Throughout a year of complete failure, there has been precisely one bright spot for the New York Knicks in 2013-14. Carmelo Anthony's individual desire and prowess haven't been enough to guide New York back atop the standings, but he has given Knicks fans something to marvel at and look forward to amidst this disaster season.
What's surrounded him, however, has brought nearly nothing to the table all season long. He's accounted for over 27 percent of the team's total points scored, and he's one of just three Knicks rotation players to post a league-average player efficiency rating.
With him, New York has been a train wreck. But how brutal would it be if it wasn't for 'Melo's efforts?
It's a worthwhile question to ponder, especially if Anthony decides to flee the Big Apple after this season. With an already capped-out roster for next season, the Knicks would likely be fielding a very similar lineup in 2014-15, only subtracting Carmelo.
Anthony has played brilliantly all season long while posting stats similar to those of last season, one in which the Knicks won 54 games. In a year as disappointing as this one, he has publicly pondered whether or not his fine play is even worth the trouble. According to Clifton Brown of The New York Times:
'You score 40, 44, 44, 44, all losses—you kind of ask yourself is it worth it,' Anthony said. 'I'm not going to stop doing what I'm doing. You can believe that.'
The way Anthony felt after Nowitzki made the winning basket mirrored the way he has felt many times this season.
'It's like a needle in a balloon right there, just sucks all the air out you,' he said.
Stuck on just 31 wins with only eight games to go in the season, the team has been futile in nearly every facet of the game. But, possibly even more than you'd expect, numbers show that without Anthony, this year's Knicks would be a pure laughingstock.
According to NBA.com (subscription required), the Knicks have been outscored by an average of 10 points per 100 possessions while Anthony is off the floor—by far the highest mark of any player on the team. He's also one of just three Knicks to boast a positive on-court net rating.
|NY's O-Rating||NY's D-Rating||Net|
According to Basketball-Reference, Anthony has averaged .173 win shares per 48 minutes, which makes him one of just three players on a losing team to place in the top 20 league-wide. The normalized league average is roughly .100.
In total, Anthony has contributed 9.8 win shares this season. Stripping the Knicks' record of those 10 wins, and instead replacing them with what league-average replacements would provide, can give a rough, mathematical estimate of just how putrid the Knicks would be without 'Melo's star performances.
Using the league-average figure of .100 WS per 48 minutes, we can find that an average contributor would post approximately .002083 win shares per minute. We then multiply that by Anthony's 2,721 minutes played this year and come up with 5.7 win shares: what a league-average replacement would provide in 'Melo's stead.
According to this metric, if the Knicks went without Anthony all season and replaced him with a replacement-level forward, the team would stand at an estimated 27-47: 10th in the East.
However, this is assuming New York would have found an average replacement, which is a very spunky assumption. Other than Anthony, the only other Knicks forward who has posted a WS-per-48 over .100 is Amar'e Stoudemire. Nine of the team's 14 current players have performed, by this metric, below league average.
So it's safe to assume that without Anthony, the Knicks would have dropped more than just four additional games by now.
Of course, right now, this is all hypothetical and moot. The Knicks have Carmelo, so what's the point in discussing this at all?
The answer is simple: Because in three months, when Anthony will have several other suitors after his talents in unrestricted free agency, this hypothetical scenario could become much more real.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith says Carmelo Anthony is leaving the Knicks in free agency http://t.co/ElQnWrqAma— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 18, 2014
Next season, with Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler netting a combined $58.2 million—and with Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni and Tim Hardaway still under contract—Phil Jackson will have his work cut out for him in assembling an improved roster.
Losing Anthony wouldn't create any additional cap flexibility for New York. It would only subtract its most crucial piece.
There is the notion that, without Anthony, the Knicks could be better off sacrificing 2014-15 altogether. They actually own their first-round pick in the 2015 draft, so floundering through next regular season—unlike this one—would actually garner a promising asset in return.
Without 'Melo, it's a task that New York would have no trouble resorting to. With Andrea Bargnani, J.R. Smith and a 32-year-old Amar'e Stoudemire as the offense's focal points, and no plausible defenders on the roster beyond Chandler and Shumpert, next year's Knicks wouldn't need to implement a deliberate tanking plan to nail a high lottery pick. It'd happen organically.
They'd have only the $3 million mid-level exception at their disposal over the summer and will likely need to part ways with Tyson Chandler in a trade to net any sort of offensive help. Jackson will surely add savvy decision-making to the front office, but improving the roster for next season would be nothing short of a miracle.
Which brings us back to 'Melo's ultimate decision this July: Why would Anthony choose to re-up with the Knicks if it means sacrificing yet another year of his prime in 2014-15 with this same, sorry roster?
The Knicks just underwent one of the league's ugliest transformations, from a 54-win No. 2 seed to an expensive, atrocious disaster in just one year's time. If Anthony does decide to jump ship this summer, New York's continued downfall would truly be limitless.