Carmelo Anthony’s NBA Evolution
With a legion of reporters and the brightest of lights, New York is not an easy place to play professional sports.
Just ask Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.
Since landing in New York from the Denver Nuggets via a blockbuster trade in 2011, Anthony has faced his fair share of criticism for the Knicks’ struggles. Despite being one of the best scorers in the game, Anthony has been labeled selfish and criticized for his lackluster play on the defensive end. The Knicks’ recent playoff woes didn’t help Anthony’s case. He tried to shed those characterizations, but New York has won just one postseason game since his arrival.
Whether that discussion was warranted or not is certainly up for debate, but what is clear is that Anthony has turned the page to start the 2012-13 NBA season.
Starting his second full season in New York, Anthony is playing the best basketball of his career. On both ends of the floor, Anthony’s team-first attitude and intensity have paid dividends in the team’s 8-2 start to the season.
“He’s playing great,” Knicks guard Jason Kidd said. “I think he’s playing off the charts both offensively and defensively.”
With Anthony leading the way, New York is the only team in the NBA to rank in the top-five in both points scored (101.7) and points allowed (91.4) this season. Listening to one of his teammates, Anthony’s excellent start could make him the best player in the NBA early on this season.
“To me, he’s the best player in the league right now,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said of Anthony. “He’s the MVP right now with how he’s playing on both ends of the floor – very unselfish, controlling our offense entirely. He’s a different player. This summer was great for him because it makes him want to go to a different level.”
Knicks coaches and teammates agree that Anthony’s time this past summer on the USA Olympic Men’s Basketball team has been key in his superb start to the season. In speaking with Anthony, it’s clear he agrees that this experience changed him both as a player and as a person.
“Any time you’ve been around the best players in the world for 30 or 40 days, if you don’t come back a better player, better person, then something is wrong with that,” Anthony said.
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson says he saw the change in Anthony last season when he took over at the helm for New York and that the 2012 Olympic games only furthered that growth.
“He was a leader last year,” Woodson said. “In that stretch where I took over, he did a lot of wonderful things. He made guys around him better and we’ve all benefited from it. It’s been a nice carry over from the summer Olympics and him winning the gold medal along with Tyson (Chandler) and him coming to camp in great shape. It’s been a nice carry over to the start of our young season, I don’t expect anything less. I think he wants to win just like the other guys and it’s my job to push him in that area.”
Currently Anthony ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring at 24.1 points per game, his rebounding numbers (7.3 per) are the highest since joining the Knicks and his turnovers (2.6 per) are the second-lowest of his nine-year career.
“I’m just playing ball,” Anthony said. “I got a group of good guys, good cast behind me. I’m playing off of them, they’re playing off of me and they’re making me better. In the midst that I’m making them better, they’re doing it for me. They’re getting me in positions to succeed – to make them better, to get them the ball. We’re playing well right now, it’s still early. We’re just taking it one game at a time.”
One key to Anthony’s resurgence has been the fact that the Knicks, missing power forward Amar’e Stoudemire due to injury, have given him more minutes at the four position. Much like LeBron James this past postseason, Anthony has used his combination of size and speed to take advantage of matchups at the power forward spot.
It hasn’t always worked perfectly but outside of a loss in Memphis where the Grizzlies enforced their size advantage, Melo has played excellent basketball at the four.
“It can be tough on him at times, especially in the Memphis game when we had to play against those big bodies,” Chandler said of Anthony’s time at the four. “Those are adjustments we’re going to have to make. We don’t play against that every night. But the next time we face something like that, I have to do a better job of protecting and making sure we’re in the right assignments and getting them out of there earlier.”
It’s a long season, and there will likely be plenty of challenges ahead for both the Knicks and Anthony, but there’s no doubt right now that this team is excelling early on this season.
How Good Can the Knicks be Going Forward?
Even though the Knicks have gotten off to a hot start, and Anthony is playing arguably the best basketball of his career, there are still some pressing questions for N.Y. moving forward.
The first of which is going to be how to integrate former All Star and $100 million contract man Amar’e Stoudemire back into the lineup when he returns from injury. Both New York and Anthony have excelled with a smaller lineup that features Melo at power forward. How will the Knicks gel with another player that needs the ball in his hands in Stoudemire?
Maybe even more important is how this team is going to hold up down the stretch of the 2012-13 season featuring the oldest team in the NBA. The Knicks look great now relying on 38-and-older players like Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace to play key roles, but it will be interesting to see how they look come April and May. Managing those players’ minutes will be key, but even if New York achieves that goal there’s still no guarantee those old legs will be fresh come playoff time.
There’s no question that the Knicks look great right now, and Anthony’s evolution can’t be understated, but this team will have its share of challenges as the season unfolds.