What the New York Knicks Need from Carmelo Anthony Next Season
With the franchise's direction a giant unknown heading into the offseason, the New York Knicks are relying on Carmelo Anthony to ignore this season's failures and sign a new deal with the team. It's a tall request for sure, but New York will still have to ask a few more things of its star should he re-up this July.
For starters, the team will need to convince Anthony taking less-than-max money and potentially sacrificing a year of his prime in 2014-15 will be well worth it.
After two consecutive seasons of Anthony's greatness coupled with ultimate failure, it's clear the Knicks' recipe for success needs tweaking.
Phil Jackson's front-office arrival is surely promising, but adjustments from the team's best player could go a long way. As great of a player 'Melo has been over the last two seasons, there are still improvements to be made.
With those improvements, the Knicks' ascension to contender status may not take as long as suspected. Ahead, we detail some key requests the Knicks should be asking of Anthony this summer.
A Financial Favor
It's a simple concept to understand: If Anthony re-signs with New York on a maximum-salary contract, the team will not be able to build a championship contender for 2015.
As detailed by Jared Dubin of Bloomberg Sports back in February, Anthony will need to agree to a deal significantly less than the max in order for Jackson's front office to build a well-rounded roster two summers from now.
The Knicks can offer him a maximum of $129 million over the next five seasons, which would place him at annual salaries of $22.45 million in 2014-15 and $24.14 million in 2015-16. At that number in the summer of 2015, the Knicks would be able to sign another max-level player with six years of experience or less. But that would be the extent of their primary roster-building. The remainder of the roster would need to be filled via minimum-salary signings.
In terms of what the Knicks will be asking of Anthony this summer, simply "re-signing" isn't necessarily accurate. There needs to be certain parameters that would still enable the Knicks to build a sustainable team in the near future. If 'Melo can't agree to that, it may be time to let him find a new home.
But even if the Knicks do dangle a max offer, Anthony agreeing to those terms isn't a slam dunk. The team's current roster is essentially locked into next year as well, and Carmelo witnessed just how successful it was this year.
Jackson's crew would need to convince Anthony to sacrifice another precious season of his prime, along with taking a sizable paycut in future years.
It'd involve a lot of trust on 'Melo's end in putting his future in the hands of a team that's delivered him nothing but empty promises. The Knicks will need a surefire plan to present Anthony with this summer, or they may not even get the chance to build a 'Melo-led roster at all.
Over Anthony's Knicks tenure, nobody has ever mistaken him for the most adaptable star in the league. He famously clashed with Mike D'Antoni early on when the coach attempted to implement his ideologies onto an uninterested Anthony-led offense.
Mike Woodson soon replaced D'Antoni, and the Knicks' soon-to-be ex-head coach has spoon fed 'Melo exactly what he prefers: the basketball. No matter how adversely it affected the team's fortunes.
Over Woodson's run as interim head coach to end the 2011-12 regular season, Anthony posted a 33.3 usage rate, which trumped his 31.4 usage number under D'Antoni that year. Last season, his first full campaign under Woodson, Anthony sported the highest usage mark in the NBA at a career-high 35.6. This year, his 32.5 clip is the fourth-highest of his career and fourth league-wide among players with significant playing time.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Anthony has cut his isolation rate in each season he's been with the Knicks—from 37 percent of his total plays in 2010-11 to 25.6 this season—but one-on-ones still make up more than a quarter of his own possessions.
With the power of selecting his own head coach next season, Jackson is likely to select a wise basketball man with a strong system, whether it be the triangle or any other structure.
Asked whether he'd push for the triangle in New York, Jackson said during his introductory presser (via SB Nation), "It's not an insistence but I do like to have a system. I like a method of playing basketball. I think there's a logical method of playing basketball."
In order to succeed under New York's new regime, Anthony will need to do something he hasn't been known for over his 10-year career: buy in to a coach's beliefs, even if they deny him some personal prowess.
Steve Kerr has been a trendy pick for the soon-to-be vacant head coaching position, thanks to his closeness to Jackson and proficiency with the triangle. No matter who the replacement proves to be, Anthony and the rest of the team will be depended on to buy in.
Properly Handled Health
For the most part, Anthony has been able to stay on the hardwood during his Knicks tenure. But, in each of the last two seasons, certain scenarios have been a bit disconcerting for Knicks fans.
In 2012-13, when the forward ran into knee troubles following the All-Star break, it was revealed Anthony had fluid buildup in the knee. Instead of getting the fluid drained, Anthony declined, and opted for rest. During that 10-game stretch of pain, Anthony shot just 35 percent from the field and 18 percent from three-point range. He did get the knee drained later in the year, and the results were immediate.
Recently, Anthony tweaked his shooting shoulder with an injury similar to one he suffered at the end of last season (though not the same ailment). Though some time has passed since he first brought up the injury, Anthony hasn't gone in for an MRI to realize the full extent of the damage.
The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring detailed last season's medical dramas, and ties them into this year's similar case:
If it seems like Anthony doesn't actually know what's wrong with his shoulder, well, the Knicks might not know, either. First, the organization called Anthony's injury a 'strained right shoulder,' and said X-ray results had come back negative. But the Knicks, who have been off since Sunday's loss in Miami, still haven't given Anthony a more-detailed MRI exam, which could highlight any ligament or tissue damage.
Anthony has a history of reluctance when it comes to medical procedures and exams that might highlight a need for surgery. Last season, when it was clear he needed to have fluid in his sore left knee drained, he played through the discomfort at first and acknowledged his fear of needles. 'I'd rather get the natural treatment and see if the fluid can drain out by itself,' he said at the time. He also chose to let his left shoulder heal on its own rather than undergoing a procedure to fix it.
This precarious handling of injury by both Anthony and the Knicks isn't just dangerous; it's immature. There isn't any sense in risking a player's health while simultaneously hurting the team's nightly chances if he isn't fit to perform.
Anthony will need to be more thoughtful when handling his own health in the future.
Patching Up the Holes in His Game
It's been the common complaint on Anthony's game over his entire career: great scorer, doesn't play defense. While that mantra isn't completely true, it's not fully inaccurate, either.
This season, 'Melo has been one of the only Knicks to contribute complete devotion in several areas of the game. He's averaged career-bests in rebounds with 8.2 per game, steals with 1.3 per night and blocks at 0.7. According to Synergy, he's ranked ninth in the NBA in defending post-ups, and has allowed only 0.64 points per play when matched up in isolation.
Effort hasn't been an issue this season. On the cusp of 30, 'Melo realizes how much he means to his team, and what he does to the team's chances when he's coasting. There are, however, correctable flaws to his game that can be fixed with self-awareness and good coaching.
Via the New York Daily News' Peter Botte, Anthony acknowledged he's ready to take the necessary steps in order to blossom into the player Jackson believes he can be.
I’m willing to do whatever. As long as it’s gonna put me in a situation to win, I’m willing to do whatever. I’m not sold or stuck on my play. What I’ve been able to do these past 10-11 years has gotten me to where I am right now.
If Phil wants to come in and change that this late in my career, if it’s going to help me out to win a championship, I’m with it.
Averaging 3.1 assists this season—up from a career-worst 2.6 dimes last year—Anthony can work on better utilizing his passing ability. Out of the double-team, as noted by The Wall Street Journal's Herring earlier in the season, he creates superb looks for teammates along the perimeter. But Anthony can still improve his playmaking ability when passing isn't a last resort.
This issue isn't unique to Anthony, though. Scorers of his caliber generally take years to develop a comfort with voluntarily passing away possessions. Recalling the 2012-13 season, it took Kobe Bryant until that year—his 17th—to consistently look for open teammates. He averaged 7.5 assists over his last 36 games that season, and racked up more double-digit assist games than any of his seasons except 2004-05.
Anthony also has a tendency to get beat backdoor on defense, and his closeouts on shooters can often be described as lazy. These are problems that, although they have gone mostly unaddressed for the last decade, can be fixed over time.
Carmelo is a top talent in the league, but he's far from the best all-around option. With a few tweaks, Anthony could flip his career's narrative and become a much more versatile threat.
A Strong Voice
Few teams have suffered a dropoff in success from one year to another similar to what New York just experienced. The second-best team in the East this time last year, the Knicks won't even qualify for the postseason in 2013-14 and will win between 19 and 17 games less than the 54 they did last season.
The failure of 2014 can be attributed to several areas—Woodson's coaching and the curious acquisition of Andrea Bargnani have been brought up as the primary culprits—but there is one area the front office failed to address last offseason.
As it turned out, the leadership from 2012-13—Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby—meant a lot more to the Knicks' success than anyone had realized. The bevy of veterans New York was often ridiculed for stockpiling all left the team after 2013, leaving New York without a strong support system, or any locker room voice at all.
The leadership duties, essentially by default, were left primarily to Anthony. Only Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin have more NBA experience than Anthony on the Knicks, and only Chandler has the personality to fill the shoes of the departed elder statesmen.
At 29, Anthony was being asked, for the first time, to provide his team with a leading voice. In this sense, it appears he failed.
Leadership is a tricky quality to gauge outside of the locker room, but it's reasonable to judge a team's poise by the way it performs under pressure. And this year's Knicks team—Anthony in particular—have came up small in nearly every clutch situation.
In the last minute of games where the score is separated by five points or less, Anthony shot just 5-of-29 from the field, or 17 percent, including 4-of-14 from three-point range. Just three of those shots have come at the rim (all misses), and 14 have come from the mid-range, with only one make (via NBA.com).
When the Knicks need a bucket most, Anthony forces up terrible shots that usually don't go in. That's the late-game strategy.
As a team, the Knicks have been outscored by 6.8 points per 100 possessions in those clutch scenarios, ranking 27th in field-goal percentage at 35.3 percent.
Moving forward, if Anthony is part of the plans in a prominent leadership role, he'll need to find a way to rally the troops more effectively than this season. Getting out from under the asinine rule of Mike Woodson will be a positive first step.
'Melo's leading by example will become much more imperative if the team brings on a rookie coach such as Kerr. Without many young players on the roster, a new coach's words may fail to get through to some veteran players if they strike a rough patch to start the year. Anthony must see this won't become an issue.