Why New York Knicks Can't Afford to Abandon Small Ball Around Carmelo Anthony

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 6:   Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks plays against the Indiana Pacers during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 7, 2013 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Going small helped Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks do big things. That's not going to change, so the Knicks shouldn't either.

Last season marked the first time in 'Melo's career that he spent a majority of his minutes at power forward. The results speak for themselves.

Anthony won his first scoring title, notched a career-high PER (24.8) and his Knicks claimed 54 victories, the second-most in the Eastern Conference.

Second-round playoff exit in mind, what New York did worked. To be more specific, what they did with 'Melo worked. Collectively, they were far from perfect, but the decision to play Anthony at the 4 was flawless.

With Andrea Bargnani now on the roster and Amar'e Stoudemire expected to start the season healthy, 'Melo's rightful place at power forward is in jeopardy. STAT is listed as a 4 himself and Bargs is a stretch forward/center. Knowing Anthony was abused beyond comprehension by opposing bigs, Mike Woodson and the Knicks may feel compelled to move him back to 3, his "natural" position.

Only there's nothing natural or apropos about displacing Anthony when he and the Knicks actually have the opportunity to build upon his 2012-13 performance by doing just the opposite.

Small Forward vs. Power Forward

Just so you know I'm not belittling 'Melo's abilities as a small forward, he's going to score 25-plus points no matter where he starts. Finding the bottom of the net—no matter how many shots it takes—is what he does.

But numbers never lie.

Courtesy of 82games.com, we can get a concrete idea of how he fared per 48 minutes of action last season at small forward compared to power forward:

PositionPTSeFG%Off. Rtg.REBSPER
Small Forward33.749.
Power Forward37.250.8101.78.924.8

Markedly better is the phrase you're looking for.

It wasn't just that he was scoring more at the 4, but he was doing so more efficiently. Coming off a lockout-truncated 2011-12 campaign in which his effective field-goal percentage stood at a mere 46.3 (third-lowest of his career), the 50.8 he averaged at power forward last season was huge.

Stretching the floor with him at the 4 forced more traditional power forwards to defend outside their comfort zone. Favorable matchups like those made it easier for him to score from the perimeter, where he shot a career-best 37.9 percent from beyond the arc.

In fact, most of 'Melo's relevant numbers improved across the board last season compared to what he did through his first nine years in the league (see below).

Anthony showed improvements in almost all areas of offense. He was scoring more and, in some spots, doing so at a more economical rate than he had his entire career. You can't ignore that.

We also can't ignore those 54 victories he helped the Knicks amass, the most they obtained since the 1996-1997 crusade more than 15 years ago. This was also only the second time in Anthony's career he had been a part of a team that eclipsed the 54-win plateau, which can't be a coincidence.

These Knicks weren't stacked by any means. They navigated a labyrinth of injuries to Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton and 'Melo himself. They also fielded the oldest team in NBA history. And yet they still hit 54 wins.

'Melo himself accounted for 9.5 of those victories, yet another career high.

Still think this is all happened by chance, and that Anthony's appearance at the 4 in correlation to the Knicks' success was an aberration?

Almost all of what was easily the most complete season of 'Melo's career was spent at power forward. When he shifted to small forward his production dipped considerably. His scoring, efficiency—everything.

Progress dictates you make sacrifices, and the latter mandates you make changes. But neither should ever come at the expense of what is working.

The Amar'e Stoudemire Quandary

Making less sense than anything else is the notion that the Knicks must move 'Melo back to the 3 to accommodate Stoudemire. Seriously, it's insane.

For starters, we're far removed from the days when concessions are made for Stoudemire. Though it pains me to say this of a hard-working athlete like himself, he has to tailor his game to meet the needs of the team. Be it as a starter, sixth, seventh or 10th man, it doesn't matter. It's up to him to make it work.

Fortunately, not disrupting 'Melo's power forward flow on his behalf falls under "making it work" for everyone involved.

Listed as a power forward, Stoudemire has always been better suited at the 5, where even now he's quicker and more athletic than most centers not named Dwight Howard.

Through 11 seasons, STAT has spent a majority of his minutes at the center position on five separate occasions. Of those five seasons, four of them account for the top-five PERs he has ever posted.

For the most part, and especially since joining the Knicks, Stoudemire has routinely posted a higher PER at center (shown below).

Don't just think about that, embrace it. Because this means almost everything to the Anthony and Stoudemire pairing.

Gone are the days when we hoped this duo would rival the Miami Heat. It's not like that anymore. Injuries and intersecting play styles wont allow it. But it can be salvaged.

Stoudemire has proved most effective at the 5 and 'Melo at the 4. What does that tell us? Everything. Or rather, mostly everything.

Staggering the minutes of both is encouraged because of how inept they can be defensively, but ensuring that they're both playing at their most dominant points when separation isn't an option is a must. 

It is possible to keep 'Melo at the 4, even with Stoudemire. Staggering the minutes of the Chandler-Stoudemire-Anthony triumvirate is the bigger concern and greater necessity. Doing so allows Anthony to assume power forward, and puts Stoudemire in a position where he's used exclusively as a center next to 'Melo, before reverting back to the 4 alongside Chandler when the former is on the bench.

Whatever it takes to keep 'Melo at the 4.

Whatever it takes.

What We Must Understand

Anthony isn't in jeopardy of moving back to the 3 exclusively. 

Woodson and company have to know better now. And the acquisitions of Metta World Peace and Bargs and the "return" of STAT don't suggest otherwise. 

The additions of Bargs and World Peace give the Knicks options they didn't have last season. Both can defend the most bruising forwards in the game as a 4, then switch back to the 3 on the offensive end, thus allowing 'Melo to continue his inside-out excursions.

Before you cry foul, I'm not pegging Bargs as an elite defender. He's just the opposite, which for our purposes doesn't matter in the slightest.

Regardless of what position Anthony plays, he's going to bully his way to the rim. Again, that's what he does. Defense is where he can get into trouble, and not only for his lack of commitment.

Guarding against opposing bigs takes a toll. Ask any big themselves, they'll tell you. Bargs and World Peace are then simply sizable bodies the Knicks can throw at the more brutal adversaries without sacrificing any versatility on the offensive end.

Spreading the floor on offense without having to force 'Melo to defend towering post scorers gives the Knicks the best of both worlds. That's the opportunity they've created, and one they must take advantage of leading into next season, no matter what it means.

To keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference, the Knicks must adjust. They must get better. And they can't expect that to happen by manipulating what's worked thus far.

The path toward improvement runs through the one they began to pave only last season. Tweaking their route along the way is understandable, and even necessary.

Butchering the course entirely is not.


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