It's mid-December, and the New York Knicks are playing really well. This is awesome, because you have to admit that it's fun seeing the Knicks succeeding. It also means we have to hear about Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony's desire to come to New York is no secret, and it's only fitting that this is the week we see the latest twist in his trade saga. Anthony has essentially confirmed all our suspicions, with his heart set on the Knicks, New Jersey a distant second in the chase and the Nuggets looking more and more like an afterthought. This being the era of the empowered superstar, it seems like there's a good chance Melo ends up playing in Madison Square Garden, whether it's thanks to a trade or in free agency after the year. Denver may prefer to send Anthony to Jersey and get back the godfather package of Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and cap space, but all that becomes moot if Anthony refuses to sign an extension.
But here's a question nobody seems to be asking right now: does Anthony even make sense with the Knicks?
First things first, let's stop the silliness: the Knicks are not an elite team right now. Only two of their last 13 wins are against teams with winning records, and one of those wins was against reeling New Orleans (more on them below). Only one of those wins has been by double digits, and it was in a game in Toronto that was close until the fourth quarter. They're winning in typical Mike D'Antoni style, with a tiny starting lineup (Wilson Chandler is playing power forward), a short bench (only Toney Douglas and Ronny Turiaf get regular minutes off the bench) and a couple players who probably won't hold up well with too many minutes (if you think Raymond Felton will hold up in April after playing 39 minutes a game, I have some real estate to sell you). They're doing all that and they don't have the kind of top-level talent Phoenix used to have under D'Antoni.
So if the Knicks have a chance to upgrade the roster, they should do it. Maintaining status quo isn't going to get it done, at least not this year.
But here's the thing: Carmelo Anthony doesn't really fit what they're doing. Anthony's biggest strength is shot creation, or, in layman's terms, his ability to get buckets son. Anthony has pretty much every offensive skill in his arsenal, with a lethal jab-step jumper, a great first step and good range. It's no accident that he's ended over 30 percent of his team's possessions in each of the last six years. Before you go whining about how Anthony isn't incredibly efficient with those possessions, understand that shot creation is a skill that can be unbelievably valuable in the right situation. Just ask 2001 Allen Iverson.
The New York Knicks, however, are not that situation. Even without Anthony, the Knicks currently have the league's number two offense. It's really no secret why that's the case. They've surrounded Amar'e Stoudemire with the perfect blend of deep shooting, which has lifted everyone's game. Stoudemire has more room to operate than he even had in Phoenix, and guys like Chandler, as described so well by Rob Mahoney in the New York Times, are getting more open looks and knocking the shots down.
Anthony is the kind of guy that needs shooters surrounding him. He's not the kind of guy who merely stands around as a shooter alongside someone else. Here's a look at how many points he's scored off the pass over the past three years, thanks to 82Games.com:
- 2010-11: 46 percent
- 2009-10: 42 percent
- 2008-09: 48 percent
What's wrong with the New Orleans Hornets?
Remember when New Orleans was the darling of the NBA. Yeah, about that. The Hornets are 3-9 in their last 12 games and have dropped to 14-10 after an 8-0 start. Monday's loss to Miami was predictable, but Sunday's 18-point blowout to Philadelphia was not.
What's the issue for the Hornets then? It's the same as it's always been for them this year: shot creation. The Hornets' offense has been simply dreadful recently after starting off decently. In their first 11 games, the Hornets scored an average of 107.1 points per 100 possessions, which would rank them seventh in the NBA if they kept it up the entire year. They were running a little bit more (93 possessions per game in their first 11), Chris Paul was assertive and their shooters were hitting their shots.
Then, they won an ugly 75-71 game in Sacramento, and the wheels came off on offense. The Hornets are scoring an average of just 96.8 points per 100 possessions since their 10-1 start, and the pace has dropped to 90.8 possessions per game. Paul's looked much more tentative, trying desperately to set up others instead of being more assertive, and the rest of the team has followed suit. David West is really the only player on the roster who is both able and willing to create a decent shot for himself, and you can't win doing that in this league. The warning signs were there early, especially during a couple tight losses to Dallas and Oklahoma City, and now, they've shown up again.
Here's the part where Hornets fans should really be mad: there's not much they can do about it. Thanks to a whirlwind of deals by Dell Demps that may have been inspired by the NBA's purchase of the team, the Hornets have pretty much no trade assets left. They dealt a first-round pick to get Jerryd Bayless, and then packaged him with the large expiring contract of Peja Stojakovic to get ... Jarrett Jack. Whoopie! Over the summer, they traded first-round pick Craig Brackens to Philadelphia for Willie Greene and dealt promising young point guard Darren Collison to get Trevor Ariza. They could have been 14-10 with trade chips like Collison, Stojakovic, Bayless, Brackens, Marcus Thornton, Quincy Pondexter and others. Who knows? Maybe they could have rented Anthony for a year and see if that brings some home playoff money to stabilize the franchise.
The latter thing probably wasn't going to happen anyway, but it speaks to the deep hole New Orleans is in right now. Their 8-0 start was clearly a mirage, their team is owned by the league and their general manager dealt away most of his trade chips for a Trevor Ariza/Jarrett Jack/Willie Greene combination. If basketball is taken away from that city, remember where it all started going downhill.
Hitting a Rookie Wall
While Blake Griffin continues to cure cancer in Los Angeles, the league's other marquee rookie is hitting a bit of a rough patch back East. John Wall has been struggling recently for the Wizards, battling a number of ailments that had one Washington Post columnist wondering whether Wall's playing style is too reckless. When he has played, he hasn't played all that well. Wall shot 3-13 in a win over Portland on December 10, 4-12 in a loss to Phoenix on December 12 and 4-14 in a loss to the Knicks on Friday. The free-throw line, which was supposed to be Wall's friend, hasn't been, as he attempted just five free throws in those games.
The injuries are clearly playing a role in Wall's poor play. He now has a right knee injury, to go along with a left foot injury, a couple ankle injuries and a thumb injury ... and I'm sure I'm missing something. It's affected his ability to elevate, both on his layups and his jumper. But there's a confidence problem too. Wall just doesn't look ready to make a play when he comes off a pick and roll, even though defenders are giving him all sorts of room. Raymond Felton, who held Wall in check in the Knicks game, told me and other reporters that he gave Wall some advice after the game.
"When you come off that screen, I don't care [how bad you're shooting]," he said. "I had a bad shooting night tonight, but it wasn't going to stop me from shooting. If that's what the defense is giving you, you gotta take that shot. I just told him that you gotta have confidence, no matter what. If you miss 10 shots in a row, you gotta take that 11th shot."
The real issue is that Wall has arrived with much less pick and roll polish than many of his peers. John Calipari's other point guard disciples -- Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans -- played in a dribble-drive offense in college. Wall, however, was in more of a post-oriented attack due to the presence of DeMarcus Cousins, so he didn't get nearly as much experience in the half court with the ball in his hands. The lack of experience is showing. Wall's coach, Flip Saunders, said after that game (via Truth About It) that Wall is "walking" off screens rather than attacking them either with a jump shot or a dribble drive. In this league, you have to attack, no matter how injured you may be. Wall does that in transition; he needs to learn how to do that in the half court as well.
Angry Coach Face of the Week
George Karl has mellowed out as his coaching career has gone along, as he probably realizes that being too animated with such a wacky Nuggets roster is counterproductive. But in honor of Karl winning his 1,000th game, we have to show this demon face from Sunday's loss to the Knicks. He was annoyed that the referee looked like they would call a shooting foul on Nene early in the game. Thanks to the demon face, the referees overturned the call and called it a non-shooting foul.
Other Screenshots of the Week
James Harden has talent. It has shown itself far too infrequently this season, but it showed itself in this vicious dunk on Cleveland's J.J. Hickson. I guess he was even shocked it came out like that.
Derrick Rose took this show with his right hand, underneath Lamar Odom's arm. Just so we're clear.
Hedo Turkoglu hit what looked like a game-winning three against the Grizzlies, before Rudy Gay's buzzer beater sent the game into overtime. This is what happens when Hedo Turkoglu gets the ball and hits a game-winning three.
If you had to pick one NBA player to look like Jimmy Chitwood, how long would it take to name Andris Biedrins? Would he be your 500th choice? Five thousandth?
There are many pictures I could capture to illustrate the Wizards' inability to rebound, but I don't think any will be more effective than this one of Ron Artest standing flatfooted and holding off Gilbert Arenas as (from left) Al Thornton, JaVale McGee and Yi Jianlian stand and watch.