Knicks Biggest Problem Isn't Carmelo Anthony, It's Flawed Supporting Cast

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2014

Feb 1, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) reacts after not getting a foul call against the Miami Heat during the first period of a game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It's easy to place all of the blame on Carmelo Anthony for the New York Knicks' struggles, but that doesn't make it right.

'Melo is the guy out front, the marquee star who gets (and probably wants) the credit, status and praise that comes with leading a major franchise in a major city. So he bears most of the criticism when things go wrong.

It's a tradeoff every would-be superstar must make.

Some of the blame Anthony receives is warranted. He forces too many low-percentage shots. He's not a consistently committed defender. He isn't clutch:

But 'Melo has never had much help, either. On balance, that lack of support is as much to blame for New York's ongoing futility as anything else.

"Support" System

Just look at what Anthony has to deal with this year: Andrea Bargnani was horrendous before blowing out his elbow. He's now mercifully done for the year, perhaps a blessing after a 42-game season in which he shot 27.8 percent from three, put together a phenomenal blooper reel on defense and made most of his headlines for a boneheaded late-game heave.

J.R. Smith is about as unreliable as they come—he is shooting below 40 percent from the field and has mentally checked out since before the 2013-14 campaign began. And that's to say nothing of how comically redundant his skills are on a team that features Anthony.

Amar'e Stoudemire is probably 'Melo's most objectively "talented" teammate, but all he does is score. Everything else STAT does on the court is a negative—from his defense to his passing to his penchant for ball-stopping.

It's tempting to dig into Raymond Felton's weight, atrocious defensive effort and inability to shoot the ball. But why waste words when one (moving) picture says all we need to know about his tenure in New York:

Tyson Chandler is on a level above the aforementioned "helpers," but his best days are behind him and he's certainly never been a guy who has made things substantially easier for Anthony on the offensive end. Repeated health issues have reduced 'Melo's best running mate to more of a walking buddy.

The story has been much the same throughout Anthony's time with the Knicks.

In 2012-13, easily the most successful campaign since No. 7 showed up in New York, 'Melo got a solid year from Chandler and 42 percent shooting from Smith. It's telling that we remember that season as a good one for the Knicks sixth man.

Otherwise, New York relied on a relatively successful mix of small ball, aging vets like Jason Kidd and a slightly less awful year from Felton. That was a delicately constructed, somewhat gimmicky roster and one that we now know wasn't built on a sustainable model.

Or, at least we know head coach Mike Woodson wasn't keen on sustaining it. His overuse of big lineups this season reveals his true feelings on going small.

Looking back further, Anthony might have had a stellar second fiddle in Jeremy Lin. But “Linsanity” lasted just half of a lockout-shortened season and we only saw the two of them suit up together for a couple of games. We'll never know what might have come of that pairing.

If we dig all the way back to Anthony's first 27 games with New York in 2010-11, we see Amar'e Stoudemire as a highly productive offensive player averaging 25.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. Felton was pretty good for the Knicks that year, but he headed to Denver in the deal that brought 'Melo to New York.

But that was a small sample in one season and we've seen that neither Felton nor Stoudemire have sustained anything close to those levels of performance since.

Anthony has never had a Dwyane Wade to his LeBron James, a Russell Westbrook to his Kevin Durant. Hell, he's never even had a David Lee to his Stephen Curry.

A Difficult Fit

It's critical to point out the unique difficulties of playing alongside Anthony. His style requires a very specific kind of supporting role player. The best ones are usually guys who can be effective with limited touches. If they can affect the game without scoring, all the better.

Feb. 20, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin (17) and small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) react during the first half against the New Jersey Nets at Madison Square Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony needs catch-and-shoot helpers, bigs who set good screens and guards who thrive in a drive-and-kick game. It'd be nice to pretend Anthony could adjust his game to fit a broader range of teammates, but we've seen enough to know he's not going to do that.

Unless he's surrounded by legitimate stars on Team USA, Anthony doesn't readily relinquish his be-all, end-all offensive primacy.

It's not easy to find guys who are willing and able to stand around and wait for limited shot opportunities. It's also true that in the kind of offensive environment Anthony creates, teammates who are offensively uninvolved for long stretches tend to lose some defensive intensity and can easily become frustrated.

Anyone who's played pickup with a ball hog knows the feeling; it's hard to stay fully engaged when one man is using up so many possessions.

And we can't forget Anthony's role in hamstringing his organization's ability to build an ideal roster around him. He forced his way to New York via trade, which resulted in some serious asset depletion.

B/R's Howard Beck explains:

Three years ago, Anthony forced the Denver Nuggets to trade him to New York, rather than wait for free agency. It cost the Knicks a bounty in players and draft picks, creating a talent deficit they have never overcome.

“I knew we took a step backwards as an organization for me to get here,” Anthony acknowledged in December interview with NBA TV's Ahmad Rashad. “So we had to rebuild.”

It's fair to recognize Anthony's lack of help, but it's also important to keep in mind the fact that he's somewhat responsible for the Knicks' personnel issues.

Ultimately, though, the root of this problem is the same as it is for every other one in New York: The front office doesn't know what it's doing.

Blame the Architects

Sure, it's hard to find ideal complements for Anthony, but it's not impossible. An organization with the resources and high profile of the Knicks should be able to do better than it has to this point.

Unfortunately, New York remains more interested in splashy moves than smart ones.

The Bargnani trade is a perfect example. There was absolutely no chance he'd ever fit with 'Melo; Bargs needed the ball, couldn't defend and essentially had to play the same position as Anthony in order to maximize his own value. There were a handful of deluded Knicks fans who talked themselves into the acquisition—even to the point where they were willing to excuse the surrendering of a first-round pick.

That was a trade destined to fail. But hey, Bargnani was a big name, right?

Inept coaching has only made an ill-fitting supporting cast less helpful to Anthony. And as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News points out, that situation isn't likely to get better anytime soon:

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

The Knicks are a mess, and Anthony is going to see what his options are as a free agent this summer. It's hard to fault him for wanting to explore an exit.

He deserves some of the blame for how things have gone in New York, but it's probably time to stop pegging him as the main reason for the Knicks' failure.

Even a guy who loves isolation as much as Anthony needs a little help once in a while.


    Report: Kawhi Didn't Feel Supported by Pop, Parker

    NBA logo

    Report: Kawhi Didn't Feel Supported by Pop, Parker

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Kawhi, Pop Meet in San Diego

    NBA logo

    Report: Kawhi, Pop Meet in San Diego

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Hawks Focusing in on Doncic

    NBA logo

    Report: Hawks Focusing in on Doncic

    Scott Polacek
    via Bleacher Report

    Knicks Can Catapult Rebuild with Parsons Trade

    New York Knicks logo
    New York Knicks

    Knicks Can Catapult Rebuild with Parsons Trade

    Collin Loring
    via Elite Sports NY