The New York Knicks are off to a running start in 2012-13 despite Amar'e Stoudemire's absence on account of a bad knee. The default reaction—Carmelo Anthony at the power forward is the answer to all of our problems!—is a relatively reasonable one, given his past performance at the position.
In reality, though, 'Melo isn't the only guy who deserves credit for the Knicks' 3-0 get-go record.
If anything, the honor is one to be shared by the entire team. Offensively, the Knicks have been shooting at level never before seen in NBA history. Their 43 three-point field goals to this point are the most ever accumulated by a single team through the first three games of a given season. According to Basketball Reference, the previous record belonged to the 2009-10 Orlando Magic, who tossed up 39 treys in their initial three games.
What's more impressive, though, is the rate at which the Knicks have converted their threes. So far, they're shooting 45.3 percent from beyond the arc. That mark would place the Knicks third all-time among teams that attempted at least 50 threes at the outset, per Basketball Reference.
'Melo has had a hand in New York's success in this respect, but no more than many of his teammates. Anthony leads the Knicks in three-point attempts with 18, but has hit a only six of them.
For some perspective, Raymond Felton is 6-of-16 from three, while Jason Kidd is 6-of-11 and Ronnie Brewer has hit five in just nine tries.
New York's leaders in three-point makes thus far are (surprise! surprise!) JR Smith (8-of-13) and Steve Novak (7-of-15). If anything, it's their accuracy to which the Knicks owe their early-season shooting applause.
On the whole, the Knicks rank second in the league in offensive efficiency, according to Team Rankings—up from 19th a year ago—though Anthony's impact wouldn't seem to be particularly noteworthy. True, his scoring average (26 points per game) is up considerably from 2011-12's seven-year low (22.6).
But so are his field goal attempts (20.7, from 18.6). Meanwhile, his shooting percentages—.435 from the field in 2012-13 versus .430 in 2011-12, .333 from three in 2012-13 versus .335 in 2011-12—have largely held steady.
'Melo's biggest jump? Three-point attempts—six per game, which would set a new career-high by a city mile over his previous personal mark (3.7 per game), set last season.
On the flip side, he's assisting at a career-low rate—1.7 per game and 8.5 percent of this teammates' makes, per Basketball Reference. If you want to praise someone for blessing the Knicks with the sharing gene, look to Kidd, whose passing around the perimeter has been nothing short of contagious.
Or, better yet, give some love to Felton, who leads the team in assist percentage.
And, according to NBA.com's advanced stats tool, the Knicks have been only marginally better offensively with 'Melo on the floor.
An improvement that's practically negated by Anthony's slightly negative impact on the defensive end. To Carmelo's credit, he's been much more active in that regard, playing with a focus and intensity against opponents of all sizes that'd make most of his detractors do a double take.
And 'Melo has been on hand for New York's rise through the ranks defensively over the past year. The Knicks went from bad to good on that side between the end of the 2010-11 season and the start of the 2011-12, jumped from good to great once Mike Woodson took over for Mike D'Antoni this past March and now find themselves among the elite. After three games, the Knicks are tops in scoring defense and field goal defense and second in defensive efficiency, per Team Rankings.
Of course, what's left out of the above equation is that the Knicks' initial improvement coincided with the arrival of Tyson Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. This year's jump can be attributed to the benefit of a full training camp under Woodson, as well as the inclusion of Kidd and Brewer in that camp. Both newcomers have contributed tremendously in that regard.
Kidd, in particular, has been a boon to New York's perimeter defense. The nine-time All-Defensive performer and No. 2 thief in NBA history is picking off passes at a career-high rate—3.3 steals per 36 minutes—while jumping into lanes and pestering the opposition man-to-man.
Realistically, too, the Knicks' near-flawless start has been bolstered by factors beyond their control. They dominated the defending-champion Miami Heat in their opener, fueled by an outpouring of emotion in the wake of superstorm Sandy. Their most recent two games came against an offensively-inept Philadelphia 76ers squad that has yet to see Andrew Bynum in uniform and that lost Jason Richardson to an ankle injury on Sunday.
This isn't all to suggest that the Knicks' success to this point has been fraudulent or that Anthony's role in it has been anything but vital. He's the team's singular superstar and has fared admirably well at power forward with Stoudemire sidelined. Without 'Melo, the Knicks are just another old team without someone who can take over a game when the going gets tough.
More importantly, if the Knicks are to sustain their hot start, they'll need Anthony to continue to produce at his current pace, if not better. Their upcoming schedule includes two dates against the surprising Dallas Mavericks, as well as tilts with the San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Indiana Pacers and the James Harden-fueled Houston Rockets.
The Knicks can only hope that their supporting cast will sustain its excellence in the weeks and months to come. However, to expect the likes of Kidd, Brewer and Smith (among others) to shoot and defend at an historic pace is unrealistic, to say the least.
At some point, those guys will regress back to the mean, leaving 'Melo to once again shoulder the burden that he was brought to the Big Apple to bear in the first place.
And if/when the Knicks persevere amidst those circumstances, then fans will have proper cause to shower Carmelo with all the affection their patience can afford.
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