They’re both forwards on teams that were supposed to make a bit of a splash in their respective conferences, but while Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love have largely lived up to their pre-season hype, their teams have not. ‘Melo’s Knicks were supposed to be within the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket by now, and Love’s ‘Wolves were supposed to be in the thick of the last few spots out west. With the future of both in doubt, it’s time to figure out which All-Star forward needs a change of scenery or drastically re-altered lineups to support them.
Before we break it down, lets caution some of the less astute among us that we still don’t know if either of these forwards can be the best player on a championship team. ‘Melo has never missed the playoffs in his 11-year career, and Love has never made the playoffs. But while ‘Melo has won a few playoffs series (most recently against the Celtics last year), neither has gotten further than a Conference Final â€” again ‘Melo with the Nuggets in 2009 after Kiki Vandeweghe (and up-and-comer Masai Ujiri) swindled a still-effective Chauncey Billups for the walking corpse of Allen Iverson from Joe Dumars.
But the Knicks are 21-35 on the year, five and a half games back of Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the LEastern Conference. Carmelo even recently told Al Iannazzone of Newsday his optimism is “definitely being tested” this year:
It’s become an all-too-familiar sight and trend for the Knicks. They have 26 games to dramatically change things, or Anthony will miss out on the playoffs for the first time in his 11-year career. “I can’t imagine what that’s like,” he said. “I’m not even trying to think about that at this point. We still got a lot of basketball to play.”
But Anthony admits his optimism is “definitely being tested” this season, and you wonder if his desire to stay with the Knicks is too.
Anthony has been playing one of the best seasons of his career, personified by that incredible, record-setting performance at Madison Square Garden. He’s sporting career-bests in PER and total rebounding percentage, and the second-highest win share, per 48 minutes, of his career (all stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted). His true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage are both near the best marks of his NBA tenure, and the Knicks are actually giving up greater than six more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting than when he’s in the game, via NBA.com. To say it another way, Melo’s no longer a total diva about defense and genuinely gives a crap on that end of the floor, even while battling some fours in Woodson’s depreciating attempts to play small.
But the Knicks are dreadful, ranking near the bottom of the league in pace and points per possession. So not only are they giving up a ton of easy buckets in the half-court, but they’re playing super slow leading to fewer transition looks and fewer easy buckets. That means more forced one-on-one iso time for an overextended ‘Melo as the shot clock winds down. Overall, the Knicks are 22nd in the league in overall net rating, per NBA.com, which is why they’re 21-35.
Let us count the various issues the Knicks have run into during a season from hell: Tyson Chandler has been hobbled with injuries and is a long way from the form that made him the 2012 DPOY; Raymond Felton is probably the worst staring point guard in the league; Iman Shumpert after vacillating between Mike Woodson and James Dolan‘s dog house, while also being a fan favorite, now has a sprained left MCL â€” the same knee where he tore the ACL in the playoffs during his rookie year; J.R. Smith is playing as if he’s still in a ganja cloud from his summer, and Andrea Bargnani has somehow been a bigger bust than he was in Toronto.
‘Melo can, and will, opt out of his current deal this summer to enter free agency. Even with the Knicks possessing his Bird Rights, which allow them to re-sign him for an extra year and $33 million more than any other team), there’s very little within the team keeping him in town. So whether he needs and/or gets better teammates between now and this summer (and he won’t since the deadline has passed), it will go a long way towards his decision to re-sign this summer, or flee for another club that can get him a lot closer to the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Kevin Love is in a similar boat as ‘Melo, though Love can’t opt-out of his current deal until the summer of 2015. Let’s find out how Love’s performance â€” in relation to his teammates â€” stacks up against Anthony.