Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Can Melo and Lin Co-Exist?

Now that we’ve gotten through our first week of Linsanity, had a chance to breathe in-between games, and started looking towards the future of the 2012 New York Knicks, there is one question de jour that has emerged as all the rage among all circles: can Carmelo Anthony fit in with Jeremy Lin?

We’ve heard the supposed pitfalls; Melo is a ball-stopper, a ball-hog, a black-hole on offense. In some ways, there can be some truth to the criticisms, at least if you watched the P.L. Knicks (that’s Pre-Lin) this year. However, there is something completely laughable in the predictions of impending doom certain to befall the Knicks upon Carmelo’s return from injury. There seems to be this implied (and sometimes expressed) notion that Anthony has never played with a capable, offense-initiating point guard at any point in his career before now. And to that notion I retort: does the name Chauncey Billups mean anything to you people?

Whether or not Carmelo’s return will take the Knick offense and team to greater heights remains to be seen. But let’s put some things in their proper perspective. Last year, with Chauncey, Anthony, and Amar’e Stoudemire leading the way, getting the ball into the bucket was not at the top of the list of Knick problems. Hell, it wasn’t on the list at all. New York ended the 2011 season ranked fifth in the NBA in offensive efficiency (108.3 points per 100 possessions). Let me repeat that for you: the Knicks were the fifth-best team last year on the offensive end of the court.

Their problem last year, as apparently the scant few of us with any sense would recall, was on defense. The Knicks ranked 23th in the league in team defensive efficiency in 2011 (106.9 p/100). Simply put, they gave up just as many points than they scored. When you look at it from that perspective, you can understand why the Knicks essentially shed Chauncey Billups in lieu of Tyson Chandler in the short offseason. Neither the Knicks nor their fans had any reason to cry tears at not having the assets to make a run for Chris Paul. Paul is a decent-to-good defender, and can disrupt an offense with his ball-hawking and playing the lanes, but 6-foot point guards are not what turn defenses around in this league. Big men are. CP3 wouldn’t have solved the Knicks' most glaring deficiency, their defensive woes, the way Chandler has, and as much as I love CP3's offense, scoring the ball wasn’t even the Knicks’ problem in the first place.

And just how much has the addition of Chandler, and other changes such as the emergence of ball-hawks like Iman Shumpert and improving players like Landry Fields, meant on defense? The Knicks now give up 97.7 points per 100 possessions, good enough to rank 10th in the league. Scoring in this lockout-shortened season has been down, but you can’t mistake a team’s moving up 13 spots in a particular rank relative to the rest of the league.

This year, however, the Knicks problem has been that, without a capable point guard P.L., their offense has suffered – a lot. It is down 10 points per 100 possessions from last year, and that 5th-best ranking has fallen all the way down to 23rd. However, seeing as how Carmelo and Amar’e were around for a significant portion of last season, and obviously this season as well, they are the constants here, so they are not what has changed on offense. What has changed is the Chauncey Billups-for-Tyson Chandler swap. One might conclude, then, that they simply exchanged one problem for another. However, it is much more difficult in this league to find a quality big man than it is to find a capable guard. Chauncey, were he being objective, shouldn’t have felt slighted by the Knicks’ decision to amnesty him – though he completely reserves the right to put that chip on his shoulder, right or wrong. They needed to shore up their defense in the worst way.

In any case, let me drop some more numbers on you. 46%: that is what Anthony shot in a Knick uniform alongside Chauncey Billups last year. 26.3: the number of points per game he scored during that time. And the best number of all, 42.4%: that is what Carmelo shot from 3-point range in those 27 games. The shooting percentages, by the way, are better than he's shot in any season for his career. So apparently, whether he black-holes the offense, puts up bad shots, or whatever other criticisms people come up for his game…42.4%. I don’t really need to say another word or quote another fact.

Now, I'm loathe to making predictions, and I'm not about to put my neck on a block for the possible future performance of total strangers, but the things that people are saying about Carmelo's past results are, simply put, complete and utter fiction. If Jeremy can keep getting by his defender and into the lane, Carmelo should have open mid-range and beyond jumpshots...the same kind of shots he knocked down last year.

As time goes on, incidentally, it appears that Lin is going to have to develop a left-hand dribble drive, or learn to drive to his left in some fashion. All the sneaky moves and quickness can only take you so far when people know you're only working one side of the court. However, he seems to have a tirelessly studious approach to the game -- I read a story that highlighted how he's been known to spend an hour or two in practice working on a single move, over and over and over again -- so there shouldn't be any reason that he shouldn't eventually add that and other facets to his game. And, surrounded by scorers and two low-post guys that love the pick-and-roll more than anything, the team has a lot of complementary parts and, as such, loads of potential.

And they will all happily co-exist, and give themselves a chance to max out that potential. Yes, even Carmelo.

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