NEW YORK -- With Jeremy Lin playing remarkably well and the Knicks on their best winning streak of the season, you won't find any visible, negative vibes resonating from the team.
But one big question mark lurks from the sidelines -- literally -- where Carmelo Anthony, who's missed the past five games with a strained right groin, has been sitting.
That is: Could Melo mess up the Knicks' current chemistry by not jelling with Lin and Amare Stoudemire, the two other members of the team's core?
"I think it's completely nonsense," Tyson Chandler said after the Knicks' 100-85 win over the Kings Wednesday night. "At the beginning of the season, we were asking players to do too much. Now we have a natural point guard that makes life easier for other guys and puts players in their natural position. So we're going to be more of a threat."
Stoudemire himself said Melo's addition to the lineup should not be a concern at all.
"It just takes time for him to get back out there and kind of quiet the critics," he said. "We have no worries about Carmelo. He's a phenomenal player."
The main reason why there is a conflict of interest is because Lin has established an effective offensive flow, predicated on the pick-and-roll, penetration and ball movement, and critics feel Anthony will disrupt that with his tendency to demand clear-outs on his defender.
There is no denying Melo's desire for one-on-one situations. In fact, over his last four years, no player in the NBA has been in isolation more often than Anthony, and he's actually increased his involvement in those situations as his career as progressed.
Anthony's Isolation Percentage By Season
2011-12 -- 32.2* (primary point guard: Toney Douglas)
2010-11 -- 37.2* (Chauncey Billups)
2009-10 -- 37.1 (Billups)
2008-09 -- 29.9 (Billups)
2007-08 -- 21.7 (Allen Iverson)
2006-07 -- 21.7 (Iverson)
2005-06 -- 20.9 (Andre Miller)
2004-05 -- 20.3 (Miller)
While Anthony's isolation percentage was the highest with Billups, Mr. Big Shot helped Melo capitalize the most in those one-on-one situations. That's because the 2004 Finals MVP has been the best point guard Melo has played with in his career. Billups ran the pick-and-roll well with Stoudemire, which in turn created more space for Anthony to take advantage of many catch-and-shoot opportunities. With Billups on the court, Melo had no drop-off in production.
Anthony Per 48 Minutes With/Without Billups On Court From 2008-11
On Court | Off Court
Points -- 33.3 | 36.2
Field goal attempts -- 26.2 | 27.2
Field goal percentage -- 45.0 | 45.8
3-point field goal percentage -- 35.3 | 35.8
Rebounds -- 9.0 | 9.9
Assists -- 4.0 | 4.6
Turnovers -- 3.7 | 4.2
Usage percentage -- 35.4 | 37.2
Compared to these stats, Lin and Anthony have some work to do. Previously, in the 31 minutes playing with Lin, Anthony's player efficiency rating (PER) was just 5.7. With Lin off the court, that ballooned to 22.0. But, again, the sample size is small. But below is what it looks like.
Anthony Per 48 Minutes With/Without Lin On Court This Season
On Court | Off Court
Points -- 15.5 | 30.9
Rebounds -- 4.6 | 8.4
Assists -- 4.6 | 6.0
Usage percentage -- 26.7 | 36.7
A promising sign for Melo's return is watching how many open looks Bill Walker, who's been starting at small forward, is finding from Lin's kick-outs. Walker had been struggling from the floor in his four previous starts, but he had 14 points tonight, mostly from jumpers. In theory, then, Anthony, who's a better marksman than Walker, should bank on those catch-and-shoot opportunities playing with Lin, like he did with Billups.
Not only will Anthony need to get used to Linsanity, he'll have to space the floor well alongside Stoudemire. In their limited time together, Stoudemire flourished with Lin, and Anthony struggled. While Melo only scored 10 points in 31 minutes (a 5.7 PER) with Lin, STAT scored 24 points in 32 minutes (a 32.3 PER) with Lin. Without him, STAT had a 17.2 PER.
You have to wonder what Anthony is really thinking as his team has won seven straight games without him. Hopefully he's come to grips with the fact that he'll have to make some sacrifices to allow Lin to lead the Knicks' offense. That means less touches and more moving without the ball. It's key that the Knicks continue to build on what they're "actively" producing, because it's paying off right now. They cannot go back to being a stationary team pre-Lin several weeks ago, because that's when they struggled and had a record that nearly mirrored the now 8-22 Nets, who have lost seven games in a row. The Knicks, on the other hand, are performing the exact opposite.
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