The Knicks’ Biggest Problem – The Melo Trade

by Kevin Daly:

It made sense for the Knicks to make the move for Carmelo Anthony.  At least I thought so.  The Knicks were over .500 at the time of the trade and had a well-balanced attack of Raymond Felton, rookie Landry Fields, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire.  Additionally, the team was poised to make the playoffs for the first time in 7 years, yet trading for Carmelo was the “right” thing to do for a few reasons.

The first was that Stoudemire needed some help.  The guy had been playing out of his mind for much of the season, but at the cost of being near the top of the league in minutes played and receiving extra defensive attention regularly.  Knowing Stoudemire’s past misfortunes with injuries, the Knicks were concerned with the toll being taken on his body.  He needed someone else to shoulder the load, especially at the end of games, on a consistent, dependable basis.  The Knicks were never going to be a dangerous playoff team when opponents only had to pay extra attention to Stoudemire.

Enter Carmelo.  The eighth-year All-Star was set to enter free agency at the end of the 2010-2011 season and seemed set to take the LBJ route and move on to greener pastures.  He was rumored to have his sights set on the Big Apple, especially due to his own – and his wife’s – New York roots.  The guy even married in New York.  In the minds of Knicks fans, that spelled destiny, and it was only a matter of time before the Brooklyn (and Baltimore) native donned the blue and orange.

Anthony repeatedly butted heads with coach George Karl and often displayed a questionable amount of effort on the defensive end of the court.  Despite those red flags, his scoring ability was unquestionable.  With him and Stoudemire, the Knicks would have a genuine two-pronged attack AND the potential makings of a superteam in New York.  Thanks to the Miami Heat, the “superteam” idea became one of unprecedented possibility.  If the cooler talk was not about the Miami Heat, it was about who could step up and stop Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, and the South Beach gang.

Getting Carmelo did not make the Knicks automatic contenders, but it made stopping the Heat, a.k.a. contending, possible.  The team – pre-Carmelo – was never going to go further than the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  Adding a second star gave the Knicks a legitimate response to the James-Wade duo.

Despite Carmelo’s pending free agency (if he signed elsewhere in the summer, Denver would have been left empty-handed), the Nuggets demanded a king’s ransom for their star.  The Knicks – knowing they potentially had a very good thing going with their wealth of young players – were hesitant to give away half their roster; however, James Dolan and the MSG corporate Deathstar’s desire for star power eventually held precedence over such worries.  Trading for a great player such as Anthony always requires a big sacrifice/risk by the other team: dealing talent was a given, but the amount that the Knicks ultimately surrendered was terrifying.  In return, the Knicks got Carmelo and Cool Hand Chauncey Billups.  Billups, Anthony, and Stoudemire were instantly hailed as the new Big Three, albeit one equivalent to that in Miami only if Bosh, James, and Wade each recently consumed a Four Loko.

The trade stripped New York of the depth that it had enjoyed for a full half of a season, and forced the team to rely heavily on the irrepressible Jared Jeffries and Bill Walker.  The play of Fields and Amar’e regressed following the trade and the team was eventually swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics, but the team had the “needs time to adjust” excuse.  The team’s lack of playoff success was predominantly charged to the team’s poor health – Stoudemire was sidelined for a significant part of the series, Billups the series’ entirety.

It was the Nuggets’ post-Carmelo success that carried more intrigue.  Denver went 18-7, led the league in points per game, and gave up roughly 10 less points a game.  The new-look Nuggets played an exciting, up-tempo style of team basketball that energized the city and caused many to declare the Nuggets as the “winner” of the blockbuster trade.  Like the Knicks, the Nuggets eventually lost in the first round of the playoffs – to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games.  The Nuggets’ newfound, successfully D’Antonian style suggests that the Nuggets’ slower, half court style had as much to do with Carmelo as anything else.

As I said in my previous post, this is the season, with the offseason additions of rookie Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis, and NBA champion Tyson Chandler, that the Knicks were supposed to assume the role as big boys in the Eastern Conference playground.  On paper, the team’s frontcourt was the best in the league, and Anthony’s readiness to take on a point-forward role in the offense would cover for the team’s iffy guard situation.

"If only he was just another one of Jersey's problems" -Landry Fields (B-Flo 360)

While it was unfair to blame Carmelo for the team’s stagnation last season, this season has proven that he has been a cancer to the play of Amar’e Stoudemire and Landry Fields.  Neither player has much confidence in his game right now.  Before the trade last season, both players, especially Fields, excelled in the team’s free-flowing offense.  The Raymond Felton-Amar’e Stoudemire pick-n-roll combo was a huge part of the team’s attack. Felton’s passes led to easy baskets for Stoudemire and for open teammates on the perimeter when defenses collapsed on Amar’e.  Fields was a steady recipient of these passes and shot 3’s at a very respectable 40% mark.  The team’s utter lack of a middle-of-the-road/decent passer has taken away a huge part of Stoudemire’s, Landry’s, and other teammates’ ability to score easy baskets.

With that said, the idea that D’Antoni’s system completely hinges on a good point guard is complete bull.  Chris Duhon was the point guard for 2 full seasons.  Chris Duhon.  The problem with this Knicks team is not so much the team’s lack of a serviceable point guard as it is Carmelo’s unequaled ability to stop ball movement.  He is one of the top scorers on the team, but he refuses to defer.  When Melo gets the ball, he needs to size up his defender before even considering the preposterousness of making the extra pass to an open teammate.  By the time he passes the ball, his teammates are often in an unfavorable position to receive it.  They then have to try to create offense by their own devices – which gets ugly quickly when Jared Jeffries and Iman Shumpert are on the court.  Easy baskets have been tough to come by for the Melo-era Knicks.  The team – 27th in the league in assists per game – is averaging more than 3 fewer assists per game than the last 3 D’Antoni-led Knicks teams.

This is widely regarded to be the most talented Knicks team in years, yet scoring has been so much harder to come by.  Many people have been pointing to the team’s abysmal .304% 3-point shooting percentage this season, but the problem is not the shooters as much as it is the shots.  Obviously, the loss of players like Gallinari, Billups, and Shawne Williams – guys D’Antoni loved for their shooting prowess – has not helped the team’s shooting, but without the success of the pick’n’roll drive and kick from seasons past, perimeter shots that would be open in the past are now often contested.

Put everything together, and you get the team’s current position of 17th in points per game this season.  If Spike Lee was told that this would be the Knicks’ scoring rank before the season started, his reaction, along with that of many other Knicks fans, would most likely be, “You’ve got to be kidding.”  In D’Antoni’s first 2 seasons with the Knicks, the team’s PPG ranked 4th and 10th, respectively.  Remember, Chris Duhon was the point guard.  Last year, the first in D’Antoni’s tenure where the team actually had talent, the team ranked 2nd.

Regardless of where the Knicks go from here in the season, I believe that the Carmelo Anthony trade was one of the worst in recent league history.  The Decision changed the name of the free agency game.  The Carmelo trade was the first example of superstar compensation – Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri and the Denver front office made sure of that.  It was the first time where a team traded its “franchise” player – and got BETTER.  The Knicks, on the other hand, got worse.  The Carmelo trade put the team in win now mode – yet they are further from contention than they were a season ago.

Would he make the trade if he could go back a year? My guess is "No f'ing way" Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It’s also clear that the team needs a leader.  Tyson Chandler brings leadership on the defensive end, but there is not That Guy on offense.  Carmelo calling (and taking) all the shots for the game’s last 2-3 minutes does not come close to cutting it.  Amar’e was The Guy before the trade, but is completely lost without a competent playmaker and has no set role in the offense – especially when Carmelo goes into his twisted version of hero mode.

Is it any way that Amar’e has not thought about this?  For a few months, he was King of MSG, the guy who was responsible for FINALLY bringing relevance back to New York basketball.  He had been in MVP discussions, and the Carmelo trade was supposed to be help, a step forward – not a step back.

The problem is that Carmelo hasn’t changed his game like he was supposed to.  The Knicks failed in the LeBron James sweepstakes, but Carmelo was supposed to be one hell of a consolation.  He hasn’t been the creator that Knicks fans dreamed him of becoming, only the scorer that everyone already knew he was.  And while I obviously don’t know the guy and won’t pretend to, it still always seems to be about numero uno.  I understand that his expected role is completely different than it was in Denver, but the adjustment period was supposed to be last season, not now.

When the Knicks lost to the Bucks last week, Amar’e Stoudemire was shown alone sitting on the bench, with a towel draped over his head and a mixed expression of disbelief and weariness.  While the losses and ensuing scrutiny have been clearly affecting Stoudemire, Carmelo has not been sitting beside him on that bench.  Instead, Anthony has preferred to spend his time continuing to fire up contested shots, complaining to referees with every other missed shot and mouthing off to opponents, as he did with the Bucks’ Brandon Jennings once the game was all but out of reach.  Carmelo has to put the team first – and that can only happen if he stops being what he wants and starts at least trying to be what the team needs.

...And no, Baron Davis is not the answer

Will it happen?  Probably not.  Eight-and-a-half year veterans typically don’t change their spots.  He’ll continue to ponder what he can do differently, but odds are that it won’t translate into rebirth as a facilitator/catch-and-shooter.  For now, the team hopes that Baron Davis will be the answer to the team’s passing problems once he’s healthy.  He’ll help, but once the ball hits Carmelo’s hands, the offense will revert to its stagnant ways.  In order for the team to realize what it can be, Carmelo has to be more than 26 points a game, 7 rebounds, and a mountain of misses.

16 thoughts on “The Knicks’ Biggest Problem – The Melo Trade

    1. Kevin Daly

      Thanks, happy to hear that you agree. As talented as Carmelo is with the ball, he brings the team down. If nothing changes, the Knicks will continue to have a very rough season – with little hope for the future.

      1. You could have made some remarks about the Knicks’ defense, too: Yet another area where Melo doesn’t help at all. D’Antoni is not a defensive-minded coach, Melo is not a player who defends and Chandler certainly can’t make up for all the mistakes his teammates make on that end of the floor. So even if Melo somehow figures it out on offense, I still don’t think that the Knicks would be relevant come playoff time.

        1. Kevin Daly

          A big reason why the Knicks have given up less points a game than in years past is the fewer amount of possessions that opponents are averaging a game – attributed to the team’s slower pace. Help defense is still very poor and will not improve without the steady commitment of Anthony. In other words, it will not improve.

  1. ty reeder

    On point, many friends were happy to see the trade, I live in SC and saw the Knicks play the Bobcats pre Melo trade, the ball movement and the pick and roll reminded me of the championship years of the 70’s. What we have now is Spencer Haywood and Bob Mcadoo. from the late 70’s, it was a diaster. Great article, I will continue to look for your great writing.

    1. Kevin Daly

      Thanks, and that’s a great analogy, especially if – like Haywood and McAdoo – Amare and Melo get traded a year or two down the line in the event that the team continues to underachieve and management ultimately decides to start a new chapter.

  2. rodger

    I am happy that Melo went back east. Here in Denver we love the notion of team basketball. We should be getting Wilson Chandler back around March, This should strengthen our team even more. Thanks NY. Is Isiah still there calling the shots? You know James Dolan still has him on speed dial.

  3. michael ray richardson

    back in the day, it was said that passing the ball to Dominique Wilkens was akin to tossing it down a black hole, as you’d never see it again.

    i’m not confident that Anthony is going to do anything to change his game. What a waste of Amare.

    1. Kevin Daly

      Amar’e is receiving criticism for his poor play this season, but wasn’t he always a guy who relied on jump shooters who could stretch the floor and a guy who could give him a decent entry pass? This is also the first time since the pre-Steve Nash in Phoenix days that Amar’e has played in a consistently stagnant offense. While it’s unreasonable at this point to demand Anthony to be a playmaker on any sort of consistent basis, he needs to help STAT find his offense. Amar’e’s resurgence is vital if the team expects to bounce back.

  4. ty reeder

    Let me be very clear here as a long time Knicks fan,( used to listen to the games on my transistor radio, Marv Albert was a great radio play by play man back then.) I feel I know a thing or two about Knicks basketball. The team constructed with Carmelo and Amare will never win, when I say win I mean a championship, not a playoff series,.A lot of folks talk about the Ewing era as being a romantic time for Knicks basketball, but unfortunately a guy name Jordan was around back then. The days that most people only can read about is the Red Holtzman Knicks of the late 60′s early 70′s, turning 54 years old on my next birthday I saw what real team basketball meant, it was defense, where do you think the chant came from? It was crisp passing, no player was above team, even Monroe who was a great black hole player with the Bullets changed his game for the sake of team, and it got him a ring. When I watched the Nuggets play the other night it bought tears to my eyes, they reminded me of the Knicks of just a year ago, unselfish play, great ball movement, always looking for the open shot, putting players in position to give maximum effort. A great example is Landry Fields, the kid plays hard nose smart basketball, plays both ends of the court and in my opinion plays the wrong position, he is getting beat up by the fans and the sports writers as being a one hit wonder,the real problem is that he doesn’t get the opportunities that come when the rock s being shared, so he ends up forcing things. Walsh had this thing going in the right direction in my opinion, the reason he is gone is because he knew blowing up the team for one player who is not Jordan was a fatal mistake that will take years to fix. This team will NEVER WIN AS CONSTRUCTED AND I MEAN A CHAMPIONSHIP, NEVER .

  5. Kevin Daly

    Something that not many people seem to be concerned with is the development of the team’s remaining young players. Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert who are basically told to do what they can when the ball is in their hands. Fields thrived last season as a perimeter player, hustle guy, and as a very good finisher in transition. His ability to use these skills this season have been very marginalized as the offensive pace stalls. These guys, if anything, deserve credit for the way that they keep trying to make something happen on offense, even though hardly any plays (outside of a Tyson Chandler pick’n’roll) ever seem to be run. Knicks fans should hope that their confidence doesn’t bottom out as a result of the team’s struggles thus far. The front office’s (aka Jame Dolan’s) obsession with getting Carmelo has proceeded to swiftly kick the franchise in the ass, and between the stagnation on offense, frequent defensive breakdowns, and lack of depth, this team may be in trouble for a long time…again. I can’t believe more Knicks fans aren’t saying, “We waited through the entirety of the Isiah Thomas era, where we endured contracts bad enough to make Dan Snyder cringe…for this?”

  6. KIeran Moran

    im glad the knicks suck just to show the world that carmelo is a bum and u cannot and will not EVER win a ring with him on ur team. THe knicks organisation doesnt deserve a ring from my perspective, theyre too caught up in star power as u said and giving away half of ur team for 1 player was just a downright disgrace to the players they traded for carmelo, so im happy the knicks are terrible at the moment. If the knicks got nash instead of carmelo the knicks would well be on theyre way to a ring. IF any1 opposes dont get me started on nash’s stats u dont wanna go there

    1. Bobby Montano

      Don’t you think that if this Knicks team was able to sign Nash or Felton in the upcoming off-season for the MLE that they could then become a title contender, even with Carmelo? I am of that opinion.

  7. Bobby Montano

    This Knicks team has all the pieces to be an engine that roars offensively but lacks the most important part: the ingnition. In other words, this is still a very incomplete team. If Glen Grunwald or whomever replaces him as General Manager of the Knicks can adequately supply the Knicks with a good backcourt, then this team can contend.

    With all of that said, I am slowly changing my opinion of this trade. I will make no reservations about the fact that I believed that this trade would be benefitial to the team over the long-term. Most Knicks fans believed the same. I did- and continue to believe- that James Dolan intervened prematurely and that the Knicks gave up too much talent for Carmelo Anthony. I am also on record as saying that I would trade Carmelo Anthony for Deron Williams.

  8. You actually make it seem so easy along with your presentation however I to find this topic to be really something that I feel I would never understand. It sort of feels too complicated and very large for me. I am taking a look forward on your next post, I will attempt to get the grasp of it!

  9. Pingback: Mission Impossible: The New York Knicks | Sports Spangled Banter

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