Before the season began, I wrote an article for TheKnicksWall.com about Carmelo Anthony being used as a screener more on offense. The idea being to give opposing defenses a new look that’s a tough one to guard, while keeping Anthony out of those blasted and repetitive isolation sets. I’d like to revisit this piece of mine, to see what this past season’s statistics yield, and if Anthony should be utilized in this fashion far more often. (All forthcoming statistics provided by Synergy Sports.)
In the aforementioned post, I mentioned how, in the 2012 season, Melo was hardly used as a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop screen man, despite connecting on 61% of his 18 attempts operating out of those sets. For what it’s worth, none of his attempts were three-pointers (one could argue whether this was a good or bad thing).
This past season, Anthony put up 38 tries as a pick-and-roll man, shooting 60% from the field. Nine of those shots were attempted from downtown, of which he made 6. Synergy ranked him fifth in the entire league in scoring as a screener, yet these only accounted for a measly 2% of his offense. Looking through the plays on Synergy, there are a few things that stand out to me.
Like last year, the majority of these “screens” weren’t actually screens: Anthony would either 1) come in for one and, before setting it, slip to the basket or outside for a jumper; or 2) set himself lethargically without making any legitimate contact with the handler’s defender. Somehow, his unorthodox pick-setting played out to his benefit — for the most part. Although the ball handler was seldom able to find a lane to the basket, due to his defender being undaunted by Anthony’s half-hearted screen, Melo’s man often left him to help the handler’s defender because of Carmelo’s “I’m just going to set this bullshit screen to set it, I don’t really want to do anything here” body language. The result? An occasional open jumper.
Anthony’s slow strutting to the screen placement also often set the stage for him to quickly change direction and head to the basket, where his man struggled to recover. If Melo ever started setting real screens to give the handler space (especially if he’s running the play with Felton), it could open up an array of scoring looks for all involved; the handler has a lane to the basket, making defenses collapse and leaving shooters open, and Anthony could find himself being guarded by the handler’s defender — usually a point guard — due to a switch.
Bad shots were still prevalent here, and as great as 60% from the field is, it could have been better. Anthony would sometimes catch the ball without making an instant move — shooting or driving — and his defender would catch up. From this position, Anthony hoisted a good amount of contested shots that were uncalled for, and with a good chunk of time left on the shot clock — typically long jumpers on the wing or at the baseline, meaning an added risk of triggering a fast break. These were few and far between, however, and if Anthony could limit himself to putting up smart looks out of this play and resetting the offense when nothing presents itself as an efficient scoring opportunity, this play could become even more dangerous.
Only one of these super-efficient plays were used in the final two minutes of a close game. As it turns out, that one play ended up getting Melo a wide open three from the top of the key, a shot that would fall and bury Boston in Game 6 of the first round. The Knicks’ bland approach to tight games this past season drove many insane, why with better options available seemingly every time. The Knicks shot 38% from the field in the final five minutes of games where the scoring margin was five points or less. In the final minute, that number dropped to 31% from the field. Perhaps if, once in a blue moon, the Knicks ran a play other than an Anthony isolation on the wing (the blame is split between Coach Woodson and Melo himself, but I’ll write about this later), New York could come away with more crunch time victories.
Finally, this play is really tough for teams to defend. The 1.33 PPP coming out of Melo screens is a ludicrous number, making it unjustifiable that it was run just 2% of the time. I mean, really? Two percent? Meanwhile (and unsurprisingly), isolations make up 27% of Anthony’s offense, out of which he shoots a mere 40%.
Diversifying the offense a bit more by including this play as an every-game look would prove a big help for New York. For as cool as locking down the scoring title no doubt was, Anthony still shot under 45% from the field this season, while his eFG% barely cracked 50%.
Although I’ve often cited defense as the Knicks’ biggest problem, there are smaller fish to fry on offense as well. Far too often the Knicks still find themselves going stagnant, leading to bitter stretches of Anthony isolation after Anthony isolation, despite it never working out well and being ridiculously hard to watch. This hurt them a good amount come Playoffs time, and letting this happen again would mean another exit with which fans and the team would most definitely not be content.
This scheme highlighted above is not only a new look; it’s a monster for defenses to try and tame, and one that the Knicks should be looking to take advantage of more often come next season.