It's early in the season, and far too soon to make conclusive judgement about the near future about the Knicks. Still, there have been some interesting developments within this Knick team that deserve mention and analysis. One fascinating change has been the effect Carmelo has on the the court. In the past Melo hasn't drastically affected his team's on-court play in an empirical sense. However, this season feels different than the previous ones in his nearly decade-long professional career. It feels as if the Knicks play far better this season while Anthony is on the floor, and it's supported by the numbers thus far.
There is no need to mince words about this. The Knick offense this season has been terrible without Anthony. While Melo sat on the bench the Knicks have posted an offensive efficiency of 98.6, which would put them in the bottom tenth of the league this season. The Knicks just can't seem to find consistent offense without Anthony playing, and this was no more obvious than in Monday night's game against the Brooklyn Nets. Woodson leaned on Melo heavily, and the star forward looked gassed in the critical final moments of the game. The Knick offense while Melo plays, however, has been incredible. With Carmelo on the court, the Knicks have so far posted an offensive efficiency of 117.6. To put that number in perspective: That's more efficient than every single season of the Nash-Stoudemire Suns teams that revolutionized offense in the NBA. The Knicks' meteoric rise in offensive performance is a big part of the reason they opened the season on a winning streak. This begs inquiry into why the Knicks are so reliant on Carmelo's playmaking when none of his teams in the past have needed him to such a degree.
The Knicks outscore opponents by 12.3 points per 100 possessions while Anthony is playing, but have been outscored by 5.5 points per 100 while he rests. Part of this is no doubt due to his unique role. No other player on the Knicks can fill his role as a shot creator on offense. JR Smith is the closest approximation New York has on reserve, and he can't make plays out of the high post as well as Anthony does. Relying on JR Smith to consistently make smart plays with the ball in his hands is a dicey proposition. Combine this with the small slump backup F Steve Novak is going through, and it becomes a bit more clear why the Knicks struggle to score without Anthony on the court.
Coach Woodson made it clear after last season that he intends of building the Knick offense around the trio of Chandler, Anthony, and Stoudemire, and so far he seems to have done just that. The playbook utilizes a lot of high pick-and-rolls lifted right from the offense of his predecessor, Mike D'Antoni, along with handoffs plays involving Tyson Chandler and pick-and-post plays for Anthony. This places much of the burden of making plays upon Carmelo, and he is posting both the highest usage rate of his career and active in the NBA this season. To his credit, he has performed extremely well in this role and the has carried the Knicks so far this season.
This is a bit troubling, but there is no reason to think it places a ceiling on the team. We've seen great teams weather this same issue year after year. Last year's Heat (with LeBron James), the 2011 Mavericks (with Dirk Nowitzki), and the 2010 Lakers (with Kobe Bryant) found themselves outscored while their primary star rested but dominating while said player was playing. I don't think I need to point out what those teams had in common. However, for obvious reasons it would be preferable for a team to outscore their opponent regardless of the presence of one individual. This brings me to my final question: Is this how Amar'e Stoudemire can provide value for the Knicks when he returns?
I've already discussed several times how poorly the Knicks played while Stoudemire was on the court last season. Fortunately this is a new year with a new supporting cast and a new offensive system by a coach rapidly becoming one of the premier offensive minds in the league. It's possible that the Knicks could become a more complete offensive team by introducing Stoudemire to the rotation, especially if Coach Woodson can stagger his minutes so that he and Melo don't share the court as often. To be clear, I don't believe that Stoudemire and Melo are incompatible on offense but rather that STAT would help the Knicks stay afloat on offense even without Anthony. This would all be for naught if Stoudemire continues to slide as a defender, but his versatility should provide some value in Woodson's switch-heavy defensive system (as it did for Landry Fields and Carmelo). Hopefully we'll see Stoudemire back in action soon, and the coaching staff can start to figure out the best rotation for the Knicks to contend.