Among the storylines heading into the 2016-17 NBA season was the aggressive spending and moves made by the New York Knicks to climb their way back into contention within the Eastern Conference.
They again gutted their roster and reloaded, taking a chance on Derrick Rose, a former MVP, and Joakim Noah, former NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
The key of those words being ‘former’.
Still, the Knicks in all likelihood had their best roster in the Carmelo Anthony era, at least on paper, and saw this season as a chance to move into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, among the teams that would get a seat at the table to challenge King James and the Cavs in the second round of the playoffs.
Heck, their new starting point guard Rose even declared them among the NBA’s “Super Teams”, creating headlines and a mixture of laughter and optimism among Knicks fans that maybe something special could be brewing.
And the key behind that optimism: Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks star they traded the farm for in 2011 in hopes of giving the franchise a centerpiece it has missed since the days of Patrick Ewing. This was to be the year, the time when the Knicks took a shot at contending, rising out of mediocrity.
There’s only one problem with that thinking though: Carmelo Anthony isn’t a star anymore.
Carmelo Anthony: 10 points on 4-9 shooting in 15 minutes (Ejected for throwing an elbow to Thabo Sefolosha’s neck. 2nd ejection this season) pic.twitter.com/YBsv2Yw7n8
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) December 29, 2016
The fall from grace isn’t that noticeable to the casual fan, but Carmelo isn’t the same guy we used to watch light up teams. This season he’s had bright spots; namely, burying two game-winners when the Knicks were piecing it together for a two-week stretch in mid-December.
But that’s only a mask to the reality facing the Knicks and their front office: Carmelo and his massive contract just aren’t returning what the Knicks need for them to compete.
Melo is even worse this season with fresher and more talented teammates. He’s seen his assists and rebounds tallies take a tumble, while his usage rate has skyrocketed up to 28.8. And for a guy with that high of a usage rate, Anthony’s 4.2 assists and 14.3 assist averages are both league lows.
I wonder if Carmelo Anthony watches James Harden put up historic numbers and thinks, “Hm…maybe I should’ve bought into D’Antoni’s system.”
— Kevin O’Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 1, 2017
And hold on, that’s not even the worst part of Carmelo’s decline: we’ve long known of his propensity to just not play defense, and he’s doubled down on it in each of the last two seasons. He’s contributing to the Knicks’ terrible overall team defense, as even the addition of solid defenders like Noah and Rose haven’t solved their problems, particularly in the second half of games.
Even Carmelo’s biggest strength is regressing, with his shooting diving into inefficient territory. In the last six games, Melo is shooting 36% from the field, and he’s gotten so bad since mid-December that the entire offense has fallen around him.
Carmelo Anthony Ranks:
51st in PER
62nd in WS
92nd in VORP
98th in BPM
Save your votes and give them to the new guys who deserve it.
— Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 (@JoshEberley) December 29, 2016
But it’s not even that his offense is bad – he’s destroying any planned offense from new coach Jeff Hornacek. The entire system has been criticized by their coach throughout the slide, and he’s indicated in various press conferences after games in which he’s described the offense as “lopsided”, “dysfunctional”, and “absent”. And that was just this week!
At one point against the Orlando Magic this week, Hornacek screamed at his offensive star to move the ball, but as Melo settled into an isolation play, the coach turned and walked to the bench, deciding not to watch the play – which would end in a Melo brick.
Those isos were fine when they were falling, but now with the offense stalling and the Knicks’ season free-falling, it’s’ time to look straight at where the bad play is coming from. The coaches, the front office and the roster have changed. The only remaining common denominator that’s left: Carmelo Anthony’s declining game.