By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:17PM
Carmelo Anthony is just 28 years old. He has three more years left on his current contract with the New York Knicks and at least a few more years beyond that before he's done playing ball for a living. Yet this should be the most important seven months of Anthony's career. If any season could define his legacy, it's this one.
In the 20 months since they acquired Anthony, the New York Knicks have been rather mediocre. Including postseason, they have a 51-52 record in that time, with just a single, streamer-inducing playoff win.
This season, the Eastern Conference playoff picture looks to be wide open behind the defending champion Miami Heat. There are several teams -- Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Indiana, New York and Philadelphia -- who we could possibly see in the Eastern Conference finals next May.
The Knicks have the talent to get there ... if they can just find a way to make the most of that talent.
For the last two seasons, the Knicks have been strong both offensively and defensively, just not simultaneously for more than a few weeks at a time. Two seasons ago, they ranked fifth offensively and 21st defensively. Last season, they ranked fifth defensively, but 19th offensively.
The defensive improvement can mostly be attributed to the addition of Tyson Chandler, who rightfully earned Defensive Player of the Year honors. The offensive regression isn't so simple, but it's clear that the presence of Anthony has had a negative effect on Amar'e Stoudemire's offensive game.
Yes, it's a well-covered and oft-discussed topic, but when you're paying two guys a total of $40 million per year, you need them to coexist on the court. And thus far, in over 1,880 minutes with Anthony and Stoudemire on the floor together, the Knicks have been outscored by 123 points.
So priority No. 1 for the Knicks is finding a way for their two stars to consistently play well at the same time. Part of that falls on the shoulders of head coach Mike Woodson, whose job it is to construct an offense and distribute the minutes to the right player combinations. Part of it falls on the shoulders of Raymond Felton, the new (and old) point guard. It's his job to run the offense and distribute the ball.
But really, this is all on Melo. He's the face of the franchise, the guy who forced his way to New York, and the man who will have the ball in his hands most. And he knows that something has to change.
"If I have to sacrifice some of the scoring on the offensive end to help [Stoudemire] get to where he needs to be and where we want him to be," Anthony said on Media Day, "I don't have a problem with that."
That quote should be music to the ears of Knicks fans. But for Melo, the idea of sacrificing shots is easier said than done. And it's unclear how exactly that happens. Does Anthony become more of a distributor? Or is the ball just not in his hands that much?
It may be the latter, because Woodson made it clear that he wants Stoudemire to do more work in the low post this season. Woodson set Stoudemire up with former teammate Hakeem Olajuwon this summer to help develop Stoudemire's post game.
"I didn't have Amar'e work out this summer with Hakeem and not try to utilize him on the block," Woodson said. "That's something that we will do. That will be a part of our offense."
Having taken over as head coach when Mike D'Antoni left the Knicks in mid-March, training camp is Woodson's first opportunity to get in extended practice time with his team. Continuity has been an ongoing issue for New York. Anthony came in a mid-season trade, and last season featured a lockout, seven weeks of Linsanity, a coaching change and a handful of injuries.
With those issues behind them and some veteran additions to the roster, there's reason to believe that the Knicks can put it together this season. But Anthony doesn't want to talk about how good his team can be, or where they might rank in the Eastern Conference hierarchy.
"This year, we kind of want to take it day by day, practice by practice, game by game," he told NBA TV, "and not start looking forward to a lot of other stuff, saying we can't wait to get to the playoffs, we can't wait to play this team, that team. We want to take it one day at a time and just get better."
The questions will keep coming, of course. And all those days, practices and games will go a long way in determining Anthony's NBA legacy. Is he one of the best players of his generation? Or is he a ball-stopping volume scorer who can't make the most of his teammates?
1. For the second straight season, the Knicks look to be thin in the backcourt. Last year, they really had no point guard until D'Antoni dusted off Lin in Game 24. This year, two-guard could be the issue, at least until Iman Shumpert returns from knee surgery (maybe in December). Free agent acquisition Ronnie Brewer is also out for the first few weeks of training camp, which leaves J.R. Smith as the only two-guard who'll be in basketball shape when the season starts. So expect Jason Kidd to play some two early on.
2. The Knicks lead the league in "veteranship," a word that Woodson came up with on media day. It's a nice way of saying that they're old, with five players over the age of 35 if Rasheed Wallace makes the opening-night roster. That should keep athletic trainer Roger Hinds pretty busy, but Woodson is more than fine with it. "It's not young teams that are winning NBA titles," he says.
3. The area where the Knicks regressed most offensively was turnover ratio, falling from fourth in the league in 2010-11 to 27th last season. And you could blame a lot of that on the lack of a point guard early, and the inability of Lin and Baron Davis to take care of the ball. So if Felton can keep his turnover ratio pretty low (which he did in his previous stint in New York), the Knicks will be in much better shape offensively.
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LAST YEAR: 36-30, 2nd in Atlantic
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
RAYMOND FELTON, POINT GUARD
11.4 PPG | 6.5 APG | 2.5 RPG
Was criticized quite a bit in Portland last season, but was a plus-141 for a team that went 28-38 and was outscored by 41 points overall.
RONNIE BREWER, SHOOTING GUARD
6.9 PPG | 3.5 RPG | 2.1 APG
Will start as Iman Shumpert recovers from knee surgery and provide perimeter defense, but can't spread the floor like J.R. Smith or Steve Novak.
CARMELO ANTHONY, SMALL FORWARD
22.6 PPG | 6.3 RPG | 3.6 APG
Putting Felton aside, it's on Anthony to make Stoudemire better, not the other way around. He'll have the ball in his hands most of the time in Mike Woodson's offense.
AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE, POWER FORWARD
17.5 PPG | 7.8 RPG | 1.1 APG
Offseason work with Hakeem Olajuwon aside, this much is true about Stoudemire: he shot 36.1 percent from midrange last season, down from 44.4 percent in '10-11.
TYSON CHANDLER, CENTER
11.3 PPG | 9.9 RPG | 0.9 APG
Holds the New York defense together, but is also an efficient scorer. So the addition of Marcus Camby doesn't make him any less important.
|Marcus Camby||6-11||240||C||Will help defensively, but an awful finisher at the basket.|
|Jason Kidd||6-4||210||G||39 and slower, but still one of the league's smartest players.|
|J.R. Smith||6-6||220||G||Explosive scorer at times, but never very efficient.|
ADDED: G Ronnie Brewer, G Jason Kidd, G Raymond Felton, C Marcus Camby, F/C Kurt Thomas, F/C Rasheed Wallace
LOST: G Jeremy Lin, G Landry Fields, G Toney Douglas, F Jared Jeffries, C Dan Gadzuric, C Josh Harrellson, C Jerome Jordan
JASON KIDD, POINT GUARD
The Knicks are star-heavy with Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire in the mix, but what they've needed is a quality distributor of the ball. In essence, Kidd's goal is to make it where those guys don't have to work as hard.
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