Monday, March 12, 2012

Melo-drama in NYC

Carmelo Anthony and Jeremy Lin have shared the floor together in the last nine Knicks' games. Since his return, Melo and the team has struggled with chemistry and have only won two of those nine games. Many (even before Melo hit the floor) have questioned if Carmelo and Jeremy Lin can work. Some felt that Carmelo's play style wouldn't mesh well with Lin's. For the most part, they have been right. Anthony often plays isolation and is not a sharpshooter from beyond the three. Lin, as the point guard in the D'Antoni offense, main responsibility is to attack the basket off the pick and roll. Lin can break down the defense and either find his roll man, kick the ball out for a three pointer, or take it to the rim himself. But, since the return of Anthony (and Amare Stoudemire), the paint has been a lot more crowded. This has resulted in the Knicks have trouble finding easy shots and finding any offensive chemistry. This has also affected the team defense which has to deal with fast break opportunities and defensive mismatches off of turnovers. Even against the dreadful Cavaliers it took a majority of the game to get the offense flowing and it wasn't until the 4th quarter that the Knicks were able to pull away to win the game.

Can Carmelo Anthony be blamed entirely for the Knicks' recent stumble? 

The answer is complicated. Lin, who spurred the great play over the original nine game stretch, has seen his production drop. At the height of Linsanity, Lin was incredible. He averaged 25 points per game and 9.2 assists per game. It was immediately clear that he was a completely overlooked talent. Lin has continued to look good since Melo has returned. But his points per game have taken an expected dive to 16.3 and his assists have also fallen to 7.8 per game. Lin has also been less aggressive, even deferring the ball to Anthony, at points, and letting him play isolation.

Now more factors than just the return of Carmelo may be the reason for Lin's drop in production and the Knicks' struggle in general. The Knicks, with Anthony and Lin, have played a tougher schedule against playoff teams and many of the games have been on the road. Even without Melo, the Knicks did look average at some points, especially in road games, against the Timberwolves and Raptors (where each time they were just able to squeak out close wins). The Linsanity Knicks also did drop a game against the paltry Hornets at Madison Square Garden. So even before Melo returned, it is clear the the Knicks weren't invincible with Lin. But they were still able to pull out the bad games and win. The Carmelo-Lin Knicks haven't shown this ability.

So maybe Carmelo isn't the only reason. But the Knicks were playing really well with Lin and a collection of no-namers. Adding Anthony and Stoudemire back to the rotation would just make them better... right? This hasn't been the case. The Knicks have played uneven, and the first team has looked pretty average with the Lin-Amare-Carmelo line-up.

Can the Knicks function with Lin and Melo in the line-up?

The answer, again, is complicated. There's really no way to know if Carmelo and Lin can find the right chemistry. It is hard to rule out a great player's ability to adapt and adjust his game. If Anthony develops his three point shot and learns to play better without the ball then there's no telling how well Lin and Anthony could play together.

Is it a good idea to trade a superstar of Anthony's caliber after just nine bad games?

It might not be extremely responsible but it's not too early to trade Anthony. It's not like Carmelo has just become a problem these last eight games. Last season he didn't really fit in either. He has always been a good scorer but his play style didn't compliment Amare's game or role players like Landry Fields (who saw a decline in the second half of the year after Melo arrived). Anthony in his current form doesn't quite fit into the D'Antoni offense. A pure shooter that can play defense would fit in much better. Carmelo isn't strong in either of those categories. Carmelo wasn't the Knicks first choice; he was an afterthought after the Knicks missed out on LeBron James during the offseason. The Knicks sacrificed their rosters, and traded everything so they could have a shot at signing two or more top players. But they were only able to draw Amare to NYC. The Knicks missed out so they decided they still needed to make a splash. Carmelo expressed interest and the rest is history.

Will the Knicks make a trade?

At this point it doesn't look as if the Knicks will make a move. It's a hard decision to make. Trading a player like Carmlo is a risky move especially with the current sample size. If they didn't get better after the trade, the front office would be blasted. Criticized for being overreacting to fan pressure and making a hasty decision. Any front office would have a hard time trading a superstar they just gutted the roster for last season. It's also maybe not a great idea to rule out the development of Anthony. Carmelo didn't get to the level he is at now without learning to adapt. But it might be too late in his career to make any radical chances (like becoming a sharpshooter from behind the arc).

So let's say the Knicks do decide to pull the trigger in the next couple days—which is unlikely—who could they trade for?

Well the Knicks are in luck... I have provided a list of potentially obtainable players that the Knicks could get in exchange for Melo (and even Stoudemire). I also tried to find trades that would make some type of sense for both sides. I've included Amare in some trades even though (personally) I would keep Amare at this point in time. Critic have accused him of losing his burst, but I think some of his bad play is the result of not having a reliable point guard early in the season and playing in the same system as Chandler. He has played better with Lin in the line-up, though he still doesn't attack the basket in the same manner as last year. Amare is also a valuable member in the locker room (well liked and a leader).

Trade 1: Carmelo Anthony/Amare Stoudemire for Joe Johnson/Josh Smith
Positives: Johnson is a solid shooter and has played with D'Antoni during his first few years in the league with Phoenix. Smith would be a valuable pick and roll player and also has great intangibles (defense, rebounding, etc). Smith also is a decent mid-range shooter and can even knock down the three from time to time. Both would help space the floor for Lin. Both players also played with assistant Mike Woodson in Atlanta and are familiar with his defensive scheme.

Negative: Johnson has played at shooting guard for most of his career and is 30. He just signed a huge max contract with the Hawks two years ago and the Knicks would have to cover him for the next four years. That's a big contract to take on but it's not much worst than the situation they have with Amare now (who has 3 years left of a similar contract and is 29).

Trade 2: Carmelo Anthony/Amare Stoudemire for Gerald Wallace/LaMarcus Aldridge/Joel Pryzbilla

Positive: Aldridge is a star in the making that can shoot and doesn't need to play in the paint. Wallace is a great perimeter defender who has a decent outside shot (though he hasn't been shooting well this season). Pryzbilla would just be to equal the salary out but he could still contribute or be traded.

Negatives: I don't see the Trailblazers letting go of Aldridge anytime soon. Neither Aldridge or Wallace are great 3pt shooters (though Wallace has shown promise in the past and Aldridge is great from mid-range). This would be a lateral move for the Knicks improving more on the defensive side of the ball than on offensive.

Trade 3: Carmelo Anthony for Danny Granger/Dahntay Jones

Positives: Granger is a deadly three point shooter, and would have the potential to completely replace Melo's share of the scoring. He has been having a down year, and the Pacers might consider moving him. Especially for a star player like Anthony. Jones would just be to even out salaries but he could be a decent bench player.

Negatives: Granger may have already peaked in his career and I don't know if most would consider his talents equal to that of Melo's. He is also shooting poorly this seasons (39% from the field, 35% from three). There would also be the possibility that New York may have to deal with Carmelo in the playoffs if he went to the Pacers.

Trade 4: Carmelo Anthony/Tyson Chandler for Dwight Howard/Hedo Turkoglu/Ryan Anderson

Positives: Would add two great perimeter shooters and the best center in the league to the team. The Lin-Howard pick and roll would be hard to stop and Howard is a rich man's Tyson Chandler in terms of defense and rebounds. The Magic might be very interested in getting a player of Melo's caliber for Howard.

Negatives: The Knicks gave Chandler a pretty big contract, and I don't know if the Magic would be interested in taking it on. Amare would be even more ostracized in the offense and the middle would be crowded for Howard, Stoudemire, and Lin. Knicks would also need to absorb Hedo Turkoglu's contract. New York would need to consider if Howard would sign an extension with them.

Trade 5: Carmelo Anthony for Rudy Gay

Positives: Gay is an explosive player that can play without the ball and is great on the break. The Knicks would gain youth. Gay is a decent three point shooter.

Negatives: Gay is a decent shooter, but definitely not elite by any standard. It is also questionably an equal trade in terms of talent.

Trade 6: Carmelo Anthony for Monta Ellis/Dorell Wright

Positives: Both Ellis and Wright a solid perimeter shooters who have played in a similar system as the Knicks. Wright is a good perimeter defender.

Negatives: Ellis is having a down season (but that could be a result of his name coming up in trades and Marc Jackson coming in as head coach). Ellis would crowd-out the already crowded Knicks' back court and at 6'3'' Ellis is too small to move to forward.

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