Leader This Season?
This summer, Anthony and his cash-strapped Knicks remained largely idle while the top half of the Eastern Conference grew stronger by the day.
New York's closest rivals, the Brooklyn Nets, retooled their already loaded roster with a host of proven performers: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. The Chicago Bulls saw the return of their fallen leader, Derrick Rose. The Indiana Pacers brought back their own former All-Star, Danny Granger, and stocked their reserve unit with experience (Luis Scola) and perimeter shooting (Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson).
The Miami Heat simply reloaded for a fourth straight run at the NBA Finals. They lost one key contributor (Mike Miller) but gambled on a pair of boom-or-bust players (Greg Oden and Michael Beasley) that they don't really need but would be happy to have.
And then there was New York with pennies to plug its roster holes. Truth be told, the Knicks' offseason haul—Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih and Tim Hardaway Jr.—was impressive considering the meager funds former general manager Glen Grunwald had at his disposal.
But it wasn't the kind of summer the rest of the Eastern Conference powers enjoyed.
Lacking any dynamic additions to the roster, Anthony's challenge for 2013-14 is the same as it was last season: put this team on his shoulders and carry it as far as he can go. But has that struggle gotten any easier for the reigning scoring champ? Or is this burden now heavy enough to propel him out of the Big Apple next summer?
Despite the writing on the wall, Anthony's offseason strategy was incredibly optimistic. Via Marc Berman of the New York Post, a source close to Anthony said the six-time All-Star hoped the franchise could find a legitimate secondary scorer over the summer.
It was a logical request to fill an obvious need for anyone who watched last season's Knicks. With microwave scorer J.R. Smith as the second most reliable offensive threat (18.1 points per game), Anthony needed help.
But it was a risky ploy.
No matter how you spin Berman's story, there's no way to get around the fact that Anthony didn't believe this team had championship potential. And given those aforementioned cap constraints, this was largely the same group of players he'd have around him in 2013-14.
While that second scorer never surfaced, though, Anthony should have more help this time around.
As far as the offseason additions go, Bargnani is poised to make the biggest impact. The key is to view Bargnani in the right light—not as a failed top selection, but as a 27-year-old 7-footer with three-point range (career 36.1 percent) who's just one season removed from a 19.5 scoring average.
The Knicks don't need Bargnani to be dominant the way his former employer, the Toronto Raptors, did. What they need is for him to spread the floor so Anthony can continue his dominance on the low block and help shore up New York's rebounding woes (49.3 rebounding percentage, 17th last season).
Tempered expectations should also be applied to the arrival of newcomer World Peace. The Queensbridge native and four-time NBA All-Defensive team selection is 33 years old. Father Time has sapped his ability to keep pace with the athletic specimens flooding the league.
But he brings his own value to the hardwood. He's not a knockdown shooter (career 34.2 three-point percentage), but he can be effective when he's mindful of his shot selection (37.5 percent between 2007-08 and 2010-11). Not to mention he has the size (6'7" 260 lbs) to defend the low block, which eases some of the physical punishment on Anthony when he's playing the 4.
And there's reason to hope for more help from Anthony's returning teammates.
Iman Shumpert's athleticism returned late last season after the guard's lengthy rehab from a torn ACL. He has already made a dramatic appearance in the preseason.
But more intriguing for Knicks fans is his improved shooting stroke. Always a rugged defender, the former Georgia Tech star has the chance to be just as special at the opposite end. Of players with at least 10 playoff appearances in 2012-13, only he and Ray Allen shot above 40 percent from deep and 85 percent at the line.
Amar'e Stoudemire is another year older and another year wiser in terms of dealing with his nagging injuries. Even if under a minutes restriction (he averaged 23.5 last season), he can still be effective in limited doses (21.8 points per 36 minutes, 57.7 field-goal percentage, 22.1 player efficiency rating).
His maturation, on and off the floor, would be a godsend for this franchise. He has the talent to be that second option that Anthony wants, especially if he becomes more discerning about his shot selection
The puzzle for Anthony will be figuring out how to maximize these new weapons without sacrificing the efficiency he exhibited last season. He's been working with trainer Idan Ravin to fine-tune his offensive game, but it's on him to put these new tools to work.
The Struggle Within
New York's roster changes might not have been dramatic this summer, but the way they affect Anthony's usage could be.
Despite Anthony's scorching run as an undersized 4 last season (career best 24.8 player efficiency rating and 9.5 win shares), he could be on the move back to his natural spot at the 3.
Anthony himself has signed off on the arrangement, via Begley:
Carmelo Anthony said he'd have no problem sliding to SF when sharing the floor w/Bargnani but believes he'll get plenty of time in the post.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 1, 2013
Anthony's right, this setup doesn't entirely preclude him from playing the post. But it figures to limit his touches on the low block. Bargnani can stray from the basket on occasion, but he's not the kind of player who can afford to live out on the wing.
Anthony's far from the worst decision-maker in the league, but there have been points in his career when he's gotten a little jump-shot happy. For a player with as many offensive weapons as he has—combined with the offensive slant of the PER category—he should have something better than a career 20.8 PER.
As his team's unchallenged best scorer, he's in a bit of a tough spot. A number of prolific scorers get too ball-dominant at times, but Anthony still has to pick his spots wisely.
Last season, he was lethal in his offensive execution. He became just the 10th player in NBA history to average at least 28.5 points and fewer than 3.0 turnovers, and the first to do so since Tracy McGrady achieved the feat in 2002-03.
But being so close to the basket, Anthony had less time to think. As soon as he caught the ball in the post, he had to instantly read and react to the defense. If help crashed, he'd find one of New York's gunners on the outside. If it didn't come, he'd bully his way to baskets or free throws.
This season, those reads will take longer to develop. Double teams won't come as quickly, and when they do, he'll likely be making those reads on the move.
The first open shot isn't always the best. Remember, these are Mike Woodson's Knicks, not Mike D'Antoni's.
Anthony's quick-fire first step will give him an offensive advantage more often than not. But it's those second and third steps that really matter, the ones that can take him from the dead zone of mid-range jumpers into that realm of efficiency known as the paint.
He still has shooters to find when help perimeter defenders drop down too far and finishers in Chandler, Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin should defensive help come from underneath.
If Anthony's an unselfish scorer, New York's ceiling goes beyond last season's 54-win total. If not, well let's just say the ramifications could be felt well beyond 2013-14.
The countdown is underway in New York, and it's not the one tracking the time until the Knicks' regular-season opener on Oct. 30.
Anthony watch is on in full force, as he sits less than 12 months away from deciding whether to opt out of the final year of his current contract.
It's more of a formality than anything. Anything close to a repeat performance of his 2012-13 effort will ensure the 29-year-old another major payday.
But that doesn't mean he'll be filling out a change-of-address form next summer. He could simply re-sign with the Knicks, something ESPN's Stephen A. Smith says has a "50-50" chance of happening (via Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles).
The will-he-or-won't-he question will surround this team all season, no matter how hard he tries to bury the topic.
If he's still swimming in blue and orange beyond next summer, that means he's willing to buy this team's title potential. He told MSG Network's Alan Hahn he thinks the Knicks improved over the offseason:
This year, we got guys that can help us all across the board. Down on the block, out on the wing, defensively; just overall as a group, I feel we have a better team than last year, and that's saying a lot because we had a real good team last year.
And that appreciation of his teammates will grow over the course of this season.
How would you grade New York's offseason?
He has more scorers able to help carry the offensive torch. Bargnani can light up a scoreboard, Shumpert looks poised for a break-out season and the combination of Smith and Hardaway gives Woodson options to find instant scoring.
World Peace will help keep Anthony away from the defensive post. Udrih (career 3.6 assists to 1.5 turnovers), Raymond Felton (6.6 to 2.6) and Pablo Prigioni (3.0 to 1.1) breathe ball control.
These Knicks won't shoot themselves in the foot, and the added athleticism on the roster will help strengthen the perimeter defense. A clean bill of health for Chandler and Martin can close off the defensive interior.
This is a top-five team in the East no matter how you look at it. If Stoudemire returns to relevance, Shumpert realizes his potential and Smith keeps the gas pedal glued to the floor, New York's ceiling reaches all the way into June.
Anthony will have the biggest say whether the Knicks play at a championship level. But he's far from being the only voice in that discussion.
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