One of the more depressing aspects of the New York Knicks' crummy start to the season was the lackluster offensive output of Carmelo Anthony. Most observers figured the team might struggle to grasp the Triangle offense, but there was always the hope that Melo would at least be able to bail them out through the occasional burst of scoring brilliance. That's what Melo do, after all.
Through the first nine games, however, Melo didn't do what Melo do. The former scoring champ averaged a paltry (for him) 21.0 points on 41.0 percent shooting. New offensive system or no, that simply wasn't going to get it done.
That all seemed to change on Friday night against the Utah Jazz, as Melo exploded for an NBA season-high 46 points in a close loss. He followed that up on Sunday with 28 points in a (hopefully) slump-busting win over the Denver Nuggets.
What changed for Melo? Watching the past two games, it certainly seemed like to he was getting to the rim far more often, and the numbers certainly back that up. Here's the split of Melo's field goal attempts in the restricted area:
- First Nine Games: 18-34 (52.9 FG%)
- Last Two Games: 11-13 (84.6 FG%)
Hey, that's much better! He went from averaging two made shots at the rim over his first nine games to averaging 5.5 made shots in his latest two.
All that action close to the hoop has led to a sharp increase in Melo's free throws. He had been averaging a career-low 4.8 free throw attempts per game heading into Friday, but got to the line 16 times against Utah and backed that up with eight trips to the charity stripe in the win over Denver.
Looking back at the game footage, there was no huge strategic change in the Knicks' offense. Melo continued to play mostly at the small forward and continued to post up on the weak side. The main difference was his post position and his overall sense of nastiness.
Now, many fans (myself included), would prefer Melo play more minutes at the power forward. He's not terribly quick at this point in his career, and that often gets exploited when he's playing against modern NBA wings. But if the Knicks are going to continue to play him at the 3, they might as well exploit the fact that he far too strong for most small forwards.
And that is exactly what happened over the weekend. Instead of staying on the weak-side elbow and settling primarily for mid-range jumpers, Melo took the poor schmucks guarding him deeeeeep into the post. He did it repeatedly against Gordon Hayward on Friday, and he kept it up against our old buddy Danilo Gallinari on Sunday:
Gallo isn't exactly a minnow out there -- he's 6'10" and has played more than one-third of his career minutes at power forward -- but the dude can't bang with Melo. Few can.
You could see Melo's confidence growing with every successful sojourn to the rim. And that led to the second, perhaps most critical adjustment -- even when he was forced out to the elbow, Melo didn't settle.
In this possession, Alonzo Gee does a tremendous job denying Melo the deep post position he wants. Melo catches the ball far from the basket, but instead of firing away he remembers, "Oh yeah, this is Alonzo Gee guarding me," slips past the defender and gets him into the air to draw the foul:
Of course, this scoring dominance will inevitably bring out calls of "SAME OLD GLORREEEEE BOY MELO WHY DOESN'T HE PASS FOR ONCE?" It is important to recall the situation he faced this weekend -- Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire missed Friday's game (Shump left after the first minute with a hip injury) and Shump stayed out of Sunday's game. Those were the Knicks' second and third-leading scorers. With those guys out, and the opponent refusing to send a help defender Melo's way until after he has made his move to the rim, the guy damn well better get his buckets.
Can Melo continue his post dominance this week? How will he handle it when teams start bringing double-teams his way as he posts up? We'll find out Tuesday night in Milwaukee. The Bucks, believe it or not, boast one of the league's best defenses so far, and head coach Jason Kidd certainly knows Melo's tendencies. This should be a good test.
Hopefully this past weekend was a turning point in Carmelo Anthony's 2014-15 season. The Knicks needed him in a big way, and he did everything he could to deliver. That's what superstars do.