The New York Knicks have bent over backwards time and time again for the sake of re-signing Carmelo Anthony to a long-term deal, why with his impending free agency looming and nobody having a clue what direction the star is leaning towards.
They’ve intimated at shaping their future plans around acquiring one Rajon Rondo — who Anthony is reportedly a big fan of — and have surrounded Melo with members of his talent agency, from the front office staff to the players alongside him on the pine. Although the Knicks have done virtually all they can in persuading Carmelo to remain a Knick off the court, they could be compromising both parties’ long term basketball success with their current approach of utilizing Anthony on the court.
Anthony is playing a league-leading 39.3 minutes per game this season, the highest mark of his career. At the age of 29 years old, no player has played that many minutes a contest through at least 70 games since the 2008 season. This soon-to-be six year gap signifies the NBA’s collective fixation on preserving older and more fragile players by limiting their minutes and in some cases having them sit out a game occasionally in order to extend their careers. This relatively new strategy has been matched with real results with some of the NBA’s most popular superstars of yore, who are still contributing big time today.
Tim Duncan’s had a down year thus far, but has totaled five 20-point, 10-rebound per-36 minute seasons since turning thirty in 2007. Last season, at the age of 36, Duncan averaged 17.8 points, 9.9 boards and 2.7 blocks a night, with a true-shooting clip of .554 and a PER of 24.4.
The key to all this? Duncan’s decreased minutes and games played: Duncan hasn’t played over 31 minutes a night since the 2010 season, and has regularly sat out games in recent years to assure fresh legs for the postseason and beyond.
In the wake of recent knee troubles, Dwyane Wade has been put through a similar regiment this season — playing in just 28 of the Heat’s 37 games and averaging the second-lowest minutes-per-game in his career. This has led to increased efficiency from Wade, who is boasting a career-high true-shooting percentage of .585 and has been spry enough to collect 9.2% of available rebounds, the second-highest mark of his career.
Now back to Melo, who has been straight-up run into the ground by Mike Woodson this season. Yes, Carmelo is still in his prime, yet to suffer anything more than a minor injury and is not a sidekick or supplementary piece behind a younger, better superstar on this team. As such his situation and those of the aforementioned players are vastly different. The point remains however: Anthony’s minutes need to be managed more effectively, as the effects of fatigue on Melo right now are becoming more glaring by the game.
Carmelo’s fourth quarter true-shooting percentage has been significantly lower than that of the first three frames. His true-shooting percentage also decreases with every passing quarter, from 57.4% in the first to 56.5% in the second, 53.6% in the third and just 49.9% in the final period.
(Anthony’s played in just four overtime periods this season — a small sample size of twenty minutes — but his TS% continues to plummet down to 45.5% in said frame.) If this pattern continues, we could see a gassed Carmelo Anthony down the stretch of the season when the Knicks will be fighting for Playoff seeding.
So, what’s the solution?
Anthony playing primarily at the three this season has posed its fair share of issues. Because the Knicks don’t have a traditional back-up small forward outside of Metta World Peace — who is hurt — the only other immediate solution is having to increase the minutes to Tim Hardaway Jr., who could conceivably play the small forward along with two point guards or J.R. Smith in a bench unit.
Sadly, we haven’t seen near enough of the former, while Smith’s place on this team remains shrouded in drama.
That said, benching Bargnani for another point guard — or Hardaway — would probably be the best option. This puts Melo at the four, allowing Stoudemire to be the sixth man and wreak havoc on the side P&R with Anthony and hopefully sharing only a few minutes of floor time with Bargnani. Kenyon Martin is also in the mix there, however, meaning that, in order for this to make sense, either he would lose significant minutes, Amar’e would lose significant minutes or Bargs would simply fall out of the rotation.
I’m not opposed to the final option of the three.
Like it or not, the Knicks are expecting Anthony to be the focal point of their future. If he stays in New York, it would take treating him as if he were a long-term centerpiece on the court, not just off, to prove this direction of the franchise worthwhile in the slightest.
If they don’t, Anthony’s decline from stardom could be as abrupt as Stoudemire’s, with an even more crippling contract and no way out for the Knicks.