When the television networks play highlights of the New York Knicks' 106-101 overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings, they will likely focus on star Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony's inability to hit a long, contested jumper at the end of regulation.
The shot would have won the game for New York, and it's the kind of big-time shot a franchise player like Anthony is supposed to make.
That kind of oversimplified thinking isn't fair to Anthony, the poor New York fans forced to suffer through Knicks games or team sports in general.
Every basketball observer in the Tri-State Area knew Knicks head coach Mike Woodson was simply going to isolate Melo, far from the basket, without a screen, decoy or anything else that might have relieved some of the pressure. Sure, the forward was visibly gassed after playing every minute of the second half and could have used some help from the other four teammates legally required to stand on the court, but that would have violated every principle these Knicks stand for.
Even before Melo's off-balance prayer clanged off the rim, Knicks fans were taking to Twitter to voice their disgust—not with the player but with the coach who left him hanging out to dry.
Woodson, just turn your white board upside down, it doesn't matter.— netw3rk (@netw3rk) February 13, 2014
Seriously, if the Knicks could play an entire game of last second possessions, they'd lose 97 to -4.— sir broosk (@celebrityhottub) February 13, 2014
The Knicks do indeed have a "Carmelo Anthony Hero Ball" problem, but it is no fault of Anthony. It is the fault of an organization and coaching staff who have over the past few years repeatedly ignored, especially in the waning moments of close games, the most basic tenets of team basketball.
After the game, Woodson quickly laid the blame on the players for not executing his play at the end of regulation, per The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:
Woodson suggests that Felton botched one of the plays called for Melo in the 4th. Said it should've been an elbow pick and roll.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 13, 2014
Nobody's buying it. The "dump it off to Melo and get out of the way" last-minute offense has been a hallmark of Woodson's time in New York. And Anthony's clutch numbers have suffered as a result.
Since he has come to New York, Anthony has transformed from one of the most clutch scorers in the league to a player seemingly incapable of scoring a bucket in the closing minutes, per Bleacher Report's Dan Favale:
So what changed? has Melo morphed into a loser, a player incapable of rising to the occasion? Or is he simply the victim of the Knicks' outdated philosophy on how to win a game at the buzzer?
What Could the Knicks Have Done Differently?
When a basketball team's last-second offense has invariably come down to the same player taking impossible shots—and said player has hit precisely none of them during the season—then literally any other option is preferable.
For example, the Knicks might have done well to run a play for Amar'e Stoudemire, who had shot an impressive 9-of-13 at that point in the game. Even if Woodson didn't want to utilize Stoudemire in the post with six seconds left, he and Melo have proven to be adept in the two-man game. At the very least, Stoudemire stood a better chance of drawing a foul.
Instead, Woodson kept Stoudemire in the game for defensive purposes (which makes no sense) while ignoring him on offense during that last fateful minute.
But the Knicks likely would have avoided the last-second tie altogether if he had stuck with Pablo Prigioni (their best remaining defensive guard) over Tim Hardaway (their worst defensive guard) during the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. Hardaway repeatedly lost Sacramento guard Jimmer Fredette, who scored nine of his career-high 24 points in the fourth.
Woodson's lineups were even more ludicrous than usual, as injuries to J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert gave him an excuse to experiment with his beloved "big" lineups. In overtime, Woodson fashioned his pièce de résistance: a lineup of Raymond Felton, Anthony, Stoudemire, Jeremy Tyler and Tyson Chandler. It was almost as if Woodson knew this was likely to be his final game as coach, and he wanted to go out with the biggest, craziest lineup imaginable.
After the game, Woodson tried to justify his big lineups, per ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk:
Woodson says it hurt when Shumpert went down and made matchups difficult for Knicks. Said he had to go big.— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) February 13, 2014
But his explanation didn't jive with Woodson's lineup preferences this season, according to Herring:
To those asking why Im confused by Woodson, Im confused bc all yr, Woodsons sought 2 go big. Tonight, he blames loss on inability 2 go small— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 13, 2014
Will the Knicks Learn Their Lesson?
Dogs can learn to roll over. Apes can learn sign language. But the Knicks? I'm not sure they will ever learn that basketball is a team sport.
This isn't just a Mike Woodson problem; it has been a hallmark of the Knicks since the dawn of the James Dolan era. This is why they blow endless draft picks on big names like Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry and Andrea Bargnani. It is why they traded a boatload of assets to acquire Anthony, despite the fact that they seemingly had all the leverage at the time.
To the Dolan Knicks, basketball is not a team sport; it is a game of competing stars. Role players are useless. Running plays is pointless. The team with the biggest star wins. And when the game is on the line, the star should be handed the ball and be allowed to "do his thing."
That is the Dolan basketball credo. He is the kind of basketball fan who watches clips of Michael Jordan's game-winners and willfully ignores the times Jordan passed to ball to the likes of Steve Kerr in the clutch. That's fine for a casual fan, but it's no way for an NBA owner to think, particularly one as hands-on as Dolan.
The owner found a willing disciple for his juvenile basketball philosophy in Mike Woodson, but the sheer volume of losses will ultimately doom the coach. After all, Dolan can't very well fire himself, can he?
If Dolan hires another like-minded coach, then the Knicks are likely to continue putting Carmelo Anthony in hero-ball situations with the game on the line. Anthony can either learn to endure the losing or take less money to ply his trade for a smarter franchise.