It’s on everyone’s mind: Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are set to become the most potent front-court scoring twosome since Vin Baker and Glen Robinson!
OK, maybe that’s not the analog that has the New York fan base so fired up. But no one (besides perhaps Isaiah Thomas) is expecting instant dominance a la the Heat or Celtics either; rather it seems to be the consensus that the new Knicks will be somewhere in between these extremes. So what will it look like?
It’s going to be fascinating watching Mike D’Antoni cram Carmelo into his system. Typically, his best small forwards have been do-it-all glue guys like Wilson Chandler and Shawn Marion–the type of wing who could switch onto a number of offensive threats, rebound, spot up, and wouldn’t get in the way of a middle pick and roll.
Anthony doesn’t exactly fit that bill, but the Knicks, a team with plenty of problems to solve, are hoping that adding the ultra-talented wing won’t be a team chemistry solvent.
Defensively, it’s unclear how this team will guard anyone. Of Billups, Stoudemire and Anthony, Carmelo is actually the best one-on-one defender—when he wants to be. But if we know one thing about NBA defense, it’s that talented individuals have nowhere near the defensive impact as cohesive team awareness. Playing with worse defensive big men than Denver’s, Anthony will need to be a far more willing and active off-ball defender than at any time in his career, a proposition that, under the defense-optional coaching philosophy of Coach Mike D’Antoni, sounds as likely as Jason Sudeikus being invited back to the Celebrity All-Star Game.
The Knicks look doomed to become a defensive disaster, and any analysis of this issue gives way to cataloging deficiencies. But I’m curious to see how the Knicks’ offense will respond to the trade.
In that light, it’s worth examining how Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have proven that two players with high Usage Rates can be successful together, as Wade, LeBron Carmelo and Amar’e make up four of the league’s top six in Usage. It’s well documented how awkward the arrangement in Miami has appeared at times, but there’s no question that it’s been an effective one. After a rocky start, the Heat possess the fourth most efficient offense in the league, averaging 111 points 100 possessions.
Like Wade and James, Anthony and Stoudemire are in the NBA’s elite class of shot creators. They will each get looks, and plenty of them. But how? Will Carmelo, a sub-par operator of the pick and roll, expand this part of his game? Will he become more of a spot up threat, operating off the ball to find open spaces and claim post position? Will he, in essence, alter his game to better fit alongside Amar’e?
I imagine that the Billups-Stoudemire pick and roll will remain the primary action of the Knicks’ offense. Doing so will allow Carmelo spot up opportunities from the wing or corner, but will also force the defense to single cover him out of rotations. In these scenarios, Carmelo’s advanced one-on-one game will be a nightmare to handle. Also, unlike LeBron, Carmelo is comfortable both with his back to the basket and his toes on the three point line, which could eliminate the awkward redundancies between LeBron and Wade that plagued the Heat’s offense in the early part of this season.
To ameliorate this potential problem, the Knicks will hope that the presence of Billups as a scoring threat and floor leader will help the Knicks avoid a remix of the Iverson-Carmelo Denver debacle. With Carmelo and Stoudemire as the unquestioned offensive focal points of their respective teams, the Nuggets and Knicks were first and eight in offensive efficiency (via Basketball-Reference.com). There’s little argument that running offense through these threats is a productive way to play. But together, they will never have the relationship of a Stockton and Malone, two players who produced points in an almost symbiotic fashion. Indeed, I expect the two midrange masters to occasionally look awful early on, as neither star has the pure creative game of Wade or LeBron. They are finishers, for themselves and others.
The combination of Carmelo and Stoudemire is unlikely to result in an offensive supernova along the lines of Nash-Stoudemire, or Kobe-Pau. D’Antoni’s system will push the pace and the point total, but this Knicks tandem sort of feels like two black holes colliding. Neither has a yen for distribution, and there’s a risk that the two talents will suck each other into a vortex of poor ball movement and exhaustive jab step routines.
And this is why Billups’ floor game and touch from three (his 44% clip is tops in his career and good for sixth in the NBA) will be so crucial to the New York pushing its offense beyond its current output, which seems like the only avenue to increased team success. Like Bosh, who is often the catalyst for the Heat’s most efficient offensive play, Billups will need to be the conduit between two bucket-getters most comfortable operating independently.
The Knicks’ three core players won’t enjoy even a faint echo of the Heat’s success until they have a new coach who will mandate a commitment to the complex schemes that define the best modern NBA defenses. But, with Miami as an example, there’s plenty of reason to predict a bounty of buckets at the Garden. Whether that will result in an increase in wins, is another question.
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