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New York Knicks Must Demote Carmelo Anthony to Win NBA Title
There is nothing wrong with taking a worthwhile gamble if the risks could mean winning a championship. The New York Knicks took a big one when they gave away a lot of promising young talent in exchange for Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony. After two early playoff exits and limited impact, it’s becoming clear New York didn’t so much as make a mistake trading for Anthony. Their blunder was believing he has what it takes to lead.
Indiana Pacers showcased inability of Anthony to elevate teammates
First of all, it’s best to get the arguments out of the way. Melo had a terrific 2012-2013 season. He averaged 28 point per game and reached his sixth All-Star game en route to his first ever league scoring title. The winning streak New York put together down the stretch was primarily due to him scoring 30 to 40 points every night and was why the Knicks ended up with the valuable second seed in the playoffs.
With that out of the way it became clear once again he wasn’t up to the task of playing team basketball. Nowhere was that clearer than against the Indiana Pacers. The strong, defensive team knew going into the series that Anthony would take his shots. So they chose to defend him as best they could but especially locked down on the other four Knicks on the floor. Why do this? Carmelo doesn’t pass the ball. Despite his obvious threat as a scorer Anthony didn’t have more than three assists in a game during the series. On top of that he failed all season to use his 6’8” frame and elite athleticism to go after rebounds. The most he had in the series was nine. He averaged six during the season. LeBron James meanwhile averaged two more rebounds and four more assists.
For an idea of what that means, one need only look at the box scores from every loss in the Indiana series. In game 3 no other starter scored double digit points. In game 4 Kenyon Martin and Iman Shumpert failed to score at all. By game 5 Anthony and Shumpert were the only two players to reach double figures. That speaks to a failure by a team to share the ball. In all four Pacers wins at least four starters score 10 or more points. Now they’re playing in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Knicks are left wondering why.
The Michael Jordan myth
A big reason why New York fell into this trade can be traced back to Michael Jordan. His rise to greatness in the ‘90s had every team in the league thinking all they had to do was find that dominant scorer and the rest of the pieces would fall into place. What they failed to take note of was for awhile it was a failed strategy with Jordan. He would put up 30, 40 and 50 points in the playoffs but kept losing to teams like the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons. Nobody could understand what the problem was.
A good overlay to use is the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals versus the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals Jordan played against Detroit. In ’89, Jordan posted similar numbers to Anthony: 29 points, five rebounds and six assists per game. The next closest on the team was Craig Hodges with 12 points and Bill Cartwright with 10. Detroit meanwhile had four players average at least 13 points in the series. Chicago failed to crack 100 points in any of the games and lost in six. Two years later Jordan averaged 29 points again, but in three fewer minutes per game. He also upped his number to seven assists and even pitched in with two steals and two blocks per game. As a result teammate Scottie Pippen averaged 22 points (versus 9 two years before). Cartwright and Horace Grant also reached double figures. The Bulls scored over 100 points three out of four games and swept the Pistons.
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That willingness by Jordan to take on a bigger leadership role i.e. passing the ball more and putting more effort into crafting his defense were the single two factors that helped Chicago get over the hump to their first NBA title. Carmelo is 28-years old, the same age Jordan was when he won his first championship. His game in no way shows a similar growth in terms of versatility. This past season Anthony averaged .5 steals and .8 blocks per game. That speaks to a player who doesn’t appreciate doing the little things well. He believes scoring baskets is the key to winning games. Ten playoff appearances, eight first round exits and no ring says otherwise.
Yet in spite of all that the responsibility lay at the feet of the Knicks. They should have understood when they traded for Carmelo that he didn’t bring the intangibles of a team leader with him. He is a pure scorer. Their failure to put someone else on the floor that could bring up the play of everyone else is the single reason they haven’t sniffed a Finals since Patrick Ewing retired. Until that changes anyone hoping for Anthony to suddenly have an epiphany is kidding themselves. He is good at one thing in this league. Leading the way to a championship isn’t it.