Only a miracle can save Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. Or a point guard. Same difference, really.
Nearly 30 games into the season, 'Melo's Knicks look lost and alone, devoid of all hope as they gasp for air beneath the shambles of a formerly sturdy ceiling. They're 9-19, 10 games under .500 and 2.5 outside the doleful Eastern Conference's playoff picture. And they know why.
Absence of a point guard has killed the Knicks. Destroyed their once efficient offense (third last season) and sent it into the dark ages. There is no commanding floor general in their midst, and it's left them clinging to hopes that their season will mercifully turn around.
It's also left them chasing what could be unattainable. According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Knicks are essentially banking on Rondo to force himself out of Boston and into their arms:
According to league sources, the Knicks' first prong is to try to attract the Celtics' Rajon Rondo. This idea has been tossed around in various forms for a while now, it's not shocking. But the way the Knicks are hoping to get Rondo is a little unusual.
It's not in free agency in 2015 but later this season or next summer when he comes back from a torn ACL. The Knicks are hoping Rondo will be interested in making a maneuver similar to what Anthony did back in 2011 and eventually try to force a trade to the Knicks, sources said.
Although their target may be unrealistic, the Knicks'—who have no cap space or inviting assets—minds are in the right place. They need a point guard. More than anything else—a new coach, defensive conscience, jeans with elastic waistbands, etc.—they need an offensive catalyst.
"I think I still have a lot of time in this league," Anthony said during an interview with NBA TV's Ahmad Rashad, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. "All I care about is winning a championship."
Another point guard must arrive first if Anthony's championship is to come in New York.
The Priggy Smalls Effect
One word: Sexy.
The Pablo Prigioni-Anthony hookup has looked sexy this season. Priggy Smalls complements 'Melo almost perfectly as a pass-first floor general who doesn't think twice about getting others involved.
Playing alongside Anthony, it can be difficult to differentiate between when and when not to give him the ball. He's always calling for it. Be it on the block, above the break, in the corner—Anthony wants the ball.
No shame is his frequent demands, either. The Knicks pay him to score, and he's damn good at it. Quite literally, he's not going to score without it.
But resting on Anthony makes New York's offense predictable and subsequently stagnant. Fellow Knicks slosh around the perimeter, remaining idle, waiting (hoping?) for Anthony to score. 'Melo himself knows it.
Melo, on the late-game isolations: "Guys are kinda waiting around for me to do something. ... We've gotta get away from that. And we will."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
When Prig is on the floor, things change. The ball moves crisply and often. Empty isolation sets become fewer and far between, and Anthony looks good.
You're going to see a more efficient version of 'Melo alongside Prig. A more potent, relaxed 'Melo, who doesn't need to force the action. Next to an actual floor general, who can run an offense and make smart decisions, you're going to see a better 'Melo.
The Priggy Smalls Dilemma
Prigioni is a 36-year-old sophomore recovering from injury. New York isn't going to get 30-plus minutes a night from him consistently. He's also passive when it comes to shooting. Although he's knocking down 43.1 percent of his long balls, he's taking just over three total shots per game.
If over-passing was infectious, ball movement wouldn't be a problem any longer. Prig moves the rock that much—to a fault. While that's something the Knicks could do without, they need him. Or rather, someone like him, since he's not enough.
Doesn't matter that the Knicks—whose ball-handlers rank 29th in points scored per possessions within pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required)—need Prig to orchestrate the offense. Doesn't matter that he ranks 17th among all floor generals in points scored per pick-and-roll possession. He's old and, right now, injured.
We all saw what happened to Jason Kidd last year. Coach Mike Woodson overworked him and, come playoff time, there was no gas left in the tank. No lift under his jump shot. No stamina to keep the ball moving.
The Knicks cannot risk such ill effects this year. They need a younger body better fit to navigate an entire season as their drill sergeant. Though undeniably effective, that's not Prig.
If only he were six or seven years younger.
Point Guard Defect
Well, I'll be. I almost forgot the Knicks have other point guards. Almost. I'm not lucky enough to forget entirely.
Raymond Felton (injured) and Beno Udrih (sad) are two of the Knicks' other primary "playmakers," tasked with making New York's offense better. Which they haven't.
|Point Guard||With||Without||+/- Differential|
When Felton or Udrih are on the floor, New York's offense is worse. Noticeably worse. Neither of them boost the team's offensive rating above 100, leaving the Knicks to trot out the equivalent of a bottom-eight attack. But when Prig is in the game, they're scoring like a top-10 offense.
It doesn't get any more disappointing than that.
Except it does.
Neither Felton nor Udrih make Anthony better or more effective when they're on the floor. Prig and Prig alone has been able to do that.
|Point Guard||With||Without||+/- Differential|
Point guards are usually offensive catalysts. Even the shoot-first, pass-later dominators typically improve their team's offensive standing. The good ones do, at least.
Games, let alone championships, won't be won if those who quarterback the offense are actually hindering production. It puts more pressure on the four other positions to create for themselves. Players like Anthony are forced into isolation, and the offense as a whole becomes solvable and easy to defend. Stagnant and impossible to watch.
Anemic and prone to losing.
Chris Smith to the Rescue
Shame on you for thinking I was serious.
What do a majority of the NBA's best teams have in common? A dominant playmaker.
The Indiana Pacers, who rely on Paul George, George Hill and Lance Stephenson to shoulder their distributional loads, are an exception. You can also argue the Houston Rockets fall into that same category, though Harden's 5.6 dimes per game are begging to prove you wrong.
The rest have talented point guards, or in the case of the Miami Heat and LeBron James, point forwards.
There's Damian Lillard with the Portland Trail Blazers; Russell Westbrook with the Oklahoma City Thunder; Tony Parker with the San Antonio Spurs; Chris Paul for the Los Angeles Clippers; Eric Bledsoe/Goran Dragic on the Phoenix Suns; Stephen Curry for the Golden State Warriors.
Sensing patterns was never so easy. Good teams, great teams have elite playmakers. The Knicks don't. I shouldn't have to tell you what that means.
They rank in the bottom 12 of offensive efficiency for a reason. They're 26th in dimes dropped per night for a reason. Anthony's Knicks are where they are—hell on earth—for a reason.
Similarly, their problems aren't going away until they give them reason enough to.
Until they're able to throw a capable point guard at them.
Point Guard Blues
Think the Knicks are chasing Rondo for fun? Considered bringing in Kyle Lowry for giggles?
If it's one thing the Knicks aren't, it's oblivious. They're poor planners and worse executors, and they're spendthrift ways create inflexibility that rivals most steel stanchions, but they're not completely and utterly stupid.
Anthony is especially aware of New York's dire need. It was he who, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman, requested the Knicks attempt to trade for Rondo over the summer. It was he who, per the USA Today's Jason Jordan, already started recruiting Rondo.
What do the Knicks need most to turn their season around?
It's 'Melo who needs a point guard more than anyone.
The Knicks can no longer be dependent on Anthony to carry the offense. He's not a floor manager. That's not his job (to carry). Scoring is his job. Putting points on the board is his job. And oftentimes, you cannot do that alone. You need an offensive buffer, someone who not only creates easy looks for yourself, but renders teammates legitimate scoring threats.
Who the Knicks have now is unacceptable. Prigioni is great. Seriously, he's a breath of fresh air in the toxic wasteland that is their offense. But he's not enough. Felton and Udrih are not enough or even helpful, and the Knicks cannot afford to wait until 2015, when they have actual cap space.
They need someone else now. Anyone who can direct an offense and make life easier on a dragooned Anthony.
Someone who allows them to do what they haven't all season, and what they will never do unless things change: Win.