Carmelo Anthony has received plenty of blame for the New York Knicks' disappointing season. The perceptions behind that conclusion could not be more misguided. The seven-time All-Star is not receiving nearly enough credit for what has been the best season of his career.
One player can have a greater impact on the outcome of a team's success in basketball than in any other sport because there are only five men or women on the court at one time. However, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, we focus too much on superstars, especially those with name recognition like Anthony.
Basketball remains a team game. Anthony has been sensational this season. His teammates have let him down.
Most basketball insiders and fans considered last year the best of Anthony's career. He led the league in scoring with 28.7 points per game and finished third in MVP voting after carrying the Knicks to a 54-28 record.
However, Anthony has been even more impressive this year. He has improved in every major statistical category (including PER, which climbed from 24.8 to 25.0 according to Basketball Reference) with the exception of points per game, has provided maximum effort on a consistent basis and has been willing to do whatever is necessary to help the team win.
Carmelo Antony's stats per 36 minutes
Contrary to popular belief, 'Melo's contributions have not been limited to offense. He is grabbing 8.2 rebounds a game and controlled the defensive backboard when Tyson Chandler was sidelined during the early part of the season. Anthony averaged 10.2 boards per game in November, via NBA.com (subscription required).
He is also not the one to blame for New York's porous defense. Past criticism of his tendency to take possessions off on that end of the floor was warranted. This year, however, 'Melo is competing harder and more consistently on defense than at any other time during his tenure with the Knicks.
Unfortunately, he has received little help from his teammates. With the possible exception of Amar'e Stoudemire, every returning rotation player from the Knicks team that won 54 games last season is playing significantly worse this year.
J.R. Smith, who was the team's second-leading scorer in 2012-13 at 18.1 points per game is putting up just 13.2 points per night on 39.8 percent shooting. His rebounding numbers are down (4.0, compared to 5.3 last season), he is getting to the line about half as often (1.9 free-throw attempts per game, compared to 3.9 last year) and his defense has been spotty at best.
New York's third offensive option, Raymond Felton, has been equally disappointing. He is scoring four fewer points per game (13.9 to 9.9) and his shooting has been atrocious (40 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from behind the arc).
Factor in that he cannot stop anybody on defense, and the nine-year veteran is no longer a starting-caliber player. And time is catching up with backup point guard Pablo Prigioni, who was equally ineffective at keeping opposing ball-handlers out of the paint.
Iman Shumpert has regressed in what was supposed to be his breakout season. Shump's points per 36 minutes are down from 11.0 to 9.1, and he is connecting on a pathetic 37.7 percent of his shots. Among players who have appeared in at least 15 games and are averaging over 25 minutes per game, only Ricky Rubio (37.6 percent) is shooting a lower percentage.
Chandler missed 26 games and has not been the same player when he is in the lineup. His scoring and rebounding numbers are similar to last year's, but New York's defensive anchor has been slower on rotations and not as much of a presence around the rim.
New York has also dealt with numerous injuries, from Chandler’s leg, to Felton’s hamstring, to Andrea Bargnani’s elbow, to Kenyon Martin’s recurring ankle problems and Stoudemire’s minute limitations.
Carmelo certainly has his flaws. The ball sticks in his hands at times, and he bears the responsibility for the lack of leadership on the team this season. But the team's dismal record is not his fault.
Three of the Knicks' most important players—Shumpert, Smith and Felton—are shooting at or below 40 percent, and their second-leading scorer, Bargnani, is averaging less than half as many points per game (13.3) as Anthony (28.1). The Knicks cannot stop the pick-and-roll and do not trust each other defensively.
Carmelo Anthony’s season should not be defined by the injuries and inadequacies of his teammates. He is playing the best basketball of his illustrious career.