The Knicks have a laundry list of issues to address as they enter the second half of the season.
Defense is near the top of that list. As are rebounding, ball movement, spacing and secondary scoring.
But there's something else that, above all else, will be key to New York's success over the final 32 games of the regular season: the play of Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony's performance will be dissected and critiqued as the playoff race tightens -- and rightfully so. That's the way it works in sports, particularly in New York. As the No. 1 option on the team, and its second-highest-paid player, Anthony is expected to deliver.
For what it's worth, Anthony's just fine with that.
Unlike seasons past, though, there are no built-in excuses to offer if the Knicks stumble. No lockout. No midseason trade.
The Knicks' front office hired a coach Melo approved of and surrounded him with players that best complement his strengths and weaknesses.
Anthony actually said last month that this team was the best he's been apart of.
"By far," he said. "I have been on good teams before. But as far as being a complete team from top to bottom, this is the best team I've been a part of.
"We know the type of players we have," he added. "We have fun. We're a fun team to watch. We trust each other in the locker room. We have fun with one another. Nothing else can come between us."
Nothing was fun, though, about the way the Knicks limped into the All-Star break.
They lost three of four to close out the first half. Anthony scored an average of 30 points on 25 shots in the four games, relying too often, critics say, on isolation sets.
Anthony said before the season started that he didn't want to score "30, 35, 40 points” per night for the Knicks to win games.
"I don't want that role anymore. It's what I do best. But in order for this team to be successful with the guys that we have, we need a more well-rounded team," he said.
In their 18-6 start, that theory proved true. The Knicks moved the ball well; Anthony was taking an average of 20 shots per game.
Since that 18-6 start, Anthony has averaged 24 shots per game. The Knicks are just 13-10 in those games.
Since Jan. 1, they are 7-8 when he takes at least 20 shots and 3-4 when he scores at least 30 points.
It will be interesting to see if/how Anthony adjusts his game in the second half. If he can revert to the player who helped the Knicks to that strong start, everything will be fine.
Of course, Anthony can't do it alone. It would help both Melo and the Knicks if secondary and tertiary scoring options emerged after the break for New York.
It would also help if the Knicks figured out how to guard the pick and roll.
Like it or not, all of that takes a back seat to Anthony's play. He'll command the biggest spotlight down the stretch. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
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