Opening Tip: Melo's effect at power forward

April, 11, 2012
4/11/12
11:45
AM ET
Every weekday morning throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.

Today's Burning Question: How has Carmelo Anthony benefited from switching from small to power forward since March 26 (in Amare Stoudemire's absence) and, as a result, helped the Knicks?

How much would things be looking different if Carmelo Anthony wasn't on his recent tear, offensively and defensively? For starters, the Knicks would likely be the underdogs heading into Wednesday night's game against the potentially eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

But Melo has gotten back to being Melo, averaging 29.9 points per game since March 26 (entering Tuesday), which is tops in the NBA, and 7.1 free throws made per game, another first during that span. (Against the Bulls last night, he had 29 points, shooting 11-for-19 on field goals and 6-for-9 on free throws.) He's also been taking that added aggressiveness (getting to the line) to the glass, averaging 7.9 rebounds per game. Before March 26, he was only averaging 20.0 points, 5.0 free throws made and 5.8 rebounds per game.

So the question is: how much of that increase is due to Anthony playing forward? Other than really his recent 7.9 rebounds average representing that he's closer to the basket at times, having to guard power forwards, his shot selection actually hasn't changed.

Anthony's sweet spot is from 10 to 19 feet -- he is, after all, one of the game's best midrange shooters -- and (entering Tuesday) he was shooting 35.8 percent of his shots from that range since March 26. Before then, he was shooting 32.8 percent from that range.

What's been the difference is that Anthony is back in rhythm and has that extra confidence, which is likely a credit to him feeling as good as he has all season. Previously, he was dealing with right wrist (on his shooting hand) and then groin injuries.

"Physically, I feel great," Anthony said after Tuesday morning's shootaround at the United Center. "Nothing is bothering me. I feel 100 percent. Mentally, I feel great. I think a lot of times when you're going through injuries, things like that can affect you mentally."

If you want further proof that Anthony's health is just fine, just listen to this stat: Before March 26, he was shooting 35.9 percent from 10 to 19 feet (again, his sweet spot throughout his career). Since then, 44.4 percent -- nearly a 10-point upswing.

Defensively, however, you could make more of an argument that Anthony's move to power forward has helped the Knicks. While he's listed at 230 points, those who know him well say he's really about 240, even 250. So that size has come in handy against opposing power forwards, for the most part.

Here are their stat lines since March 26 (there are only a few instances where the player exceeded a season average against Melo):

March 26 -- Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks): 2 points and 1 rebound
March 28 -- Ryan Anderson (Orlando Magic): 3 points and 2 rebounds
March 30 -- Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks): 23 points*, 6 rebounds and 7 turnovers
March 31 -- Antawn Jamison (Cleveland Cavaliers): 13 points, 7 rebounds* and 4 turnovers
April 3 -- David West (Indiana Pacers): 9 points and 1 rebound
April 5 -- Glen Davis (Orlando Magic): 15 points* and 7 rebounds*
April 8 -- Carlos Boozer (Chicago Bulls): 13 points and 16 rebounds*
April 10 -- Carlos Boozer (Chicago Bulls): 10 points, 8 rebounds and 4 turnovers
*Exceeded season average

Many insiders agree that when Anthony wants to play defense, he can. Well, he's obviously been putting in the work lately, and it's rubbed off on the team. Entering Tuesday, during their 5-2 stretch since March 26, they allowed 90.3 points per game and a 42.7 field-goal percentage (both third-best in the league during that span).

It will be interesting to see what happens when Stoudemire does return, which could be sometime this weekend -- perhaps for the Knicks' huge showdown against the Miami Heat on April 15. Mike Woodson is a coach who bypasses name recognition to go with what's working at the time, so it's likely STAT will initially be the sixth man.

How crazy would it be to see Stoudemire checking into the game for Anthony? But, hey, that could end up being one of the best moves Woodson makes. The stats show each star plays better when the other's on the bench. Of course, Melo and STAT should share the court together at times, but that variation in firepower could pay off in a huge way for the Knicks looking ahead, especially because they need a legitimate and consistent second scorer.

You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Carmelo Anthony
PTS AST STL MIN
27.4 3.1 1.2 38.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsC. Anthony 8.1
AssistsP. Prigioni 3.5
StealsI. Shumpert 1.2
BlocksA. Bargnani 1.2