THE GO-TO GUY HAS GOT TO GO: How Carmelo Anthony Holds Back The Knicks

THE GO-TO GUY HAS GOT TO GO: How Carmelo Anthony Holds Back The Knicks
  • Jake O'Donnell

Perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony’s 2016-17 season isn’t all that different from his other 12 seasons in the NBA, which should be a good thing, because he’s a perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer. Melo’s still scoring in bunches and single-handedly digging his team out of holes the way few players can. But the addition of Derrick Rose and emergence of Kristaps Porzingis has, to great effect, highlighted his greatest weakness: an unwillingness to adapt. In fact, his output thus far this season has actually been a bit too similar to the rest of his career, in that it hasn’t reflected the gigantic increase in talent that now surrounds him. His new teammates haven’t made him better, and he certainly hasn’t made them better, either. Given his stats and the team’s struggle to stay above .500, Rose and Porzingis might as well be Langston Galloway and Andrea Bargnani, because we’re seeing the same old frustrating Knicks lead by the same old frustrating Carmelo Anthony.

Obviously, this early on in the season I’m obligated to throw in the caveat that everything could change, seeing as massive overhauls like the one Phil Jackson pulled off over the summer rarely gel so quickly (see: Cleveland Cavaliers). However, when it comes to Carmelo Anthony-lead teams, “gelling” usually never happens, so I’m not exactly optimistic about this current roster improving at the season wears on. He is the anti-gel. He shoots whenever he feels like it, he doesn’t like to play defense, he doesn’t like to move without the ball, he barely passes and, most importantly, he’s stubborn about changing any of these objectively awful habits.

Shouldn’t he be averaging more assists because there are better scorers around him? More easy buckets because his teammates are drawing double teams? More rebounds because the Knicks are attempting the most field goals in franchise history? Better late-game numbers because he’s playing fewer minutes? No, no, no and no.

His assist per game average is the lowest it’s ever been.

He leads all forwards in contested shots (which he’s making at the same clip as Rudy Gay).

He’s well below his career average in offensive rebounds despite a bumper crop of opportunities.

His late-game numbers are by far the worst they’ve been since coming to New York.

No matter where he is and who he plays with, Carmelo Anthony will give you the exact same thing, for better or worse.

It’s almost as if he’d rather the team lose while he’s missing shots than win with K.P. or Derrick Rose making them. Take Melo’s fourth-quarter play this season, for example. Of the 52 shots he’s taken in the final 12 minutes of games, only 17 have gone in, while both Porzingis and Rose’s scoring during the same period is a combined 50%. On one hand, I get it — this is Melo’s team until he’s traded or leaves in free agency, so he’s gonna take the shots whenever he wants to — but it’s clearly coming at the expense of wins and the development of his teammates. The only person who doesn’t realize that Carmelo Anthony needs to defer more often is Carmelo Anthony.

This pathological willingness to drag the Knicks down with him as he struggles through a shooting slump (or a diminishing ability to score the basketball) was no more evident than on Monday night’s loss to the Thunder. The 10-point lead that accumulated while Anthony was on the bench was promptly erased upon his return, as he decided to take five of the team’s final nine shots, missing all of them. Explain it however you’d like — OKC ramped up their defensive pressure, they make the rims smaller whenever Melo is subbed into a game, whatever — just don’t pretend like it makes sense to give $25 million to someone who regularly converts your team’s double-digit lead into a three-point deficit.

Carmelo Anthony is the king of the negative plus-minus. He needs to go.

Sometimes it feels like he takes over because he doesn’t trust his teammates, other times it appears that he genuinely wants to contribute to an offensive run by scoring the only way he knows how (in isolation). The problem ends up being that, even if he does contribute to a stretch of solid team play, it emboldens him to “do his thing”, which negatively affects the game’s flow, regardless of whether or not his shot is on. Everything slows down. Guys who were once moving off the ball become spectators. You know the drill.

In real life terms, Carmelo Anthony is that guy with a really good voice at his friend’s karaoke birthday party who not only hogs the mic, but insists on picking obscure songs that no one has ever heard of. Read the room, dude. Recognize that, despite your exceptional talent, you’re not helping the situation. SING “LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER” GODDAMNIT!

At some point, Carmelo Anthony is going to have to start producing like an MVP-candidate if he wants to quiet the Garden, which groans whenever he catches the ball and holds…and holds…and holds…and shoots. Either that, or he’ll have to start recognizing when and where and how to better pick his spots. Something tells me he’ll choose the former, which isn’t always the smartest bet for a player in the twilight of their prime. I could be wrong, of course, and Melo could start pumping out more performances like the one he had on Thanksgiving against the Hornets and fewer duds like his 7-for-25 outing against the same team the following night. As a Knicks fan, I truly hope that happens, but let’s be real: where’s the precedent that a 32-year-old has ever experienced such a renaissance without making substantial alterations to the way he approaches the game? More importantly, where’s the proof that Carmelo Anthony has ever changed his approach?

I don’t blame him for sticking with what he does best (it’s netted him $181 million thus far in his career) but I do blame him for never once coming back from an offseason with a new move; a different way to put points on the board. You’re 6’9″ and can’t jump over a phone book — how about developing a baby hook? A floater? Something! His career is a case study in the definition of insanity.

Bench him (not easy), trade him (good luck) or hope that the boos force him to concede the top dog role to someone more deserving, because if he’s gonna stick around, he needs to realize he iso his way to a title. Otherwise, this franchise will be looking back two years from now, staring at Kristaps Porzingis’ next contract, wishing they hadn’t squandered his dirt-cheap rookie deal because no one stood up to their old superstar’s bad habits.

Jake O'Donnell

Jake was hatched from a large egg in 1999, fully formed. His hobbies include sports, writing, and accumulating hobbies. He considers his body is a temple. A very oddly shaped temple. (@_jakeodonnell)