Now, I'm not trying to start a flame war like, "Can a team ever win a championship with Melo as their primary scorer?" The answer is yes. A team could theoretically win a championship with me as their starting point guard, if the rest of the team was so astoundingly good in every facet of the game that it covered for my deficiencies. So the question we need to be asking is NOT "Can Carmeloball win us a championship?" It's "Given what we have now, what can we do to construct a championship caliber team?"
"Carmelo Anthony is never going to change." Commentators, bloggers, and forum trolls love to say that, or things like it. It seems like a pretty stupid statement to me, frankly, yet people have been saying it for 6 or 7 years, and so far they've been proven right every single season, so maybe I'm the idiot. Here's the situation as I see it:
- Carmelo Anthony could greatly increase his contributions to the team if he started Isolating less and looking to pass more often. Most people seem to think this isn't going to happen any time soon.
- Carmelo Anthony could greatly increase his contributions to the team if he focused on becoming a defensive force. He has, throughout his career, shown varying levels of effort on defense, ranging from "indifferent" to "pretty competent! I wonder how good he could be if he actually made it a priority," though, to my knowledge, he's never quite approached "excellent." It'd be pretty sweet if he could get there though, eh?
- Develop a consistent 3 point shot. I don't see this one talked about all that often, (though that doesn't mean it isn't) but as the team is currently constructed, the difference this would make cannot be understated. Let's look at what our starting line-up will be next season:
- Jeremey Lin, a penetrate and kick point guard who led us to a massive winning streak when he could kick it out to an open Steve Novak for a solid 12-24 points a game.
- Iman Shumpert / J.R. Smith: I don't have a crystal ball. My thoughts on the matter are that J.R. can be a great 3-point-shooter, but, like most hyper-athletic-and-pretty-talented 2-guards, he will continue to call his own number even if he has no feel on his shot. Shumpert has never been a consistent 3-point-shooter at any stage of his career except, apparently, for his pre-draft work-outs for the Knicks. I wish I had a link for that, but I remember reading how he wowed Knicks brass with his impressive shooting display, the one thing he had never consistently displayed in college. It would be really great if one of these guys could consistently be counted to knock down threes, because we'll NEED the floor spacing. Why?
- Carmelo Anthony: Likes to get the ball at the elbow, and either heave a long two, back down his man, or drive to the baseline. He's shown flashes of being able to penetrate and kick quite nicely. Unfortunately, the only lights-out perimeter shooter on the roster (Steve Novak) plays the same position as him. Poop.
- Amar'e Stoudemire: By far most effective when operating in a high Pick-and-Roll, he's extremely skilled at pushing to the basket and finishing from inside, or stopping 12 feet out and hitting mid-range jumpers. Well, in theory, anyway. But let's keep in mind that last year, we got a version of Amar'e coming off of back surgery so significant that he actually got taller as a result. Regardless, when he's not setting a screen, you can expect to find him somewhere near the top of the key.
- Tyson Chandler: Stands in the middle. Will dunk all over your face and not offer you a hand/towel/whatever else might help you pick up the broken pieces of your life. Also a good Pick-And-Roll finisher, though not nearly as variable. He'll be clogging the lane on any given play.
- So... yeah. Not a lot of floor spacing on that court right now. Jeremy Lin's talent for getting into the lane and then kicking out to an open shooter in the corner isn't all that useful if there's no-one on the court that can do something useful with the ball when he catches it.
Whew. I'd meant to make all of that a whole lot more articulate, but I realized halfway through that I don't care enough. What does it all mean? Well, basically, we NEED TO SPACE THE FLOOR MORE. I think everyone knows that by now, but it's a really, REALLY big deal. So how do we accomplish this? We could try to get Novak as many minutes as possible by keeping Amar'e and Melo off the court for 18 minutes a game each; this doesn't really seem feasible. We could attempt to sign Novak to a nice Early-Bird contract, then trade him for a starting 2 guard that can shoot 3s almost as consistently as he can; this might actually work, though I'm sure a lot of you would be sad to see him go. I'm also not even sure it's allowed with the cap rules - someone lay some knowledge on me?
Or, Carmelo Anthony could try to turn himself into a Proto-Paul-Pierce. If he's gonna be waiting on the elbow anyway, wouldn't it be nice if he could be on the receiving end of one of Lin's post-drive kick-outs? I mean, he already can be, but it doesn't really help since he's not a good shooter. So wouldn't it be nice if he were a good shooter?
It seems to me that 'Melo may really be a tiger that isn't going to change his stripes. If he's going to continue to demand that a quarter of our possessions end with him shooting the ball, (I have no idea if that's the actual statistic, for the record, but it sure seems like it, eh?) he should at least learn to do it in a way that benefits the team. It would make everyone around him more effective - Tyson and Amar'e would have more room to operate in the middle, and spend less time standing around watching; it would also keep everyone engaged. I've never seen any statistics on that, (how would you even study it?) but I'm fairly confident that engaged players play better, on both sides of the ball. That was my experience in every sport I ever played, anyway.
So basically, my point is this: we can debate to the end of time whether Carmelo Anthony will ever change his psychological make-up; OR, we can start asking the question "within the framework of how he already likes to play, what can Carmelo Anthony do that will make the entire offense function better?" If Carmelo Anthony could come into camp hitting, say, 38.5% of his 3s, (which would be the best full season mark of his career, but not by much) wouldn't he make the Knicks better. Wouldn't he, indirectly at least, "make his teammates better," the way elite players are supposed to? I don't actually know the answer to that - as I mentioned earlier, I still lack a crystal ball. But it's something I like thinking about. Your thoughts?
...Whew, that was kinda like a novel, except not particularly well written. Did you get this far? Congratulations! Internet Cookies for you.