Carmelo Anthony Continues Stellar Play
Despite falling to the Miami Heat today by a score of 93-85, the New York Knicks continued their recent trend of playing tough, competitive basketball regardless of who their opponent is. Since Mike Woodson took over for the departed Mike D’Antoni, Carmelo Anthony has elevated his game to an entirely different level and has looked precisely like the superstar the Knicks were hoping for when they made the big trade for him last season.
‘Melo was unstoppable today in a losing cause, scoring 42 points to go along with nine boards and six assists. Regardless of whether it was LeBron James or the defensive stopper formerly known as Shane Battier guarding him, Carmelo managed to hit tough jumpers, score on drives to the basket, and bruise his way to the free throw line. D-Wade’s timely baskets down the stretch helped thwart Anthony’s one-man show, as New York seems like they are just a playmaker and secondary scorer away from being more than just a “scary” first-round opponent.
Having followed Carmelo’s career in earnest from his year at Syracuse to his time with the Nuggets and now with the Knicks, it is great to see him clicking on all cylinders and delivering for my home team. Labeled a bust and chemistry killer by many New York scribes during the few weeks of Linsanity (i.e. Ian O’Connor and Johnette Howard), in just a few short weeks ‘Melo has emphatically answered all questions concerning who the best player on the Knicks roster is and why the offense should run through him at all times. What has allowed Carmelo to reaffirm his status as one of the game’s premier players? I have a few thoughts and here they are:
Coaching change: Woodson has said from the first day he came on as interim coach that his two best players, Carmelo and Amare Stoudemire, would be receiving a greater percentage of the scoring opportunities than the other players on the team. Made sense for him to try and utilize these two as much as possible, after all they are two perennial all-stars who have made a career out of putting up big numbers. This new offensive philosophy was in stark contrast to D’Antoni’s free flowing pick and roll offense where everyone seemed at liberty to jack up shots without recourse and where the point guard was the unquestioned star of the show.
It’s obvious that ‘Melo never fit in with D’Antoni or his system, and their seemed to be at the very least a degree of mutual distrust between the two of them. It later came out that D’Antoni wasn’t in favor of the ‘Melo trade to begin with, and although he tried to fit in, Anthony appeared disenchanted with his secondary role of standing in the corner of the floor while the Knicks offense went on its merry way.
What’s also obvious is that Carmelo has completely bought into Woodson’s coaching style and personality, embracing the defensive mindset of the new head man. Since the coaching change, ‘Melo has been engaged and energetic on defense at a level we haven’t seen from him since the ’08 Olympics in Beijing. On offense, Woodson is using him in the post more often and getting him more touches than he was receiving under the previous regime. Though it’s still a relatively small sample size, even with the today’s loss the Knicks are 13-5 with Woodson at the helm and Anthony’s scoring average is on the upswing.
Getting healthy at the right time: Maybe it’s due to Anthony’s style of play, but he has been nicked up quite a bit this year. Whether it was lower leg, groin, shoulder, or wrist issues, he has had to play through a variety of ailments during this truncated season. Not sure if it was related to his injuries or a temporary D’Antoni induced drop-off in confidence (or perhaps combination of the two), but his shooting had been way off the mark for a good portion of the season. This was uncharacteristic for Carmelo, as even during his high school and collegiate days he has always had a great shooting stroke. During the Knicks recent hot stretch he has managed to not only regain his deadly mid-range jumper, but he has also found his groove from beyond the arc. With the fast and furious flow of the NBA schedule this year it is doubtful that he will ever be 100% healthy, but lately he has looked as fluid as has appeared all season.
No STAT = ‘Melo at the “4”: With Amare on the shelf with a bulging disk in his back, New York has employed a smaller starting lineup with Carmelo sliding into the power forward spot. This was a great move by Woodson, as ‘Melo has proven to be a matchup nightmare for the opposition - too big and physical in the post for smaller defenders to contend with and too quick for larger players to cover on the perimeter. Able to absorb contact and still finish, he has been making living at the free throw line. He has excelled in this position to such a degree that you almost wish Woodson would use STAT to anchor the second unit when he makes his return. This won’t be the case, but hopefully the flow the Knicks has established will continue when Carmelo ultimately vacates the “4”.When the Knicks brass gutted their team last year to obtain Carmelo in exchange for four players, they felt confident that they were bringing in a multi-dimensional scorer and one of the game’s best “closers” to be the new face of the franchise. Though doubters crept in due to his up and down play under Mike D’Antoni, ‘Melo is reminding everyone of type of talent and all-around game he possesses. Here’s hoping he keeps it up.
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