When the New York Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets, the team finally nabbed the franchise star it had been missing since the Patrick Ewing era. They also landed a world-class scapegoat; a player to pin all of the Knicks' shortcomings on, even when it seems completely unreasonable.
Riding a six-game winning streak capped off by a 108-101 home victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, all is calm for the moment with the New York Knicks.
J.R. Smith has been playing lights-out basketball, Kenyon Martin is providing quality play up front, and, most importantly, Anthony is back and healthy after missing three games with a nagging right knee injury that needed to be drained.
He has led the team to a 44-26 record and a likely top-three seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, as well as what should be their first Atlantic Division crown since 1994.
However, when the Knicks struggle, Anthony's name is the first one brought up by disgruntled fans. His questionable shot selection and spotty effort both defensively and on the glass make him an easy target, but the reality is that New York's issues cannot be pinned solely on Carmelo.
For the 2012-13 season, he is averaging 27.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from three-point range.
He started the year in blazing fashion, notching 28.6 points and 6.5 boards while connecting on 44.7 percent of his shots and 40.5 percent of his three-pointers before the All-Star break.
Unfortunately, his numbers have declined since the All-Star festivities. He is posting 24.4 points and 5.7 rebounds—still a strong line—but his percentages have dipped to 39.1 percent overall and an anemic 21.7 percent from three-point range.
Despite the downward trend, 'Melo's 22.8 PER is the highest of his career, matching his total during his first half-season with New York in 2010-11.
Though his statistical contributions have been inconsistent, the problems faced by New York in the 2012-13 campaign are far more significant than whether or not Anthony is hitting his shots or not.
Amar'e Stoudemire, the player who was supposed to form a dynamic one-two punch with 'Melo, has missed virtually the entire season due to injuries. He appeared in just 29 contests and his knee problems forced him into a minute limit of 23.5 minutes per game.
His averages of 14.2 points and five rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting are solid, but not for the second best offensive player on a team looking to win a championship.
WIthout Stoudemire, New York has had great difficulties scoring inside, which has allowed teams to play tighter on the perimeter and force New York's wings, including Anthony, into more difficult shots than they would have with Stoudemire posted up on the block.
A healthy STAT gives the Knicks' offense a much-needed interior dimension, but the former All-Star will not be back until the postseason begins following yet another knee surgery.
The theme of injuries in general has plagued New York all season long.
This team was built to contend immediately, and while bringing in veterans like Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace seemed wise in the offseason, they have been inconsistent contributors at best.
Kidd started the season strong, but his shooting has been exceptionally streaky, while Wallace and Camby have been hampered by foot injuries that have kept them from contributing regularly.
The injuries to the team's core of big men and Kidd, who is still an elite rebounding point guard, has left New York extremely vulnerable on the glass. The team ranks just 23rd in the league in boards at 40.9 per game.
Tyson Chandler puts in an admirable effort, but with Anthony playing more on the perimeter, he simply has less opportunities to attack the boards.
New York has been forced to play Anthony more at power forward than ever before, and while he is capable of using his quickness and handling ability to drive past taller, slower-footed big men, he is not going to control the glass going up against players who are 6'10" or 6'11".
Guard play has also been an issue for New York in 2012-13. Raymond Felton has struggled to take care of the basketball and has simply not been able to get his shot to fall like he did during his first season with the Knicks in 2010-11.
At this point in his career, Kidd works best playing off the ball spotting up as a shooter, and while Smith is capable of running an offense, his questionable decision-making puts Mike Woodson in a bind when he plays him at the point.
These issues have forced New York to use Anthony more as a playmaker, and while he is a capable passer, that is not his natural role. He has been more willing to pass this season than in years prior, but the Knicks are still struggling with ball movement.
Their 19.3 assists per game ranks 29th in the league, and that is a statistic that cannot simply be attributed to Carmelo.
It is simply impossible for the Knicks to expect Anthony, who has battled his share of injuries during his tenure with New York, to do everything on both ends of the floor.
His 34.8 percent usage rate is the highest in the league, with Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant following behind him. The Knicks' offense depends almost completely on Anthony's isolation scoring ability, and shouldering that kind of load every possession takes a lot out of a player.
Even with his immense talent, he cannot be expected to guard an elite wing while also jacking up 25 shots per game. It is too much to ask of any player in this league, except maybe for James.
Anthony has put in a more consistent defensive effort in 2012-13 than in his previous years with the Knicks, but with his role on offense expanding with every injury, he cannot play 40 minutes of tight defense regularly.
Iman Shumpert was expected to provide some help on the defensive end, but he is still rounding into shape following an ACL tear and looks nothing like the elite wing defender he was as a rookie. He is not chipping in much offensively either, averaging a mere 5.7 points on 36.3 percent shooting from the field.
Obviously, Anthony has his flaws that hurt the Knicks; he settles for outside shots too often and turns the ball over at a fairly high rate, but it is unfair to pin New York's failures solely on him.
He has worked to develop his overall game and has played through several injuries, including hobbling around on a bum knee during a brutal Western Conference road trip. He clearly wants to win, and while he deserve some of the blame when the Knicks struggle, he in no way deserves all of it.
Statistics accurate as of March 27th, 2013.
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