NEW YORK – Carmelo Anthony is playing much better this season than he did last year, and there are many theories as to why.
- The conspiracy theorist in all of us might think that he clashed with Mike D’Antoni and has a better working relationship with Mike Woodson, who gives him more freedom to just play like himself.
- Those who put stock in lineup combination statistics will obviously note that Amar’e Stoudemire has been out all season, and that Stoudemire’s presence on the floor hurt Anthony’s ability to put the ball in the basket.
- Related to No. 2, Anthony is playing the power forward position instead of small forward. Not only does that give him more space to attack the basket, but it also puts an extra 3-point shooter on the floor.
- The addition of Jason Kidd gives the Knicks a veteran that Anthony truly respects and who will hold him accountable for playing winning basketball, not just All-Star basketball.
- There’s always the post-Olympic motivation theory.
D’Antoni points to the presence of both Kidd and Raymond Felton.
“The biggest thing, I think, with Melo that’s really good, and he’s playing great, are the two point guards,” D’Antoni said. “And two veteran point guards. He feels comfortable.”
Last season, the Knicks were without a point guard to start the season. Eventually, Jeremy Lin was dusted off and Baron Davis got (relatively) healthy, but both were turnover prone. The Knicks’ success during “Linsanity” was more about defensive improvement than offensive improvement, and Anthony shot pretty terribly (39.8 percent overall, 14-for-49 from 3-point range) with Lin on the floor.
This season, Anthony is shooting better with Felton on the floor than with Felton on the bench, especially from beyond the arc. Anthony is 44-for-93 (47.3 percent) from 3-point range with Felton on the floor and 7-for-19 (36.8 percent) with Felton on the bench.
Felton’s presence and his pick and roll game with Tyson Chandler has created open looks for the entire team and allowed the Knicks to run fewer isolations for Anthony, who is being assisted more this year. Last season, Anthony was assisted on only 38 percent of his field goals. This season, that number is up to 45 percent. Felton has 36 of the Knicks’ 85 assists to Anthony (20 on 3-pointers), while Kidd has 19 (nine on threes).
So yeah, it seems clear that having a point guard helps Anthony. But Kobe Bryant has a different theory, taking credit for Anthony’s supposed to-hell-with-the-New-York-media mind set this season.
“He and I are good friends,” Bryant said. “We talked when we were together for the Olympic team. Last year, I think it was very tough for him, because he was criticized by shooting and playing the way he likes to play. Then the whole Linsanity thing happened and everybody said, ‘Well, they’re better without Melo’ and all this nonsense. You guys were guilty of it. You guys really put the hammer on him, and as a result, he kind of got a little gun-shy and a little self-conscious about things.
“I asked him, ‘What the hell are you doing? To hell with them. You have to do what you do best.’ And I think the organization put pieces around him that allowed him to do that. Now you guys all celebrate him for what he’s always done. It’s funny, because … God bless you guys.”
Whatever reason or reasons, whether or not Bryant deserves more credit than Kidd or Felton, Anthony is having a terrific season. But the Knicks might be without him when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. Anthony suffered a sprained left ankle in the third quarter of the Knicks’ 116-107 win over the Lakers on Thursday and is listed as day-to-day.
The Knicks smoked the Heat without Anthony last week, but also lost to the Bulls in Chicago. Overall, they’ve been almost 13 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Anthony on the floor (115.1) than with Anthony on the bench (102.3).