The streaky New York Knicks are at it again! After notching wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls on Friday and Saturday night, the Knicks find themselves winners of four games in a row, coming on the heels of a four-game losing streak.
To further paint the picture of just how streaky this team has been, since alternating wins and losses through their first three games of the season, the team has lost three, won two, lost two, won four, lost four, won two, lost four (again), leading up to their latest winning streak.
While we can’t be sure which team will show up when they host the Orlando Magic on Monday night, it’s looking more and more like we know which Carmelo Anthony will show up: the good one.
After making comments about being frustrated by the team playing at a slow pace, Anthony’s looked like a different player, doing everything it takes to help his team win games. The knock on Anthony not being a team player has always been a little misguided; sure he’s a volume scorer, so that’s what most people who don’t get to watch him night in and night out will cling to when he or his team aren’t playing well. But it seems the talent around him isn’t ever really considered when Melo’s being picked apart.
I’ve written about the Knicks just not having that good of a roster this season, so it’s of no surprise that when starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo starts to play better it makes the game easier for Anthony. It’s also not shocking that when the Knicks’ bench gets going, the team wins. Over the last five games, the bench has averaged 41.6 points per game, good for fourth over that stretch, according to HoopsStats.com.
The more interesting thing when you look at the Knicks’ performance as of late and how it relates to Anthony’s gripes with the team’s pace is that they’re not playing any faster. The Knicks have averaged 97.2 possessions per 48 minutes during the season, and during their four-game winning streak they’re still just at 97, per NBA.com.
With that said, offensive efficiency has increased ten-fold, with the team improving its offensive rating from 100.6 points per 100 possessions to 112.9 over the last five games. For perspective, the Golden State Warriors lead the NBA with a 113.3 offensive rating, with the Oklahoma City Thunder having the second best ORtg at 108.2, according to NBA.com:
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) December 20, 2015
Back to Anthony. While rookie Kristaps Porzingis is quickly becoming the fan favorite, it seems unfair for the fan base to jump on the ESPN Trade Machine after every one of the Knicks’ lulls. Still clearly working off some of the rust from the knee surgery he had back in February, the star scorer’s had his fair share of good and bad nights, but he’s been playing at a high level offensively over the past several games. Over the past four games, Anthony’s averaging 25 points on 50 percent from the field, getting to the free throw line seven times a game and shooting 92.9 percent from there. He’s also averaging 4.5 assists.
Sure, he hasn’t been MVP-great during this stretch, but when you look at the Knicks’ efficiency rating, it’s clear that there’s a correlation to how well Anthony’s been playing. On the season, he’s posted a 101.6 offensive rating, but during the win streak he’s taken that up to 116, according to NBA.com:
Melo, after going 12-of-20 on a back-to-back after knee surgery in Feb: "Getting my strength back. … starting to feel like myself again."
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 20, 2015
And we’re still not even talking about how good he’s been on defense. Per Basketball-Reference, this is only the second season of Anthony’s 13-year career that he’s posted a defensive rating of 104 or better. While some of that has to do with how good of a supporting cast he has defensively, especially in the Knicks’ frontcourt, he’s showing more effort than we’ve seen from him over the past few years:
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 16, 2015
To bring this full circle to the “good teammate” conversation, it seemed abundantly clear over the past few seasons that Anthony was best suited to play power forward. Whether it was because he was a nightmare for lumbering 4s who couldn’t stick with his quickness, or undersized wings who couldn’t handle his strength, another reason for small ball Melo was it allowed him to save his effort for the offensive end by sticking him on a bigger player. He’s playing some of the best perimeter defense of his career this season!
Of course we can’t be too sure that we won’t see the bad Knicks show up in the immediate future, but it’s encouraging that Anthony’s starting to show signs of life on both ends of the court. Fans can put down the Trade Machine, for now.