TrueHoop: Carmelo Anthony
It's funny how players take umbrage about a score based on a collection of surveys. There's no one person to get angry at -- unless you subscribe to the belief that "ESPN" is a discrete individual.
Professional athletes are good at this, though. They're masters at taking dry, detached assessments and converting those into grievous insults that must be disproven. Write something that you think is a mostly positive assessment of an athlete and you're liable to get "I'll show you" where you might have expected "That was a balanced take on me." Getting to the top comes with a fair amount of pride and a gnawing need to prove oneself. As someone more defined by "laptop" than "the top," I'm often surprised by how reflexively athletes take negative information to heart.
Perhaps, per the rankings, there's just something so cold about a man listed as a number. It's tough, in a way, to see Kobe Bryant's entire career reduced to "25" in last year's NBA rank results. "Just a number" describes how people are treated in vast, impersonal systems. It seems as if a few NBA players strive to be more than just their allotted ranking number. Maybe they don't even have a specific goal. They would just like to shed the unflattering numerical definition of their talent.
Kobe Bryant appeared to include his "25" ranking in his Twitter handle. The vast majority of caterwauling over Kobe's ranking was done by fellow players and fans. Another way of defining those offended by Kobe's ranking is, "People who dismiss the importance of the Achilles tendon."
The Mamba didn't come out and prove all the #NBArank haters and doubters wrong. Unfortunately, Kobe's human, and his hasty return from a devastating injury resulted in uneven play and another injury.
Even other superstars aren't immune. In 2011, Carmelo Anthony saw himself outside the top 10 (at No. 12!) and took to social media to tell the world of his newfound motivation. (It didn't necessarily take. Melo has yo-yoed in #NBArank, falling to No. 17 in 2012 and rising to No. 15 in 2013.)
Ranking rancor went a bit better for Kent Bazemore, who wrote his 2012 #NBArank listing of "499" on his shoe. Thanks in part to a Summer League MVP performance Bazemore was able to move up 167 spots. He thanked the rankers for his progress, while expressing hope that he could prove us wrong once again.
Lavoy Allen was a temporary #NBArank motivation success story. After getting tagged with the dreaded rank of "500" in 2011, Allen helped the Sixers on a strong playoff run. Actually, I shouldn't say "temporary." Last year, Allen managed to finally escape what's become of the Sixers. That's a certain kind of success.
Jeremy Lin's trainer was yelling his 2011 #NBArank number ("467!") at Lin during workouts. Such tactics must have worked because Lin made the biggest jump of any player to 76 the next season. Oh, also Linsanity happened.
There might have been a correlation between that national phenomenon and the ranking boost. Last season, Lin slid back into a ranking of 106. It might be time for his trainer to revisit old routines.
All these players should be content to be in the top 500 and to simply be involved in the world's best basketball league. But if these guys were content with such a distinction, they wouldn't have gotten this far in the first place.
Special to ESPN.com
Then came unopposable reports that James was leaning toward Miami, followed by The Decision and the crushing feeling that the Bulls had come so close -- that now there was no point in competing, not with this super team loitering in the East.
But something beautiful happened: Rose matured into an MVP candidate; Tom Thibodeau barked his way toward becoming one of the league’s best coaches; Luol Deng and Joakim Noah became defensive and emotional anchors. Even consolation signee Carlos Boozer hit a shot here and there. Though the Bulls eventually lost to the Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, there was real faith that the groundwork was laid for a defining rivalry -- Heatles against the Bench Mob, South Beach glamour against Midwestern realism, ego-soaked King James with his prancing and chalk-clapping against D-Rose, the only “honest superstar” in the league.
We know what happened next. Rose blew out his knee the next season, and now it’s been almost four years since he played the Heat in a meaningful game. Much has changed: Noah is entering his 30s, Deng is a casualty of cap-space rejiggering, and every year there are rumors that Thibodeau is fed up with the front office and would bolt for New York. Without Rose, the Bulls are good for a playoff berth and two must-see home games against the Heat per season. What once seemed like an open window is now the glimmer at the end of a cave toward which they can only struggle.
Now, as 2014 free agency officially begins, Carmelo Anthony is set to meet the Bulls before any other team, and depending on which reports you believe, there’s a fair-to-excellent chance he’ll suit up in red and white next season. Bulls fans have rooted against Anthony and the smarmy, loathable Knicks for years, but they’d sign him without a second’s pause. They want Anthony, just as they once wanted James.
But the Bulls haven't gone as all-in with Anthony as they did with the James/Wade/Bosh trifecta in 2010. They have less cap space, and they haven’t shown any sign they’ll try to create much more before they know what’s going on. General manager Gar Forman wouldn’t admit it, but the Bulls lucked out in 2010: They had no way of knowing how good Rose would be, how Thibodeau would prove capable of lifting any player off the trash heap -- Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin -- and turning him into a real contributor. The Bulls are angling for Anthony, but they’re also planning for a world in which the only exciting news is that Derrick Rose is (maybe) back to being exciting.
This is a realer possibility than Chicago fans would like to admit, especially with the Knicks and Phil Jackson offering so much money. Despite a rabid fan base and large market, the Bulls have been famously unsuccessful at attracting marquee free agents. They failed to get James, and before him, they failed to get Tracy McGrady. There’s a sense that the cold and the specter of Jordan can't be that bad -- that for whatever reason, the Bulls have consistently put everything in place but been unable to go the extra step. They're a classic “what if?” franchise, as the Jordan experience left them with a negative balance in the karma bank. Jay Williams’ motorcycle accident, Eddy Curry’s heart palpitations, Rose’s ACL, summer 2010 -- something has always gone wrong.
Thankfully, Derrick Rose joined the Bulls in wooing Anthony. He'd previously insisted he wouldn't, instead talking like it was only as easy as wanting to play with the Bulls. As many messy superstar courtships have shown us, playing in a league filled with brands and power-minded agents isn’t so simple. Anthony could easily want something sexier than the Bulls, who are only the best team with the most obvious need for his talents. He might fall for the undying dream of the Knicks, for all their perpetual malaise. He might hungrily grasp the chance to play with LeBron and Dwight Howard on the Houston Rockets after a career full of Feltons and J.R.s. He might just want to play with a superstar whose health is guaranteed, as it’s still unsure how good Rose will be on a healed leg.
For the Bulls, Anthony represents an exit strategy, a way to brush aside the disappointments of the past few years and immediately leap back into contention. Where LeBron was a blank slate onto which the Bulls could scribble any limitless possibility, Anthony’s proposed role is much clearer. We know that even with a completely rejuvenated Rose, these Bulls as built will likely struggle to score. We know there are only so many defensive grinds they can win against the top teams. They’d need Anthony to act as a pressure valve, unburdening Rose on off nights and saving us from Joakim Noah jumpers. In plainest terms, he’d be someone to take the ball in tense moments and score. The Bulls need a weapon; Anthony needs a defense and a coach he actually respects. If only it were that simple.
All the power, though, is in his hands. The Bulls are stuck waiting to see if Anthony will spurn them like LeBron did, leaving them a hypothetical dynasty like the Ralph Sampson Rockets and Chris Webber Kings, to be dreamily memorialized in oral histories a decade from now. Or maybe he’ll sign and immediately contend for the NBA championship whose absence has made him this generation’s foremost underachieving superstar.
All we know is that chances like these won't keep coming around for the Bulls -- and that once more, the fans could be left wondering what might've been.
Jeremy Gordon is a staff writer for Pitchfork, and contributes to the Wall Street Journal and Pacific Standard. He lives in Brooklyn. Follow him, @jeremypgordon.
Special to ESPN.com
But there’s finally some good news: Carmelo Anthony intends to opt out of the remaining year of his contract, and rumors abound that he’ll skip town.
Yes, losing their best player would be welcome news for the Knicks. Should Anthony leave, the Knicks would finally be free to start over with a player good enough to carry a franchise.
Just how good is Anthony? It’s hard to find consensus. Some count him among the best in the NBA and perhaps the best one-on-one scorer in the league. He has a top-10 player efficiency rating and two Olympic gold medals. There just aren’t guys with his kind of size and strength who can handle and shoot the ball like a guard. In the right scenario, he’s deadly. With his quick, accurate release and great first step, covering him on a hard closeout is pretty much impossible. He is a monster on the offensive glass and has been one of the best scorers as a pick-and-roll ball handler for the past two years. It’s a rare combination.
What’s tough for the Knicks is that both impressions of Anthony are correct. He is not a contributor on defense, and he’s a constant mismatch for just about everyone in the league, especially when he plays on the perimeter as a power forward.
Anthony has serious game, but all the things you have to do right to maximize what he brings to a team make him tricky as a franchise centerpiece. You need multiple guys with point-guard-level passing skills to keep the ball moving. You need a lockdown defender on the perimeter to take on the toughest wings, because he’s just not very interested in those assignments. You also need a great defensive big man behind him, because to max out Anthony’s offensive capabilities, you need to play him at the power forward, which means you need extra-stout basket protection from your other frontcourt player.
Anthony is a good player to build with but not around.
Although there’s room to argue about just how good Anthony is, almost no one would claim that a player with his faults is the second-best player in the NBA. But if he reups at the max in New York, only Kobe Bryant would be more handsomely compensated.
Consider Anthony’s market value. How does $23 million sound? What about $25 million or $27 million? Because that could be his price tag at the tail end of another max deal.
Consider that Anthony just turned 30, about the age most NBA players begin to decline. He would make most when he’s worth least.
Consider whether Anthony is truly a franchise cornerstone. At the price he can command by staying in New York and reupping for a medium-term deal, the Knicks had better be sure, because these contracts cripple payrolls. He just had his best season ever, with career highs in a bunch of key scoring and rebounding metrics ... but his team won 37 games. It’s possible that his teammates were just that bad, but at his salary, one would hope for a player who guarantees a winning season in a weak Eastern Conference.
Then consider where the Knicks are as a franchise.
The Knicks' foundation is rotted; even if Anthony stays at a discounted price, they likely will want to dispose of their three other most highly paid players. If the Knicks can’t make major moves next season, there is no chance they will contend for anything other than a playoff spot.
No matter what happens next with Anthony, the Knicks will be rebuilding. There are variously expedient ways to do so, but whether you’re piling up assets or luring name free agents, it’s still called rebuilding. Phil Jackson does not have to slowly, meticulously build through the draft, but he does have to be careful about where he spends James Dolan’s money. The Knicks have almost no money on the books after the 2014-15 season. They are resetting the roster one way or another. The only question is how prudently they will do so.
Anthony’s departure would release the Knicks from the cycle of adding overpriced veterans and pretending to contend. This is the league’s richest franchise in the media capital of the world, and this is an opportunity to rebuild from the ground up. But there is less margin for error, which means that signing anyone to a huge max contract is a high-risk proposition.
It’s especially risky with Anthony because he limits the kinds of other players you should sign. Championships are won by two-way stars.
It must be acknowledged that Anthony is a star attraction, even if he’s not always a superstar player. There will be plenty of pressure to sign Anthony and retain at least one star player on the roster to drive fan interest. But the Knicks are an organization with coffers to make Scrooge McDuck blush; they aren’t going bankrupt off a down season or two.
There’s also a chance Anthony will go somewhere else and excel as a complementary piece. But that’s what he is. A wise team doesn’t make him the second-highest-paid player in the league, and a wise team doesn’t make a secondary piece its franchise cornerstone.
Special to ESPN.com
Woodson’s coaching reputation has swung wildly over the last 26 months. Under Woodson’s direction, the Knicks went 72-34 from when he took over for Mike D’Antoni in March 2012 through the end of the 2012-13 season. It’s not as if Woodson’s name was mud before the Knicks' 100-game hot streak, but his regular-season success in Atlanta -- the team won more games than the year before in five consecutive seasons -- was tainted by Atlanta’s inability to make noise in the playoffs. The Hawks never lost to a lower seed, but they never really looked capable of a deep playoff run, either.
After his time in Atlanta, critics cast Woodson as inflexible and somewhat dreary from a tactical standpoint. Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense repeatedly broke down in the playoffs, and his Hawks never had an effective backup plan.
But after coaching under Mike D’Antoni with the Knicks, Woodson seemed to become a believer in the spread pick-and-roll, and his Knicks rode that action, and a barrage of 3-pointers, to a 54-win season in 2012-13. The conversation around Woodson changed almost overnight: He had won full buy-in from Carmelo Anthony and somehow kept J.R. Smith focused; he modernized his offense and embraced the state of the art in basketball strategy.
The Knicks, for the first time in a long time, exceeded expectations. Was it Woodson? Or were the Knicks just more talented than people realized? Wasn't it Woodson who made Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland useful players?
Before the 2012-13 season, Wages of Wins combination of metrics and analysis predicted the Knicks would be the top seed in the East. The two main reasons were Kidd and Tyson Chandler, the point guard-center battery of the 2011 champion Mavericks. Kidd was old, sure, but he still made his teams better with rebounding, shooting and crisp ball movement. With the Knicks, Kidd’s play became the shared language through which Anthony’s game could communicate with the spread pick-and-roll.
When Kidd retired, the Knicks’ half-court offense descended into Babel. Again, this was partly due to situations outside of Woodson’s control. In the offseason, the Knicks replaced important shooters Novak, Kidd and Copeland with Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani. World Peace was a defensive contributor during a brief period of good health, but otherwise the Knicks essentially scrapped the identity that made them so dangerous -- great ball movement and killer shooting -- in favor of big names.
The same Wages of Wins analysts who picked the Knicks to be very good in 2012-13, then picked the Knicks to finish outside the playoffs, as did the SCHOENE metric developed by ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton.
Whether Woodson ever really believed in the free-wheeling, 3-pointer crazed offense of 2012-13 is an open question. The Knicks abandoned their small-ball strengths at the first sign of trouble in the 2013 playoffs, abdicating their perimeter advantage to wage an unwinnable war inside against the Pacers. And this season, Woodson often professed a desire -- possibly at behest of the front office -- to make the “Big” lineups work, even though playing Bargnani, Anthony and Chandler together had miserable results.
Strategy aside, if you consider the variable roster quality during the last two seasons, it is hard to say whether Woodson is responsible at all for either the good times or the bad ones.
Doubt that those role players the Knicks lost in the offseason really matter enough to so dramatically swing the Knicks' win-loss records? The fact is Carmelo Anthony was actually better this season than he was last season. Logic argues that he wasn't the controlling factor in the Knicks' success.
With Kidd and the shooters gone and Chandler hobbled, the Knicks just didn't have a very good roster -- so they weren't a very good team.
This gets us closer to the truth of Woodson’s value as a coach. Of course his teams in Atlanta got better every year, the roster improved every year, too!
Young stars such as Josh Smith and Al Horford joined the Hawks as rookies and followed a logical trend: They were better at 21 than 20, and better at 24 than 23.
History suggests Woodson does not make his teams better, nor does he really inhibit them. He puts his players in positions to succeed, but he is no Rick Carlisle, masking flaws with smoke and mirrors.
Given the Knicks’ lack of draft picks and tradable assets, the roster probably won't be much stronger next year. If they want a significantly better record, they'll need to find a coach who can win more games than player quality projects.
Woodson will be remembered as a players' coach, one who forged strong bonds with difficult personalities but never found a way to make them much better than they already were.
Special to ESPN.com
This season has been different, for reasons I hadn’t quite anticipated. Though I’ve watched from the metaphorical nosebleeds -- a second half here, a phone update there -- I’ve been engrossed by the season’s narrative and how it’s resonating in a city like New York at a time as transitional and unpredictable as the present.
The Knicks have performed poorly, sure, but they still garner headlines and fill seats because they tend to fail in a truly engrossing way only the Knicks can: A-plus tweeter @desusnice refers to it, almost affectionately, as “Knicking.”
Defensive blunders, fourth-quarter meltdowns and the coaching equivalent of a crazed partner have added up to not only a difficult season, but also -- in a cathartic, primal-scream kind of way -- must-see TV. The Knicks are ABC’s “Scandal” for basketball fans: a dizzying, at times cringe-worthy guilty pleasure, best experienced with close friends and strong drinks.
The story arc bends wider every week -- Will Mike Woodson go? Will Melo stay? A Heat win? A gun charge? An MSG protest? Phil Jackson?! -- and every game feels like life or death. New Yorkers aren’t known for their sympathy, so it’s easy to imagine a city of the disgruntled throwing up their hands and remotes in exhaustion. But we don’t.
Folks tune in every night and talk, text and tweet through the pain. It’s not only because we know anything is possible and the numbers haven’t doomed them just yet -- as evinced by their current six-game tear -- but also because on some level, this year’s Knicks narrative fits New York’s current moment more accurately than any dramatized TV series ever could.
The Knicks' season has become symbolic of a city that has never been more relevant on the world’s stage and never been more conflicted within its own walls. Its creative output is bleak, compared to the artpop '60s, grainy '70s and experimental '90s. Its economy is one of the county’s most rigidly slanted, with staggering wealth gaps and neighborhood borders in constant flux. Mayor Bill de Blasio feels like the kind of guy who waits until he’s in front of the turnstile to fish out his MetroCard and gets the “PLEASE SWIPE AGAIN” display three times.
We are touted year after year as a city of innovation and creation, rebellion and dissent, revelatory mornings and chaotic, white-knuckle nights, where upstarts and outcasts from all over the world make their pilgrimage to incept their wildest dreams with wilder ones. But we’ve also overbranded and underdeveloped, selling a dream of boundless possibility but offering clear ceilings and shrinking walls to the same rooted communities that give New York its identity. Unlike the Frankensteinian Nets, a freak experiment that’s just feeling its way into the cultural fabric of the city, the Knicks feel more outerborough than ever, embodying the neighborhoods and blocks that also don’t win that often.
Lee’s courtside antics are a part of the show, of course, and the red-lined neighborhoods he highlights in his films and his rants have gone from isolated pockets of New York history to menu items for an increasingly predatory culture of expansion and development. As the “underdog” narrative has gained relevance in real-estate wars across the city, the Knicks can be seen as fighting to defend their legacy as fervently as these neighborhoods defend their facades -- well aware that history suggests their efforts may be in vain.
And then there’s Carmelo Anthony: an undeniable star player who has carried his team and produced record-breaking numbers this season, still left to shoulder the hefty weight of the Knicks’ futility. He plays the ever-tortured protagonist in this comedy of errors, and speaks to the frustration and despair that settles in when you realize, loss after loss, that even being the best in this city still isn’t good enough, as countless natives and transplants alike have learned the hard way. If anything, New York holds such prominence in our nation’s consciousness because it’s the one place you can truly discover your rank in the world, against your smartest, fastest, most capable peers.
When asked how he’d feel to bring a championship to the city, newly named president of basketball operations Phil Jackson said, winking: “You’ve jumped a long ways away. But we hope it’s going to happen” -- all but leaving out “tune in next week, same Knicks channel, same Knicks time.”
It’s the latest plot twist this season, cliffhanging on a vague promise of a “Zen front office” and a “competitive team.”
It isn’t easy to be a Knicks fan, and it isn’t easy to be a New Yorker. But it’s how you handle your big losses that define your stay here, whether for a season, or a lifetime.
“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” Jackson evoked during his introductory news conference. Cliché? Sure. But that’s why it makes for great cable TV.
Matthew Trammell is a writer from Brooklyn. He subtweets and favorites from @trmmll.
Despite concern among the mustachioed and unmustachioed alike, the NBA's Christmas Day lineup has become a holiday unto itself.
With football occupying a large portion of the viewing public's attention as the calendar year winds down, the first month-plus of the basketball season tends to be more of a warm-up for most. Christmas Day, then, has become something of an unofficial start to the season for late arrivals over the past few years, and the league has welcomed all with open arms by providing a smorgasbord of premier, nationally televised matchups.
To prepare for the full slate at hand, here are 10 things to know about the 10 teams hitting the NBA hardwood on Dec. 25.
1. The Kobe-LeBron rivalry is over before it began
The puppets are always the first to know.
In 2009, just before LeBron James officially established his MVP bona fides and Kobe Bryant proved himself on a championship stage without Shaquille O’Neal, their clash over the same rarefied air space defined the NBA. James’ Cavaliers and Bryant’s Lakers were emerging as the league’s controlling elite, and with the two seeming predestined to meet in the NBA Finals at some point in the near future, if only because we deserved such a matchup from the basketball gods, Nike launched an ad campaign featuring plush likenesses of the All-Star wings sharing the same apartment to capitalize on the momentum.
But arguing over excess chalk dust on their Muppetized loveseat likely will be the only important postseason meeting between the two in their careers. What at one point seemed an unavoidable collision course turned into two highly accessorized ships passing in the night. Their seven-year gap between human and basketball years simply led to unparalleled peaks, and now what we’re left with to show from all the debating, hyping and hoping, besides the residual effects from the careless rearing of poor Lil’ Dez, are two Christmas Day blowouts in favor of James’ team, in 2009 and 2010.
The appetite from the league at large, though, remains unsatisfied. Why else would Heat-Lakers be plopped on the schedule this offseason right in the middle of Bryant’s recovery from an Achilles injury, instead of, say, Heat-Pacers? If market size does indeed matter so much, why not choose the Los Angeles team contending for a title?
Given James and the Heat's otherworldly production and Bryant and the Lakers' current struggles, both physically and personnel-wise, the rivalry that figured to end as an all-timer will never be the same, even if what we got never seemed enough.
Twenty-eight is old in basketball years, but Chris Paul has probably seemed that way for some time now. LeBron James is 28, too, but his mass appeal keeps him at the forefront of the youth culture, even amid all that family-man branding. Blake Griffin (24) and DeAndre Jordan (25) feel like they’re decades apart from their point guard. In his own way, the reserved Kevin Durant (25) does, too. There’s always been an extreme poise emanating from Paul, whether it’s assuming control of the offense by sheer food-chain protocol or wrangling his chubby-cheeked son in the Clippers’ locker room. Even at his flashiest, knifing through lanes with precision dribbling, it’s all about seizing complete control.
Indeed, Paul can dazzle, but he’d rather pull it back and process a situation. While centers stretch out to the arc and coaches push the pace to Ferrari-like speeds, Paul is content in his Volvo, getting exactly where he needs to go without any complications.
But with a roster built to get up and down more so than in his previous two seasons in Los Angeles, Paul has had to soup things up a bit. After playing at the 25th-fastest pace in his first season and the 19th-fastest in his next, Paul’s Clippers now rank eighth, among the Houstons and the Denvers. That plus the added slack taken on after the injuries to J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes have led to a hit in his shooting numbers, which surely nags him, but he’s never been more efficient as a Clipper, and most of his other stats are up (rebounds, assists) or near highs (points) for his stint in L.A., too.
The proliferation and growing public consumption of analytics only deepen the appreciation for the decidedly old-school game manager. The passing data from the SportVU tracking system is a virtual shrine to his mastery of the position: He leads all others in assists per game, total assists, secondary assists (tied), assist opportunities, points created by assists and points created by assists per 48 minutes. There’s only one other category, passes per game, in which he ranks second.
What’s old is new again, or maybe it’s the other way around. But the Clippers are looking forward again after some early hiccups, and Paul is again on track to finally capitalize on the window he has in his prime years, however long it may last.
Each cut to the rim, each stroke on his wizardly mane, each up-and-under move to draw a foul will probably always sting a little back in Oklahoma. There's no replacing a James Harden, even if the kiddies being groomed in the second unit are beginning to look like important pieces in the Thunder's championship quest. But the two dynamic superstars still lurking on the wings certainly haven't slowed down in their sixth season together.
According to our friends at ESPN Stats & Info, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are currently the highest-scoring duo in the NBA for the third consecutive season, with 49.7 points per game between them. Only four other duos in league history have accomplished that for three straight seasons or more, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen the last to do so from 1989 to 1993 with an NBA-record four.
First, a few words from LeBron James on the shimmering, Y2K-influenced sleeved jersey each team will don for Wednesday’s five-game slate, via the Miami Herald’s Joe Goodman:
LeBron said in pregame that the Heat’s shooters “are already upset about” the Christmas jerseys.
LEBRON: "I can’t have my shooters out there worrying about some sleeves and not shooting the ball."
Shooters are a neurotic bunch. Ray Allen, the greatest long-range threat in history, is more programmed than any player at this point: He follows the same warm-up routine, eats the same pregame meal, shaves his head at the same time. He once told Jackie MacMullan that he has “borderline OCD.” Anything that alters that ritual could pose an issue, and imagined or not, those teeny compression sleeves present just enough foreign element to unravel what is largely a life of repetition for the modern pro basketball player.
The Warriors, then, would be among the teams most likely to feel such an effect. Golden State has built its brand around its deep shooting, and currently ranks second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage and among the league leaders in percentage of shots taken from 3.
But after serving as the lab rats for adidas’ grand sleeved experiment last season, the Warriors have sported white, home jerseys with the new look and shown no apparent ill effects from it. In the four games they’ve broken out the sleeves in 2013-14, the Warriors have shot 46.5 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from 3, which is right on par with their season averages of 46.2 and 40.2 (and among the more ridiculous stats ever published).
Brooklyn knew it was operating without a net. You don't hand out draft picks like grocery-store coupons without feeling the pressure, the doubt of it all, even with all those barrels of cash to wipe your brow. And somehow, that self-awareness only makes the crash landing of the Nets' championship hopes, all the way down to fourth from the bottom in the putrid Eastern Conference, that much more gruesome.
Here's a look at all the grim and grisly carnage thus far.
At this point, Kobe Bryant’s snarling underbite is a tradition that ranks right up there with the more menacing characters of Christmas-season story time. The 17-year veteran has played in more Christmas Day games (15) than anyone else in NBA history and has accumulated the most career Christmas points (383). Really, what use is a Christmas ham these days without a dozen contested midrange J's to go with it?
This year, though, your yuletide bombardiering will come not from the itchy trigger finger of Bryant, who is expected to miss five more weeks with a knee fracture, but courtesy of the “Swag Mamba,” Nick Young, who in his first season with his hometown Lakers enters the Christmas spotlight for just the second time.
The cockatooed sixth-year swingman certainly lacks the gravitas Bryant brings these days, but any game that prominently features Young, a smiley SoCal native with the O’Doul's version of Kobe’s skill set, is something of an impromptu field day -- all fun, all the time.
And with Bryant again aching, there’s been more Swag Time than ever: Young, whose shot selection ethos befits an “If it fits, I sits” cat, leads the Lakers in attempts (16.3) and points (21.3) in three games sans Bryant, and has even been given spot duty at the 1 for the point guard-depleted Lakers despite one of the very worst assist ratios among small forwards.
So, another LeBron-Kobe clash may not be in the offing, but these modern-day Lakers are a special kind of “Showtime” with the blissfully oblivious Young as their guiding force. Expect enjoyment, if not fierce competition, to ensue.
Anyone who has ever had to procure a postgame quote from Dwight Howard wouldn’t be surprised that the All-Star big man needed time to do anything, but 20 months and three teams after undergoing back surgery, the now-28-year-old center is beginning to look as close to his heyday as he may ever get.
Smart people across the Interwebs have discussed the progressive tactics the Rockets’ offense has employed to great success, and amid the revolution, the back-to-the-basket big man Daryl Morey nabbed from the Lakers this past summer is having his best month offensively since April 2011, with 21.2 points on 62 percent shooting, 14.5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 60 percent free throw shooting (!) and 100 percent
Outside of PER, virtually all of his advanced numbers on the season are better than they have been since 2010-11, and while he’s no longer the pre-eminent rim protector in the league, he’s become a force again in the paint on both ends of the floor. It seems the four-out, one-in approach on which he thrived in Orlando and now is again (to a certain degree) in Houston is more to his liking than blowing off pick-and-rolls. A happy Dwight is indeed a productive Dwight.
Need another downer while the yuletide joy is flowing?
Facing off against the Nets on Wednesday will be one of the few teams that can feel them in all their catatonic pain, the Chicago Bulls, who have wandered the earth aimlessly after losing Derrick Rose once again.
It’s quite fitting, given this fever dream of a Knicks season, that Carmelo Anthony joins their Magna Carta-length list of question marks with a bum left ankle right before they need him most. The Knicks obviously rely on Anthony and his 26.3 points per game; his 28.9 usage rate is fourth-highest in the league; and he's one of the team's few major contributors with a plus/minus better than minus-1 on the season, per NBA.com/stats.
But while Kevin Durant and the Thunder roll into Christmas Day as the most imposing challenge in the league right now, they present the Knicks with one of their best chances yet of obtaining a first big win of the season -- if Anthony is active.
Despite the Thunder’s dominance of late, in the 12 games Anthony has faced Durant over the past seven years, the elder Melo is 11-1, according to Elias, with the lone loss coming in double overtime when Anthony was still on the Nuggets and the Thunder didn’t yet exist. In those matchups, Anthony, currently the No. 2 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 30.2 points on 50.2 percent shooting, while Durant, currently the No. 1 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 26.8 points on 42.4 percent shooting. It should be noted, though, that Anthony has played Durant just once in the past two seasons.
Of course, all of that may not have mattered even if Melo were the pinnacle of physical health: The Knicks (9-18) are 0-8 against the Western Conference this season; the Thunder (22-5) are 7-1 against the Eastern Conference.
Who said it: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich or Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 rendition of “A Christmas Carol”?
A.) “I want some nasty.”
B.) “You’ll want the whole day off, I suppose.”
C.) “Happy? I don’t know how to judge happy.”
D.) “We didn’t send mariachi bands or birthday cards or breakfast in bed.”
E.) “It’s all humbug, I tell you, humbug.”
After five years of using the SCHOENE projection system to predict the upcoming NBA season, I have a pretty good sense of where SCHOENE will differ from conventional wisdom. Still, sometimes the results surprise even me. Such was the case when I saw the initial version of the Knicks projection featured in today's Insider team forecast: 37 wins. Tom Haberstroh did a good job of explaining New York's potential pitfalls in the forecast, but I wanted to take a closer look at some of the statistical factors causing SCHOENE to project such a steep decline.
1. 3-Point Outage
As Tom noted, no team in NBA history has been more dependent on the 3-pointer than last year's Knicks, who made a league-high 891 triples. Over the summer, New York lost its two most accurate 3-point shooters (Steve Novak, 42.5 percent; and Chris Copeland, 42.1 percent) as well as Jason Kidd, who made 114 3s. The newcomers replacing them (Andrea Bargnani, 30.9 percent; Beno Udrih, 33.3 percent; and Metta World Peace, 34.2 percent) combined to make 33.4 percent of their 3s, a rate worse than league average.
Add in regression from the Knicks' holdovers and SCHOENE projects them to make nearly 200 fewer 3-pointers this season. Take away those triples and New York's offense could look a lot more like the 2011-12 incarnation, which finished 19th in the league in offensive rating.
2. Fewer Looks, Makes for Melo
Because the Knicks lost two of their lowest-usage players, Kidd (responsible for 11.7 percent of the team's plays) and Novak (13.1 percent), SCHOENE projects Carmelo Anthony's league-high 35.6 percent usage rate to decline all the way to 30.2 percent. Yet Anthony is also projected to be less efficient because SCHOENE factors in his down 2011-12 season.
As a result, SCHOENE estimates just a 16 percent chance of Anthony playing as well as last season or better. If his improvement last season was a real effect of the improved spacing around him -- and New York can replicate that without its best shooters -- Anthony could easily outperform his projection.
3. The Effects of Age
Anthony isn't the only Knicks player with a pessimistic SCHOENE projection. In fact, of New York's likely rotation, only J.R. Smith saw similar players improve at the same age. Players similar to Amar'e Stoudemire declined by 6.1 percent the following season, while players similar to Tyson Chandler saw a 5.4 percent decline.
Chandler might be the most important factor. If the Knicks are going to score more like they did in 2011-12, they'll have to defend like they did in Mike Woodson's first half-season at the helm, when they finished fifth in defensive rating and Chandler won Defensive Player of the Year honors. If he suffers through another season where injuries limit his productivity, that will be difficult if not impossible.
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKnee surgery will cause Russell Westbrook to miss the first 4-6 weeks of this season.
Westbrook had surgery in May to repair cartilage in the same knee after he was hurt in Game 2 of the Thunder’s first round playoff series with the Houston Rockets. Prior to this, Westbrook had never missed a game in his five NBA seasons.
Westbrook's durability allowed him to put up some very impressive statistics in his first five NBA seasons.
He's one of just six players to put up at least 7,500 points and 2,500 assists in his first five seasons.
His injury could also have a negative effect on the Thunder early in the season. Only four players had more Win Shares than Westbrook’s 11.6 last season – LeBron James (19.3), Kevin Durant (18.9), Chris Paul (13.9) and James Harden (12.8).
Using advanced offensive and defensive stats, Win Shares estimates the number of wins a player had for his team.
When Westbrook went down in the playoffs, both sides of the ball took a hit. The Thunder averaged 18 fewer points per game largely in part to a much slower pace (they averaged eight more possessions per game with him in the lineup).
With Westbrook out, Durant was featured much more in the nine postseason games, particularly in the second half.
Durant’s usage percentage after halftime in the first two games against Houston was 27 percent (Westbrook was at 37 percent). Usage percentage is the percentage of team plays used by a player when he is on the floor.
In the Thunder’s nine postseason games without Westbrook (beginning on April 27), Durant’s usage percentage jumped to 34 percent, second highest among all players who played at least five games in the postseason (Carmelo Anthony was first at 37 percent).
Carmelo Anthony did not have a "hot spot" on the floor against the Celtics.
The New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers will renew their postseason rivalry beginning with Game 1 on Sunday at 3:30 ET on ABC.
This marks the seventh postseason meeting all-time between the Pacers and Knicks. The teams split the previous six meetings, 3-3.
The interesting thing about this matchup -- it should be a matchup of strength vs strength-- the Knicks isolation offense against the Pacers 1-on-1 defense. But recent developments have made it a matchup of weakness vs weakness.
Knicks Isolation issues
The Knicks are shooting an NBA-low 41.2 percent from the field and averaging just 96.9 points per 100 possessions this postseason.
This was an area they excelled in during the regular season, averaging 108.6 points per 100 possessions, which ranked third in the NBA.
However, in four regular season meetings, the Pacers held the Knicks to just 91.8 points per 100 possessions, the lowest output by New York against any single opponent this season.
One of the main reasons for the Knicks’ offensive issues was that they relied heavily on their isolation game this postseason.
During the regular season, an NBA-high 16 percent of the Knicks plays came in isolation. This postseason, the Knicks have ratcheted that up even higher- to 27 percent of their offensive plays.
With more usage came less success (particularly when they nearly blew their big lead in Game 6). The Knicks averaged a league-postseason-worst 0.73 points per play in isolation against the Boston Celtics.
1-on-1 defense was a Pacers strength, but not in 1st round
On the other hand, the Pacers were one of the best teams at defending isolation during the regular season.
They allowed just 0.75 points per play in that offense, which ranked fourth-best in the NBA.
But they had trouble defending isolation against the Atlanta Hawks.
Atlanta scored at an average of nearly a point per play in isolation against the Pacers and scored on nearly half of their isolation plays.
Anthony vs George
Carmelo Anthony will likely spend much of this series being hounded by Paul George.
George, who is regarded as one of the top on-the-ball defenders in the NBA, recorded a league high 6.3 Win Shares (an advanced metric that estimates defensive value) this season.
Anthony saw plenty of George in his three games against the Pacers during the regular season. Of his 66 total field goal attempts in three games against Indiana, over 70 percent of them came with George as the primary defender.
Anthony went 19-for-49 (39 percent) with George defending him in those meetings. He was actually worse against others the Pacers threw at him (5-for-15).
Anthony shot under 38 percent from the field overall against the Pacers during the regular season, well below his season average of 45 percent.
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsCarmelo Anthony led the Knicks to their first playoff series win since 2000.
How improbable was this win for the Knicks?
Prior to Friday night’s win, the Knicks had lost their last four games they had played with a chance to clinch a playoffs series. That was the longest current streak of its kind, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Knicks had also lost nine of their last 10 road playoff games and were 0-6 all-time on the road in Game 6 when leading 3-2.
And Anthony had advanced past the first round just once in nine previous postseason appearances.
What went right for Knicks?
Carmelo became the Closer. Anthony scored seven of the Knicks last 11 points over the final 3:50 of the fourth quarter to help the Knicks hold off a comeback bid by the Celtics.
From 3:50 in the 4th quarter on, Anthony passed the ball just twice on eight touches and made two of his four shot attempts. He had 29 passes on 40 touches prior to the closing stretch, making only 5-of-19 field goals.
The Knicks were able to take away a key part of the Celtics offense in Game 6 - their jump shots. The Celtics scored just 25 points on 30 percent shooting on jumpers in Friday's loss, with Paul Pierce and Jeff Green making a combined 4-of-17 jumpers.
Boston attempted a series-low 30 jump shots on Friday night after averaging 46 jump shots and 47 points off jumpers per game in their previous two wins against New York.
What went wrong for the Celtics?
Simply, they couldn’t find the basket until the final nine minutes of the game.
The Celtics were trying to become the fourth team in NBA history to force a Game 7 after trailing in the series 3-0. Instead, they become the eighth team to lose the series in six games after losing the first three games.
Boston scored 27 points in the first half, the third time this postseason they scored fewer than 30 points in a half. In fact, the three lowest-scoring halves in franchise postseason history in the shot clock era each came in this series – Game 1 (25 points) and Game 2 (23 points).
The Celtics scored 49 points in the first 38 minutes and 11 seconds of the game, and then 31 points in the final nine minutes and 49 seconds. Through three quarters they had more turnovers (16) than made field goals (15).
Boston averaged just 82.3 points per game in this series, its fewest scoring average in a best-of-7 postseason series in franchise history.
Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Game
This is the fourth road win for the Knicks against the Celtics this season. New York is the fifth team in NBA history to beat the Celtics four times in Boston (regular season and playoffs included) in a single season: the Indiana Pacers did it twice (2003-04 and 2004-05), the Chicago Stags in 1947-48 and the Knicks also in 1947-48.
What went right for the Celtics in Games 4 and 5
The Boston Celtics have relied heavily on jump shots against the New York Knicks. During the first three games of the series, that didn’t strategy backfired. But in Games 4 and 5 the Celtics finally found their touch, especially on catch-and-shoot jumpers.
The Celtics were a combined 14 of 55 (7 of 40 from 3-point range) in the first three games of the series. Since then, they are a combined 21 of 39 (16 of 32 on 3-pointers).
The three Celtics with the biggest improvements on those plays were three of their top scorers.
Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Jeff Green were a combined 6 of 31 (6 of 30 on 3-pointers) on catch-and-shoots the first three games but have gone 15 of 27 (14 of 26 on 3-pointers) the last two games.
What went wrong for the Knicks in Games 4 and 5
Defensively, the Celtics may need to just let the Knicks keep running their increasingly isolated offense. The Knicks had already used isolation on a league-high 16% of their offensive plays in the regular season, but in the playoffs that rate has jumped even higher to 27%.
No Knicks player has led the charge in isolation more than Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has gone isolation on 45% of his plays this postseason after doing so 26% of the time in the regular season.
In the past, Anthony has received a lot of criticism for being an inefficient player. He puts up high point totals, but normally takes a lot of shots to get there.
This playoff series has been no different.
Over the course of the regular season, Anthony averaged 22.2 field goal attempts per game. In the last two games, he’s averaged 29.5.
Highlighting the regular-season scoring champion’s “put-the-team-on-my-back” mentality, Anthony has spent 50 percent of his time in isolation in the past two games -- nearly doubling his regular-season average of 26.3 percent.
Despite this time investment, Anthony has not produced. He's averaging 0.7 points per play in isolation in the past two games, far below his regular season average of 0.9.
No team in NBA postseason history has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series, but the Rockets and Celtics have both forced a Game 6 at home. Prior to those teams, only 10 teams in history forced a Game 6 after trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Rockets and Celtics will both be at home in Game 6. According to history, there’s a 50-50 chance each team forces a Game 7. Six of those 10 teams to force a Game 6 were at home, and three of them forced a Game 7 -– the only three teams to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0.
How did the Rockets get it done?
Kevin Durant was the primary ball handler on 14 of his 19 fourth-quarter touches in Game 5 but failed to score in the fourth quarter. Durant’s extra usage since Russell Westbrook’s injury includes 24 more touches per game, mostly in the backcourt as the team’s ball handler.
Durant was scoreless in the fourth quarter for the first time in his playoff career when playing at least 10 minutes in the fourth quarter.
The Rockets shot well from beyond the arc. They made 14 3-pointers in a playoff game for the first time since 1997 against the same franchise, when they were in Seattle as the SuperSonics.
James Harden made a playoff career-high seven 3-pointers (he made his first seven attempts).
The Thunder employed a “Hack-Asik” strategy in the fourth quarter but Omer Asik was 11-for-16 on free throws in the 4th quarter (1.38 points per possession). The Rockets scored nine points on 17 fourth-quarter possessions that didn't end in Asik free throws (0.53 points per possession).
How did the Celtics get it done?
Carmelo Anthony was in isolation on 52 percent of his offensive plays in Game 5, shooting 3-of-12 from the field on those plays. Anthony has shot 30 percent from the field in isolation for the series (46 percent on all other plays).
The Knicks used isolation on 16 percent of their offensive plays in the regular season, the highest rate in the NBA (league average: 10 percent). In the postseason, though, the Knicks have upped that rate to 27 percent.
Despite the high usage in the regular season, the Knicks were the fifth-most efficient team in isolation, averaging 0.87 points per play. In the postseason, the Knicks’ 0.71 points per play in isolation is second-worst among playoff teams.
The Celtics shot 50 percent on 3-point attempts in Game 5 after shooting 30 percent in the first four games of the series. The Knicks are shooting 23 percent on 3-pointers in their past two games after 38 percent in the first three games.
The Knicks had major shooting woes in Game 4.
The Boston Celtics survived a comeback effort by the New York Knicks to prevail in overtime and extend this first-round series to a fifth game.
Let's take a look at some of the keys to the outcome of this contest, one that snapped the Celtics' five-game playoff losing streak.
Key to the game: Celtics catch-and-shoot it well
The Celtics were finally able to put some points on the board in this series, and their performance in a number of areas contrasted their efforts from earlier in the series.
The chart on the right shows the difference between how the Celtics fared on catch-and-shoot shots in the first three games of the series, compared to how they shot in Game 4.
Paul Pierce, who was 0-for-12 on catch-and-shoots in the first three games of this series, was 4-for-7 in Game 4, with most of those makes coming early when the Celtics got off to their big lead.
Unsung star: Jason Terry
Jason Terry scored nine of his 18 points in overtime, making all three of his shots in the extra period.
Terry was 6-for-6 from 2-point range in this game, including 4-for-4 in the paint. He was 1-for-4 in the paint in the first three games of this series.
Carmelo may have gone a bit too far
Carmelo Anthony tied Bernard King’s Knicks record for most field goal attempts in a playoff game with 35.
Anthony became the first player to attempt at least 35 shots and make less than 10 of them in a playoff game since Michael Jordan did so for the Chicago Bulls against the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals.
Elias tells us that they are the only players to do that in the shot-clock era.
The 35 attempts tied the most shots he’s taken in any game (regular season or postseason) in his career.
Anthony might have felt the need to shoot more with the absence of J.R. Smith. The Knicks bench managed only seven points in Game 4, the fewest it has scored in any game this season.
Anthony did extend a streak of scoring 30 or more points in games in which his team had a chance to clinch in a postseason series. He’s done so in each of the first four games of his career. Elias noted that Jordan had the longest run of 30-point games in potential clinchers to start his career, doing so in eight straight games.
We also remind you …
The last time a Boston pro sports team trailed 3-games-to-none to a New York team and won Game 4 in an amount of time that went beyond regulation (ie: extra innings or overtime) was in the 2004 ALCS when the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees.
The Red Sox went on to win that series in seven games.
Even just getting to a Game 7 would be a notable accomplishment. Only three NBA Best-of-7 series have featured one team winning three straight games when trailing 3-0 in the series.
None have won the series.