So far, so good for Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks in the post-Linsanity era. 'Melo and his 'mates have thus far tipped off the 2012-13 NBA season with a pair of impressive victories over Eastern Conference playoff contenders—a 20-point pummeling of the defending champion Miami Heat and a 16-point stomping of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Anthony, in particular, played some outstanding basketball in those two games. Against the Heat (and his "arch rival" LeBron James), Carmelo poured in 30 points, including 16 in the first quarter, while chipping in 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals in 39 minutes. For those 30, though, 'Melo needed a whopping 28 shots.
Not so against the Sixers, whom he torched for 27 points on a relatively modest 18 shots.
Seeing Anthony play real live defense in the Knicks' first two contests has been, well, jarring, though chalking that up to the absence of Jeremy Lin—or, rather to the presence of Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton—may not be so easy or fair to the new Houston Rockets point guard.
The impact of the shift to more veteran floor leadership on 'Melo's offensive output is simpler to delineate. On the whole, the Knicks have been sharing the ball with greater fervor amidst the Kidd-Felton starting tandem than they did during the salad days of Linsanity. The Knicks averaged 20.6 assists in the 26 games in which Lin was featured prominently last season, compared to 22.5 without him in 2012-13.
Granted, the sample size is exceedingly small, but the difference is clear when watching the games themselves. The Knicks are passing more willingly and more fluidly to this point, with a greater sense of collective purpose. As Felton told Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com after beating the Sixers on Sunday:
It's been great. We kind of laugh and joke about things like, 'Maybe we pass a little too much,' but it's been good, though. As long as everybody is sharing the ball, we'll take turnovers by over passing. If we're over passing to each other and we turn the ball over, we would rather do that than taking bad shots.
Jason Kidd echoed those sentiments, adding:
At training camp, we had all the guys touching the ball and it became contagious. This afternoon, we had a lot of players get open looks. There's multiple touches and you can't guard the pass. No matter what you do, the ball is always going to travel faster and the guys get wide-open looks.
Indeed, the Knicks appear to be embracing the notion that ball movement is the key to running a fun and effective offense.
But how does this help Carmelo? How does passing and unselfish play benefit a guy who's fashioned a formidable career out of being one of the league's most lethal isolation scorers?
For one, more movement means less time and space for opposing defenses to cue in on 'Melo. Rather than giving him the ball up top and waiting for him to go one-on-five, the Knicks, with Kidd and Felton at the helm, have found Anthony in his sweet spots, particularly on the block, where he can isolate and make a quick move to the hoop. That way, Anthony doesn't have to waste so much time and energy getting to those areas of greatest comfort and can instead initiate the attack with little delay.
When 'Melo hasn't gone down low, the Knicks have been quick to find him for spot-up jumpers, which he's had little trouble draining.
And with which he's had considerable success in the past. Anthony hit 47 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers last season and upped that number to 53 percent during his magnificent run with Team USA at the 2012 London Olympics.
Notice, in the video below, how most (if not all) of Anthony's scores against the Heat come after one dribble or none at all:
It would seem that playing alongside two pass-first point guards in the Knicks' starting five has already made 'Melo's life as a scoring machine markedly easier. The work he once had to do to get a good shot has since been delegated to the other four guys on the floor—all of whom have followed Felton and Kidd's lead as willing passers.
This isn't to suggest that Lin was at all a selfish ball-hog. His assist rate was firmly middle-of-the-pack among point guards (per Hoopdata), though he still checked in ahead of the likes of Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook and just behind Deron Williams in that regard.
The bigger concern with Lin is that he isn't (or at least wasn't) a great passer to begin with. He was more than willing to share the ball, but his high turnover numbers point to a player prone to mistakes, one whose passes weren't always particularly crisp. And realistically, Lin is more of a scoring point guard than one of the pure variety.
New York's offense was more productive with Lin than it was without him last season. However, the team proved to be a bit too dependent on Jeremy probing and dribbling before finally making a play toward the end of the shot clock. Nowadays, the Knicks seem more inclined to spread the wealth early and often in the shot clock rather than wait around for one guy to run the show.
Whether that guy is Jeremy Lin or Carmelo Anthony.
It's possible, too, though tough to show with crystal clarity, that respect and experience play into the Knicks' new-found way of playing the game. Perhaps Carmelo is more inclined to follow the lead of a future Hall of Famer like Kidd and a veteran point guard like Felton as opposed to a 20-something de facto rookie out of the D-League like Lin. Perhaps 'Melo's more comfortable now that the spotlight is all his after having to cede it with, some resentment, to an overnight phenom.
And perhaps Anthony's improved play thus far has something to do with Amar'e Stoudemire's continued absence and a renewed sense of responsibility for 'Melo to carry the team.
Whatever the case may be, Linsanity is long gone, the Knicks are 2-0 and Carmelo Anthony is playing like a potential MVP.