Let my first thought on this blog be a clarification. I am not a guru as the word pertains to basketball or anything else, by the word’s spiritual denotation or by any connotation that implies any sort of expertise. I cannot guarantee you that what you read on this blog will enlighten you spiritually or otherwise. I cannot even guarantee you that what you read here will necessarily capture your interest, unless you possess an extraordinary attention span or an appetite for all things semi-related to basketball. I guess what I’m trying to communicate is, don’t make too much of the “guru” title. It was a (vain?) attempt to be witty, and I decided at 3:15 in the morning that “guru” sounded less pretentious than “savant.” There’s the one thing I can guarantee, I suppose: vain attempts to be witty.
Let my second thought on this blog be an explanation. When I went to produce a first piece for this blog, I decided that it seemed silly to write anything at all without first offering a preface, a collection of my opinions on every team and damn near every player in the league, so that you have a basis for deciding whether I’m a prattling jackass or someone whose opinions you might enjoy, y’know, from time to time. This is the first installment. Feel free to comment with a counterargument, or an insult, or, if you’re feeling oddly good-natured/feel like brightening someone’s day, a compliment.
Without any further ado… The New York Knickerbockers.
In my experience, there are three reasons that people root for or take special interest in the New York Knicks. The first is that they are actually from New York; this one is the most excusable, if you can tolerate the superiority complex and highly inflated self-regard that typically accompanies those people. The second is that they have family from New York, or a second cousin once-removed, or a fake second cousin; this group desperately wants in on the aforementioned superiority complex and highly-inflated self-regard. The last group of people just like ‘Melo, who, like seemingly every player who has ever been a top-five player in the league at any time, is a pretty polarizing figure. Since I don’t fall into any of these three categories (I’m probably closest to the second, quite honestly), I am not a Knicks fan.
Before I say anything negative about his game, let me acknowledge the patently obvious: Carmelo Anthony is a top-five player in the NBA, top-three offensive player, and one of only six or seven guys in the league with the capability of willing a team to the playoffs singlehandedly. He won a national title in college. I’m sure the younger members of the Nigerian national team still have nightmares about the night he savaged them at the Olympics last summer. There is a contingent of basketball personalities whose opinions are far more valid than my own that call him the best scorer on the planet today. I just can’t get on board.
Maybe it’s that he left left Denver like a diva, as murmured trade requests through training camp became petty, public whining and a distraction for the team as the regular season began. Maybe it’s that I LIKED the New York team that had been built around an Amare Stoudemire that average 26.1 points on 50+% shooting and 8.6 rebounds per game prior to the All-Star break, only to see those averages, and the team’s winning percentage, fall when Carmelo joined the fold. Maybe it’s how much better the Nuggets team is, a top-five team in most power rankings as I write this, just two years post-‘Melo.
It might be any of those things, but the answer I offer is blunter and more concise: he’s a Goddamned ball-hog. The numbers confirm what can be easily deduced by the eye test. Carmelo Anthony has the top usage rate in the league. He’s also the only player in the top ten whose assist ratio is in single digits; only 8.8% of the possessions that he uses result in assists. For the sake of comparison, Russell Westbrook and Monta Ellis, both “Goddamned ball-hogs” in their own right, have posted 24.1% and 19.8% ratios, respectively. Michael Beasley is even a more willing passer than Carmelo Anthony. In fact, only three players in the top fifty in usage rate posted worse assist ratios: Brook Lopez, Marreese Speights, and Andray Blatche. Not to slight any of those players, but that’s not splendid company, especially considering that he is a primary ball-handler, which isn’t true for any of the other three.
This ball-hoggery seems an especially heinous crime when you consider that the Knicks actually do have some pretty nice complementary pieces around ‘Melo. Certainly, credit is due to Glen Grunwald and James Dolan; the Tyson Chandler deal, especially coming off of the Mavs’ title run in 2011, was a heist, Raymond Felton plays his best basketball in a Knicks uniform (though considerably better pre-Melo — this is a sort of trend), and an Amare Stoudemire whose skills have waned is still a better asset than most. The number of competent shooters on this roster is also a little bit scary — Felton, JR Smith, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Iman Shumpert, Chris Copeland, Rasheed Wallace, and especially Steve Novak can all knock it down, and do so at a clip of 30% or better. Good shooters are a superstar’s best friend; or so they should be, assuming that said superstar isn’t the sort of guy who’d rather pass a kidney stone than the basketball.
Granted, the Knicks do make and take a league-high 10.9 and 29.0 three-pointers per game. But when you consider that Carmelo Anthony has turned into a guy who takes seven per game by himself (he only took 2.7 at highest in Denver) and that this team lacks a real traditional low-post presence, I would contend that those numbers ought to actually be higher.
My playoff forecast on the Knicks is predicated mostly on that lack of belief in Carmelo Anthony. If the offense runs through ‘Melo too often in the regular season, it does more so in the postseason; during the first round series against Miami last year, Anthony’s usage rate was an astronomical 36.3%, up from a 31.3% regular season total that was pretty absurd in and of itself. Anthony scored plenty against the Heat, he just didn’t do so efficiently. Since this team is already 29th in the league at sharing the ball in the regular season, since the road to the Finals runs through Miami again, and since I can think of few people more well-equipped than LeBron James to be a bother to even a scorer as multitalented as ‘Melo, I don’t see a run in the cards any time soon. With a little magic, a favorable draw, and a comically weak cast of characters on the Eastern Conference playoff scene, this team could be headed towards a Conference Finals appearance, but it would be highly surprising if the road doesn’t stop there.
I leave you with this image of Carmelo holding tight the very thing he so despises to pass away, and with a video of him trying to fight Kevin Garnett for saying that Lala Anthony’s vagina tasted like a certain popular breakfast cereal.
EXTRA NUGGET: I saved my JR Smith spiel for the end, mostly because it’s completely hypocritical and kind of shameful. I love the guy, low PER, abysmal sub-40 shooting percentage and all. He’s a fantastic follow on Twitter, he’s got sweet tats, he apparently propositioned a high school girl via Direct Message tonight, and he’s an unabashed gunner. Yes, that is just a significantly nicer synonym for what I repeatedly called Carmelo Anthony about two or three paragraphs above, but yes, he did at least manage a double-digit assist ratio. Ziiiiiiing.