Carmelo Anthony was supposed to be an MVP candidate this year. The New York Knicks were supposed to challenge for the Eastern Conference title this season.
“After the first bounce I said ‘We’re going to overtime,’ and then I saw it go back in and it was over.”
Although it was Dirk Nowitzki’s game-winner in Anthony’s face Monday night to lift the Dallas Mavericks over the Knicks that prompted this super-articulate comment by Melo, he may as well have been talking about his own over-inflated effort this season as the Knicks dropped to 21-36, good for 11th in the East and five and a half games out of a playoff spot.
Without a doubt, this is Melo’s best season purely from a numbers standpoint. He currently has career highs in three-point shooting percentage, free-throw percentage, rebounds per game, and blocks per game, a career low in turnovers per game, and he’s second in the NBA in scoring. His PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is also the highest it’s ever been. On paper, Melo is a diamond in the rough that is New York. On paper, he’s an MVP candidate.
Sadly, the game is not played on paper.
Anthony is putting up such great numbers this season due in large part to a fundamental shift in the makeup of the Knicks to cater to his specific skill set at the detriment of the rest of the team.
The Knicks have shifted his position from small forward to that of an undersized power forward.
The roster has been adjusted so that the only true NBA caliber frontcourt players they have are Tyson Chandler (who can only play center), Andrea Bargnani (who is out with an elbow injury and can only play on the perimeter), and Amaré Stoudemire (who can’t seem to stay healthy).
In the backcourt they have surrounded him with players that either stay out of his way (Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni), or spell him when he needs a break (J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway, Jr.).
Anyone who doesn’t mesh with his ball-dominating style of play (the man has a 32.6 usage percentage this season, second-highest in the league behind Kevin Durant’s 32.9) has found himself on the trade block, despite being a valuable young player like Iman Shumpert, or waived in spite of their championship pedigree (Metta World Peace—okay, to be fair, that move was fine).
At the end of the day, that leaves the Knicks as a team in the bottom half of the league in scoring, defending, shooting, rebounding, passing, and winning. But Carmelo’s having a good year, though.
Somehow, it comes as a surprise that Melo would be having the best individual season of his career and his worst team season of his career in the same year on a roster custom-built to make him look good. Coincidentally, Anthony will also be a free agent this summer and the Knicks are terrified he’ll leave.
Somehow, Melo is being praised for his effort even though we just saw this exact narrative take place in Cleveland with LeBron James and Orlando with Dwight Howard. Both franchises bent over backwards to try to satisfy their stars, who would put up huge numbers on underachieving teams before skipping town despite hinting that they wanted to stay.
It’s hard to say whether the same fate awaits the Knicks this summer. But in the meantime, I’m sure Carmelo will enjoy continuing to be the focal point of a bad team, padding his stats en route to a serious payday.