We know this offseason saw Carmelo Anthony drop a noticeable amount of weight to act as a facilitator in the triangle offense Knicks president Phil Jackson is implementing next season. ‘Melo’s trainer even told the New York Post his client is attempting to become one of the top three players in the world. Here are the steps Anthony needs to take in order to be mentioned within that exalted triumvirate.
Anthony’s trainer since he left Syracuse after his lone freshman season and an NCAA title 11 years ago, Idan Ravin, recently told the New York Post‘s Marc Berman about Anthony’s lofty goal subsumed by his weight loss this summer:
“Amazing people have been hired over there and he wants to come in as the leader and a top-three player in the world,’’ Ravin told The Post, adding Anthony wants the Knicks to follow his lead. “If [he’s] being meticulous, you should not just follow [his] word, but follow [his] actions.”
“It’s consistency,’’ Ravin said. “That’s what it is. No, I’m not going to just juice and cleanse for four days and drop a few pounds. That’s what’s causing the long-term changes.
“Give someone chocolate cake, it’s easy to say no when someone’s around,’’ added Ravin, author of “The Hoops Whisperer,” a new book on his life. “When no one’s around, it’s a gift [to say no].
“Making fundamentally sound choices, eating smart calories, not wasted calories,’’ Ravin said of his strategy with Anthony. “We go out to eat, he’s making good choices.’’
First, it’s a little more difficult to crack the top 3 players in the world by simply losing some extra baggage around the mid-section. LeBron James and Kevin Durant are 1 and 1A in terms of the top players on the planet right now, and that same consistency Ravin told the Post about Anthony’s diet and exercise can be translated to an NBA hardwood. Comparing the numbers of Anthony, LeBron and Durant last season shows just how much work Anthony has to do before he’s mentioned in the same breath as the other two.
‘Melo isn’t No. 3, not now, but he could be. Though his player efficiency rating was No. 7 in the league this past season at 24.1, it was still dwarfed by KD and ‘Bron, but it was also under players like Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins and Chris Paul, not all of whom made the playoffs last season. Team success is inextricably tied to individual brilliance, and what isn’t apparent in John Hollinger’s ubiquitous PER, defense, needs to be just as important as offensive efficiency.
Let’s take a look at a February match-up between ‘Melo and Durantula from this past season (‘Melo didn’t dress for their December encounter where KD had 29 points and the Thunder won by 29). In their February game, KD dropped 43 points and ‘Melo finished with just 15.
Besides Anthony shooting just 5-of-19 from the field, KD was 12-for-22 including 4-of-7 from deep. While Iman Shumpert marked KD for much of the game, if Anthony wants to be in that conversation he has to take that challenge, an opportunity Brian Scalabrine said former Golden State coach Mark Jackson failed to offer his franchise player Stephen Curry .
‘Melo was ranked No. 148 in opponent’s points per possession (0.86), via Synergy, and was even worse on spot-up attempts, falling down to No. 245 and 1.02 PPP despite spot-up attempts accounting for over 40 percent of possessions where an opponent finished with a shot, a foul or a turnover agains him.
That’s because ‘Melo is a ball-watcher. Not a dreadful thing, but he can get lost making sure his Knicks’ teammates were handling their business last season. Part of this falls on former coach Mike Woodson and his insistence most of the perimeter players switch high screens. It created a lot of tumult above and below the arc that kept ‘Melo’s mind occupied when he should have been keeping his head on a swivel between his man and the ball.
Watch him hedge towards LeBron James posting up Pablo Prigioni after a switch allows ‘Bron to seal Pablo on his back in the paint.
‘Melo briefly forgets about his man, Shane Battier, who gets open beyond the arc. Battier isn’t half the player he once was, and this past season was his last in the NBA. Still, he’s a three-point threat, and ‘Melo was so distracted by LeBron posting up Pablo after the Shumpert switch, he didn’t get back to Battier in time.
While Anthony could get lost in the shuffle on the perimeter last season, only 10 players finished with a lower opposing PPP while defending in the post. ‘Melo allowed just 0.58 points per possession on post-up attempts ending in a shot, foul or turnover, despite playing some time as an undermanned power forward last season.
This year, he’s going to be exclusively playing as a small forward, especially with the weight loss, so he’ll be asked to match up against the LeBron’s and Kevin Durant’s of the world. He can’t get lost in the shuffle of defenders — particularly if they’re still switching — and by matching up against the best player on the other team, he’ll be forced to watch the ball and his man and work with his teammates to do the same.
While many feel offense is the best part of ‘Melo’s game, he’s still got a lot of work to do on that side of the ball. ‘Melo has to wrench himself out of the AAU ball-stopping mentality that’s allowed him to score just 42 points short of 20,000 for his career heading into his 12th season in the NBA.
Out of all his offensive touches that resulted in a shot, foul or turnover, more than 25 percent came in isolation, per Synergy. While this is fine since because he’s an excellent one-on-one player, he only shot 42.3 percent on those attempts and a little over 10 percent of them led to shooting fouls. While his PPP in isolation ranked as No. 37 in the league, he needs to keep the ball moving if the Knicks are going to get the triangle sizzling by the time the season starts.
Last season, the Knicks devised a lot of plays that ended up with ‘Melo isloated at the elbow with his other four teammates along the opposite baseline and wing. Anthony would sometimes set a pin-down somewhere near the restricted area that was so obviously a decoy, his defender never hedged off him. ‘Melo would pop out to the mid-range following the specious screen and the defender would be draped all over him, never allowing him enough time to just make a move the moment the ball hit his hands. That’s why you’d see ‘Melo throw a bevy of jab steps and head fakes before an inevitable 19-footer with a hand in his eye.
Watch these three sets against the Bulls in April this year. Anthony scores on two long jumpers, and on his third attempt, which was perhaps his best look of the three, his shot comes up short:
The Bulls are a good defensive team, and you know coach Tom Thibodeau was hoping Anthony would launch a mid-range jumper as often as possible. The mid-range is ‘Melo’s bread and butter, but it rarely forces the defense to bend, thus opening up other opportunities for teammates.
Anthony scored on two of those three attempts, but it’s the way he did so that was alarming. He needed to expend so much energy getting open to score by fighting his defender for space before also hitting a difficult shot with a hand in his eye. The battle always left him winded on the other end of the court.
By making his move the moment he touches the ball, and either swinging it to the open teammate when the defense is forced to collapse, or going up for a shot, Carmelo will score more within the offense and facilitate more opportunities for his teammates.
Anthony’s assist percentage (the estimated number of assists he produces while on the court) actually went up to 15.8 last year after a career-low 14.1 during his 2012-13 campaign.
Conversely, last season LeBron’s assist percentage was at 32.0 and KD was at 26.7. Both of the top players in the world know they need to get their teammates involved, not just to boost their teammates’ confidence (aside from Russell Westbrook, who has no confidence issues), but also to give themselves needed rest. Both KD and ‘Bron know they need to focus on the defensive end (LeBron less-so last eyar) and conserve energy for the fourth quarter if their team needs to rely on them for buckets.
The problem for ‘Melo last season, where he put up some decent numbers with a smattering of gaudy scoring games, is he carried the offensive burden all to often, which hurt the team as well as his individual play.
If losing weight also means he’s looking for his teammates and making his moves faster to the rim, then it’ll work. If he continues to believe a contested 18-footer is preferable over a layup or an open three-pointer for a teammate, the Knicks will struggle out of the gate. That’s forgetting all the work he needs to do on the defensive end.
We think Carmelo Anthony can become one of the three greatest players in the world, but he needs to trust his teammates on offense and defense for it to happen.
Will ‘Melo become one of the top three players in the league next season?
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