Carmelo Anthony is always under the microscope. It is the New York Knicks after all. But it seems Anthony suffers more than the usual scrutiny—more than, say, Patrick Ewing under somewhat similar circumstances.
Why is that? What does Carmelo have to do to meet the expectations of the Knicks and fans alike?
Anthony has been in town less than two full years, one of which strike-shortened, on three mostly different starting rosters.
In 27 games the year of the trade, Melo had five double-doubles and a triple-double. Last year, he had six double-doubles, three triple-doubles and scored 35 or more points 10 times (in just 55 games).
He picked up for Amar’e Stoudemire in both the 2011 and 2012 postseasons, when STAT hit the bench with back and fire-extinguisher injuries.
Then, Anthony delivered the Knicks' first playoff win in 11 years with a 41-point performance against the Miami Heat, 89-87.
And we haven’t gotten to 2012-13 yet—what is turning out to be a career year for Anthony.
He’s at 27.6 points per game, the second-best scorer in the league, and not by much (Kevin Durant, 28.3). Anthony has already scored 40 or more points five times and he’s hitting more three-pointers than ever.
For the first half of the season, Anthony’s name was rightfully a part of the MVP discussion; he was the unquestioned leader of the first-place Knicks.
And he is the primary reason New York is still a hold of the best, most-reasonable preseason expectation: the No. 2 seed. That’s the Eastern pinnacle for any team other than the Miami Heat.
Yet, so often you hear fans barking that the Knicks are better without Carmelo Anthony.
This just isn’t true. Things may not be ideal all the time, but it is hard to believe a season without Anthony would produce the high team standing we see today. The difference without him would eventually reveal itself in the team’s inconsistency over time, as cbssports.com pinpoints:
Without Anthony, the Knicks simply don’t have enough talent to score consistently. I don’t care how well the ball moves. If not one person on the court can create their own shot (and shoot at a decent percentage—looking at you, J.R. Smith), the team is going to have trouble scoring.
Of course, the Knicks will win games without Anthony and some big ones too (that second Heat game, for instance), but the win total over a season would falter.
Factor in the routine annual injuries on any roster and you see that not only would the Knicks miss Anthony, but occasionally, important role players would be assumed to pick up the slack, too.
Today’s smart-phone and multitasking-digital fan wants immediate results more than ever, and that is working against Anthony. Also, the Knicks did trade half their likable roster to get him. These two factors have created a backlash not seen towards Ewing in his first years.
No. 1 draft pick Ewing was as homegrown as it gets in the NBA and the Knicks gave up nothing to get him.
Ewing and Anthony came to teams that were coming off recent terrible seasons. By the same 2-3 year mark, both had one playoff win.
Similar, but again, the patience with Anthony is much thinner: he is a carpetbagger of sorts that was responsible for gutting Knicks Resurgent Team v1.0. And so, the expectations are higher. The clock is ticking on Anthony’s salary cap-crippling contract, as well.
All of this has created a higher bar for Anthony. As good a season as he (and New York) is having, there are several things he can do to reach it.
Carmelo-isolation has been singled out ad nauseam as the biggest problem with Anthony’s game and the one that stifles fluid offense. That is true, but in all reality, the Knicks are probably going to have to accept it.
Anthony has been particularly greedy this year, posting the worst assists per game of his career—a measly 2.6. With a number that low, it takes little to make a noticeable improvement.
Maybe he can get that up to 3.5? He won’t get past that. Despite the outcry, Anthony’s assists are not going to be game-changers anyway.
He might at least meet some fans’ needs if he flashes a little more pass, but as the beginning of the season proved, the Knicks do fine if a healthy backcourt controls the play.
There are a few other things Carmelo can do to improve his individual game—he could take fewer shots and play consistent (if not great) defense.
But, in the end, there is only one thing Carmelo Anthony must do to meet expectations for the NY Knicks, and it is the only thing fans care about.
A championship notwithstanding, Anthony must take the Knicks into Round 2 (Eastern Semifinals) this year. Depending on who they face then, expectations may be to take New York into the Eastern Finals.
With the Heat off the charts, it is hard to expect much more.
As for next year? The expectations will be higher.
All Stats used in this article are accurate as of March 29, 2013.