Jeremy Lin’s rise to the top of the NBA is a remarkable story. But it’s last week’s story. This week’s appears to be, “Lin is great, but Carmelo Anthony is going to screw this all up when he gets back.”
Allow me to present a counter argument.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Lin’s ascent is the fact that the Knicks have been flying in missing man formation all week. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire did play in Lin’s first big performance – his 25-point outburst against Deron Williams and the Nets on February 4. Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler scored 17 each in that one, but Anthony’s shot was off (3-15 from the floor). But by Monday’s game against the Jazz, Stoudemire was in Florida mourning his brother. And Anthony injured a groin muscle in the first quarter of that game. Since then, Lin has been leading a team that features a whole lot of Bill Walker, Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries.
Stoudemire should be back for Tuesday’s game against Toronto. The general consensus is that Lin will help kick Stoudemire’s game into overdrive, and I’m inclined to agree. Lin is very good at running the pick and roll; Stoudemire is one of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll finishers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lin helps STAT get on a roll like last year’s, when he tied the Knicks’ franchise record for consecutive games with 30 or more points.
There’s a lot less optimism about Anthony’s return, which is probably another week away. I understand the concern. Anthony has the reputation of being a bit of a ball-stopper. This season, he has shown a tendency to go into “hero mode” much too often, calling his own number for isolation plays and taking contested shots without getting teammates involved. But before we blame all that on Anthony’s supposed selfish streak, let’s consider some of the other factors involved:
- The Knicks played the entire season – up until February 3rd – without a traditional Mike D’Antoni point guard on the floor.
- Without a point guard to run the team, Stoudemire – who can’t really create his own shot – had a great deal of trouble getting on track offensively.
- Poor outside shooting – Toney Douglas’ season-long struggles in particular – created spacing issues, clogged the paint and generally made life miserable for Stoudemire, Chandler and slashers like Iman Shumpert.
Was Anthony handling the ball and shooting too much? Absolutely. But there are lots of reasons why… and “Dude, ‘Melo’s a ball-hog” is pretty far down the list.
No one can say with any certainty that Anthony, Stoudemire and Lin will fit perfectly. I think they will, and here’s how:
- First off, the idea of Anthony or Stoudemire adjusting their games to suit Lin is sort of ridiculous. The first two are all-stars. The third is an undrafted free agent with a week’s worth of real NBA experience under his belt. Let’s not pretend that, all of a sudden, Lin is the star of the team and Stoudemire and Anthony are complementary pieces.
- Lin’s biggest strength is breaking down a defense with his dribble and setting up teammates for easy shots. When the Knicks are at full strength, those easy shots will be taken by Anthony and Stoudemire instead of Walker and Jeffries. That’s bad why, exactly?
- Lin’s emergence also means that, in most cases, Anthony won’t be bringing the ball up the floor. If ‘Melo doesn’t get the ball until he’s in a position to score, he won’t have the opportunity to bog the offense down by over-dribbling and setting up isolations.
- And don’t forget – for the brief period of time when Anthony, Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups were all healthy last Spring, the Knicks played very well. And Billups has never been the sort of facilitator that Lin seems to be. (That’s not to say that Lin is a better player… too soon to tell on that. He just plays a different style of ball.)
I imagine the Stoudemire/Anthony/Lin Knicks will play like the Stoudemire/Shawn Marion/Steve Nash Suns. The Stoudemire/Lin pick and roll will be the bread-and-butter play. Anthony will get tons of open looks from the weak side off that action, as will Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert. Good luck stopping that. (Not saying Lin is Nash, either. His style is similar, but Nash is one of the all-time best shooters at the point guard position. Jeremy”s jumper has a long way to go before he merits that comparison. And Anthony is a much better offensive player than Marion, even when The Matrix was in his prime.)
And late in games, when defenses step up their play and offense gets bogged down, the Knicks will still have the option of running isolation for one of the top isolation players in the NBA.
Again… that’s bad why?