A month ago the New York Knicks were riding a seven-game winning streak and the entire basketball world was going absolutely bananas over Jeremy Lin. Fast forward to March 12 and the Knicks are now on a steep downward spiral like roller-coaster on Magic Mountain.
The Knicks are mired in a six-game slump, losers of eight of their last 10 games, and fading fast in the Eastern Conference. What’s the difference between now and February? I’ve got two words for New York fans: Carmelo Anthony.
According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, the Knicks’ locker room is in turmoil as many of the players as questioning head coach Mike D’Antoni’s ability to lead this team. It’s not a big surprise that D’Antoni – who resigned on Tuesday amid reports that he had lost the respect of his players – is getting the bulk of the criticism, but a bigger chunk of the blame should go to the Knicks’ high-maintenance superstar Carmelo Anthony.
Since Anthony rejoined the team on Feb. 20, the offense that was moving and grooving with Lin running the show has become stagnant again, just like how it became stagnant since the Knicks acquired Anthony from Denver last season. This is what Knicks fans were afraid of when Anthony returned. With ‘Melo out, the Knicks put the ball in Lin’s hands, ran D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll sets and he was able to spread the wealth and keep everyone involved. With ‘Melo in, Lin has deferred too many times and has become hesitant, and when you hesitate in the NBA you are toast. Lin’s confidence has waned and he’s not playing with the same fire like he was a month ago because he doesn’t want to step on ‘Melo’s toes.
Sure most teams have loaded up on Lin and have figured out he doesn’t drive to the basket as fast going to his left (which is something Lin is trying to work through). This is where Anthony is supposed to step up and take pressure off Lin. Instead, the Knicks are back to the dreaded isolation plays and stand-still basketball that plagued them in the past.
When the ball moves, the Knicks are a dangerous team because: a) defenses can’t load up and defend just one side of the court, b) it makes it difficult for teams to defend the high pick-and-rolls and the drive-and-kicks, and c) it discourages one-on-one plays.
Anthony is a notorious ball-stopper and he’s struggling to fit in D’Antoni’s offense. And he certainly doesn’t mesh well with fellow All-Star Amare Stoudemire. It’s almost like they’re competing against each other for shots, which puts a lot of pressure on the point guards – whether it’s Lin or Baron Davis – to keep them happy. This is the biggest flaw in Carmelo’s game. He was a ball-stopper when he was in Denver, and he’s an even worse ball-stopper now that he’s the main attraction in New York.
Amare and ‘Melo both like to operate around the free throw line. But when they don’t get the ball on offense they tend to loaf on defense. It’s quite obvious that Anthony and Stoudemire have no interest in playing defense, something the Knicks were doing better with during their winning streak. During their winning streak, which occurred when both stars were sidelined due to injuries, defensive-minded guys like Jared Jeffries and Bill Walker got more playing time. With Jeffries and Walker, the Knicks were much improved defensively and neither player demanded the ball on offense, allowing Lin to run the offense freely without having to force feed the ball on the wings.
Anthony is a very strong figure on and off the court, so when there’s a tug of war for the basketball, he’s going to win more often than not. When he crosses halfcourt, he’s already looking for Lin to feed him the ball. At this stage of his young NBA career, Lin simply doesn’t have the credentials to wave off ‘Melo. And because D’Antoni doesn’t like confrontations, it ultimately led to his departure.
This is a huge dilemma for the Knicks because management has invested a ton of money on Anthony to excite the loyal fan base. But it’s obvious that for the Knicks to win a championship, they need to shed some of their me-first players and Anthony is right on top of that list.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.