The popular thing for awhile seemed to be blaming Carmelo Anthony for the New York Knicks’ struggles. Whether it was the six-game losing streak, Mike D’Antoni’s resignation or the rumors that he wanted to be traded, the common trend when talking about the New York Knicks became: “Blame Melo!”
But let’s take a closer look at the facts and use our brains a little bit. This trend spread like wildfire, but was it fair to put 100% of the blame for the Knicks’ extensive problems on Melo? Definitely not.
First, let’s take a look at the three ways Melo did screw up New York. 1) Melo’s isolation plays. Melo’s playing style turns downright selfish at times and hurts the team’s chemistry and ability to contribute. You’ve seen it before: Melo dribbling around, jacking up a shot after winding down the shot clock, usually missing, then jogging back on defense. 2) Melo’s defense. “Playing” defense is exactly what I would call it, because it doesn’t look like he’s really even trying. What happened to the guy that went toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant in the playoffs on the Nuggets? 3) Melo’s injury. This is probably the one that hurt the most. The injury that sidelined Melo gave Jeremy Lin the chance to rise as New York’s go-to man and allowed the team to develop new chemistry. Behind Jeremy Lin, this Knicks team clicked, had fun, and everyone saw the ball thanks to their newfound distributor and scorer. Carmelo’s return screwed up the winning chemistry that the team established with Lin.
Now it’s important to understand why the Knicks’ six game losing streak shouldn’t have fallen entirely on Melo’s shoulders. First of all, calling Melo is a ballhog is only semi-accurate. The guy is a scorer and should be given the ball because otherwise what’s the point of having him? Certainly not for his defensive intensity! A dip in everybody else’s numbers should be expected when a scoring machine like Carmelo Anthony is inserted back into the lineup. Second, keep in mind that any time a star player sits on the sidelines for awhile, the team has to respond to his absence. This means that the group establishes a new rhythm and chemistry, so when the star returns, the team dynamic is different and both sides have to adjust. This happens with ANY star player, so saying that Melo ruined the team chemistry is a little unfair.
It’s also unfair to place all of the blame with Melo when the Knicks had a myriad of other problems going on that few people acknowledged during that six-game skid. One was Jeremy Lin’s poor shooting during that stretch. Although he put up 14.5 shots per game, he shot 39% from the floor. Yes, Melo was leading the team with 18 shots per game and his shooting percentage wasn’t fantastic either, but Amare Stoudemire was only getting 13.7 looks per game. Amare is the Knicks’ second-best offensive threat! Even if Amare’s numbers have drastically dipped from 25.3 ppg last season to 17.4 ppg this seaosn, Lin should not be putting up more shots than him, especially when Lin is shooting so poorly. Amare already plays terrible defense, so if he’s not getting touches you might as well leave him on the bench. Then you realize guys like Landry Fields and JR Smith weren’t getting enough touches. Tyson Chandler was out for a few games and battled that wrist injury. Finally, look at the teams the Knicks played during that stretch. You should notice the level of competition rose dramatically compared to when Linsanity was on the rampage; games against the Celtics, Mavs, Spurs, Bucks, Sixers and Bulls would all be challenging even without all the problems the Knicks have been dealing with.
But the biggest problem with the Knicks was their coaching situation. You can talk all you want about how D’Antoni’s resignation came down to Melo’s isolation style vs. D’Antoni’s “team-basketball-centered-around-the-point-guard” strategy. You can blame Melo for basically ousting D’Antoni when management realized it was time to either get rid of the coach or get rid of the player. You can even blame all the ESPN reports for spurring the resignation with their stories about Melo not backing D’Antoni’s system and wanting a trade (which he adamantly denied). But that fact is, D’Antoni was not the right coach for New York and his system tanked there. He didn’t connect with his star player and the team suffered for it as conflicting styles of play manifested themselves. Think back to Melo’s time in Denver. Before Anthony wanted a trade and put the Nuggets in an uncomfortable place for most of the season, did George Karl have these kind of extensive problems with Melo or his team? Not even close. D’Antoni was the wrong guy for the job. And this is coming from a Suns fan who realizes how important he was in revitalizing basketball in Phoenix (before his lack of emphasis on defense led to the team coming up short).
I started writing this post before the Knicks went on a three-game winning spree, but the fact remains the same even if they hadn’t won those games: New York is much better off without D’Antoni. The Knicks have won three straight under Mike Woodson, all by double digits (including a 42-point Portland massacre). The scoring has been extremely balanced under a coach who knows how to manage his players, even if that means letting them take the reins a little bit. Melo has lowered his shots per game by about six during this winning streak, which does show the team is better when he’s not putting up 20 shots every night. But don’t forget all the other problems the Knicks had before Woodson took over. JR Smith has turned things around, averaging just under 17 ppg. Lin is shooting the ball less and stepping into his role as a true point guard. Novak has emerged as a dangerous threat from downtown and Chandler has returned to the lineup.
Despite the fact that Carmelo Anthony has shot the ball poorly this season, Linsanity is over; he has offensive weapons around him. What the Knicks need now is for Lin to be a true points guard by looking to facilitate first and score second. If he does this, if the scoring continues to be balanced, if Melo shoots the ball less, if Amare and JR Smith stay involved and if Novak, Chandler, Shumpert and the rest of the supporting cast continue to fulfill their roles, New York will make the playoffs. Whether or not Woodson’s coaching will help this team realize its full potential remains to be seen; his record as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks wasn’t exactly stellar. But the most important point is that with someone else in charge, New York could develop into the team Knicks fans hoped for, but could only dream about, with D’Antoni in charge.