Although this season has been lauded as Carmelo Anthony’s most balanced as a teammate and his most productive as both spiritual and on-court leader for the Knicks, the numbers tell a different story. Melo’s current statline of 21.7PPG, 7.5RPG and 3.7APG to go along with .431% shooting and 2.6 turnovers in 34.6MPG mirror those of his (Lockout shortened) 2011-12 in New York, his first full season, and a season where his leadership qualities were often called into question in tight late game situations and a season which saw the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the resignation of Mike D’Antoni, but also one which seen the Knicks’ first postseason win in 13 prior tries in an eventual 1-4 loss to eventual champs Miami.
In fact, advanced statistics show that the Knicks’ 18-19 record (which is also identical to the 2011-12 team at this point), is a bit of an anomaly given that Melo’s effective field goal percentage in games is identical to 2011/12 (47%), however this year it stands at 36.8% in the fourth, where it was 43% in 2011/12. This begs the question, if Melo isn’t producing in the fourth then how are the Knicks closing games? Then the statistics provide even more mind boggling numbers. In NY wins this year Melo’s usage rate jumps from an average of 29.6% to 36.9% in the fourth whereas in losses it is a humble 30.2% in the final quarter. In 2011/12 there were similar numbers (37% in wins vs. 33% in losses). So if Carmelo Anthony has the same numbers as his worst statistical season in New York coupled with woeful fourth quarter efficiency, how are the Knicks playing great team basketball and on top of that, how is Melo avoiding the critics with such below-par numbers for someone who is arguably a future hall of famer? Simply because Carmelo Anthony’s improvement hasn’t been measured through puzzling numbers and on-court production but more-so with a reliable smile and a big brother role on a team where leadership is the single biggest key to development.
In my opinion, the most important contrast of Melo-now with 2011/12 Melo is his relationship with Kristaps Porzingis vs. his relationship with Jeremy Lin. The towering but nimble 7 footer has been a revelation for the Knicks this season, much like Lin turned out to be during the unforgettable days of ‘Linsanity’, where he came from nowhere to become one of the most astonishing stories in recent NBA history, something Porzingis has the potential to do. Lorenzo Arguello wrote for the Business Insider in 2012 that ‘Carmelo came to the Knicks to build his team of recruited superstars that would “leave a real imprint on the city” and “Linsanity didn’t fit the blueprint”‘ and to a certain extent he had a point because it’s difficult to conceive a team based around the swashbuckling style of the Stanford alum, but ‘Melo’s team’ ended up a shambles with injuries (see Amar’e Stoudemire), cap space (see Andrea Bargnani) and marred coaching decisions (see Mike Woodson 2013-14) and took Phil Jackson to step in, in an effort to somewhat steady the ship, which is still in progress. It seems that Anthony has accepted that no one player is bigger than the organisation and that success as a unit will ultimately derive a celebrated individual legacy. We all know that Melo can score the basketball and like Jeff Van Gundy said last night, that is Melo’s most important job on the court, but he must balance it along the thin lines between selfishness and what his team need him to do, something he is doing more and more as Arron Afflalo has had numerous games as leading scorer where Anthony didn’t force his own shot.
While Carmelo’s numbers have taken a dip due to knee surgery he had over the summer, this could be a blessing in disguise for the face of the franchise. It has shown him early signs of ageing and at 31, the window for improvement is thin, if not closed. From now on, what’s more important than being the go-to-guy on offense, is being the go-to-guy for teammates that’re going through tough times, rather than hampering their development through selfish pursuit of individual success. He recently came out against Charles Barkley’s criticism of his leadership tactics ‘I wouldn’t even feel right cursing my teammates out here on the bench, on the court. That’s not who I am. Me and my teammates we have conversations, we have players-only meetings. I speak up and I’m heard. But the problem is somebody always trying to compare you to the next person, to the next man, and that’s what kind of irks me and gets on my nerves. How can you tell somebody that they’re not, you know. You’re not around me. I’ve never even met you before. So you know nothing about me other than what you’re seeing out there on the basketball court, the couple minutes of the games you actually watch.’ It’s difficult to disagree with him too, as a player I know I rather a receptive leader, rather than a Kobe type who wants you to prove yourself to them, rather than accept you with open arms, like Melo has with KP ‘I’m going to try to be a big brother to him and kind of take the pressure off of him a little bit’. He stayed true to his word too as he flew in to Porzingis’ aid during his altercation with Hawks guard Kent Bazemore in the Knicks’ impressive team-win against the Playoff-bound ATL side, something that may be seen as a pivotal moment in the progression of this current NYK side in the future. It’s also interesting to see Melo’s reception of other newcomers on the roster, given that he is the last remaining player of the roster that Phil Jackson initially acquired in 2014. Earlier this season against the Magic, the ever-improving Lance Thomas miscontrolled a pass from Anthony and it went out of bounds. Carmelo smiled and encouraged him not to beat himself up over it, a rare sight in a League where LeBron James left the court mid-play in frustration at his teammates earlier this year, or Kobe’s almost trademark disappointment in his teammates’ mistakes.
Barring injuries or any roster changes, the Knicks’ growing chemistry, coupled with Melo’s developing maturity and leadership qualities, the evermore consistent Knicks could reach the promised land of the Playoffs in the increasingly-competitive Eastern conference.