clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The anti-Matt Harvey: How an injured Carmelo Anthony briefly dragged the Knicks back to competence

New, comments

He was hurt. He came back to play for a team that didn't need him to win. It was weird.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There is a storm of controversy and hot fiery takes rampaging through the Tri-State Area at the moment, centered around the New York Mets and their ace pitcher, Matt Harvey. Once you get past all the hysterics, however, you might notice that all of the players involved are acting fairly rationally. The front office wants their best pitchers on the mound for the stretch drive and the playoffs, while Harvey (and his agent) are concerned about re-injuring his arm after Tommy John surgery. This isn't even the zaniest "will he/won't he play" drama to hit the Big Apple in the past calendar year; not by a long shot.

Remember Carmelo Anthony? Good player, seemed a bit off during the first few months of the 2014-15 NBA season. We would later find out that he injured his knee in the second game of the season, and that he would require season-ending surgery. With the Knicks already dead in the water, there seemed absolutely no reason whatsoever for him to continue playing.

But play he did. This bizarre (even for the Knicks) moment in franchise history will likely go down as "the time that selfish idiot Melo put off surgery just so he could play in the All-Star Game," but the reality is slightly more complex. Melo returned in mid-January, following a two-week absence in which the Knicks remade the roster by trading away J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert and releasing Samuel Dalembert, and played an inexplicable 10 of 12 games leading up to the All-Star Break. The Knicks' record in those 10 games: 5-5. That's right, they racked up nearly 30 percent of their season total during a 10-game period when an injured Melo was just kind of dicking around with whoever was left on the roster. If you're looking for the No. 1 reason the Knicks didn't finish with the league's worst record, there it is.

But let us not wallow in the mire tanking opportunities gone by -- New York ended up with the PorzinGod, after all. That fateful, tank-busting few weeks might actually provide a glimmer of hope for the 2015-16, as most of the key contributors are still on the roster. In nine of those games -- including all five wins -- Derek Fisher started a lineup of Melo, Jose Calderon, Langston Galloway, Lou Amundson and Jason Smith. That quintet outscored opponents by 7.0 points per 100 possessions over 158.9 minutes of playing time. Remove Smith from the equation, and toss in Lance Thomasand the four-man lineups are quite impressive:

MP PTS per 100 poss.
Calderon/Galloway/Anthony/Amundson 185.7 +7.8
Calderon/Galloway/Anthony/Thomas 45.1 +14.4

The sample sizes may be small, but once Galloway, Thomas and Amundson were added to the roster (along with a healthy Calderon), an injured Melo managed to drag the worst club in franchise history all the way to mediocrity for a time.

The whole "does Melo make his teammates better" argument, which will continue to rage on for the rest of eternity, misses the point. What he does is lessen the burden on his other teammates. Scoring enough points against NBA defenses is incredibly difficult. A healthy, effective Carmelo Anthony mitigates much of that difficulty -- he gets tons of buckets at a fairly efficient rate, with minimal help from others. He throws the defense out of whack, which leads to open shots for others. All that he needs to build an above-average NBA offense is a group of guys who hit open shots, know where to stand and cut, and who aren't actively tripping over their own dicks for 48 minutes.

Sadly, that hasn't been the case for much of the past two years. It should come as no surprise that Anthony thrived, even for a few weeks, next to guys like Amundson and Galloway -- certainly not the most talented of players, but guys who know what to do and when to do it. When I look around at the new faces on the 2015-16 roster I see players with far more talent than that late-January crew, but I also see a core of veterans and youngsters who will most likely play their roles to the best of their respective abilities. Combine that with a healthy Carmelo Anthony, and this crew might surprise a few people. Stranger things have happened.