The New York Knicks, like so many NBA teams, are at a crossroads this offseason. They may have Kristaps Porzingis to keep fans warm at night, but around him and Carmelo Anthony is a team that’s at a considerable talent deficiency compared to the rest of the league, and without the high draft pick to address it organically. Their pick, which now belongs to the Denver Nuggets, is the last wound from the disastrous Andrea Bargnani trade, but Knicks president Phil Jackson still has to stock the cupboard — and the first step to doing that is to find a head coach.
In an interview with Russ Bengtson at Complex, the Knicks All-Star made it clear he wants to be involved and his justification sounds logical.
“Because this is gonna be a long-term journey of playing and you consider me being part of that plan then I would want to know what’s going on.”
He answered a couple other questions about the coaches he’s had over the course of his career, but they were equal parts condescending and magnanimous and didn’t really reveal much — proof he’s been in New York for a little while now. But it was when Bengtson asked Melo “what makes a good coach,” when we got something to talk about:
I think being able to hold guys accountable, but also having a relationship with the player. Kind of seeing things from a players’ perspective as well as a coach’s perspective. I think if you can build that camaraderie between a coach and a player, I think you’re onto something.
This is where some Knicks fans and, we’d guess, a majority of casual NBA fans snort with contempt. The chuckles might stem from the belief that, of anyone on the Knicks’ roster, Melo is the one player who really needs to be held accountable — he’s the star, after all.
But Carmelo might’ve already made himself over a little bit from the ’14-’15 season to this past one. The score-first small forward has always been accused of hogging the ball — never mind the talent level of his supporting cast. But his assist percentage this past season (21.9) is easily the highest of his career and the second highest on the team, trailing only pass-first PG Jose Calderon.
Then there’s the defense. Yes, he’s not a great defender, but some data supports the strides he’s made on that end of the floor this year. Synergy might only rank him as an “average” defender on a points per possession basis, but his -0.2 Defensive Box Plus Minus is the second best of his career. (DBPM is a box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player translated for an average team; yeah, that oughta clear the confusion right up.) And his VORP (value over replacement player) is the second highest of his career. This stat can be wonky, but his real defensive plus minus dropped from -2.08 in 2014-15 to -.71 this season — his best number in the three-year run of the statistic (he was -1.02 in 2013-14).
Of course some are going to point out that the Knicks again failed to make the playoffs this season, the second consecutive year that’s happened. But Melo may already be holding himself more accountable for the sometimes-glaring holes in his game, and now he just wants a coach who does the same.
Statistical courtesy of Basketball-Reference.