Carmelo Anthony has been one of the more boring NBA players to analyze over the past five seasons. It’s not for a lack of proficiency in the game of basketball, or a low profile, or a mute personality when dealing with the media. In those regards, Anthony is one of the league’s more interesting players in recent memory.
Documenting Anthony has become tedious. He’s one of the most gifted scorers in the world, but it appeared that his constant need for the ball and tendency to play in isolation had ultimately capped his success as a basketball player.
But somewhere between signing a five-year, $124 million contract with the Knicks in the summer of 2014, and befriending prototype Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony was awakened. Perhaps it was the perils of last year’s 17–65 season, or simply a mid-career crisis, but Anthony emerged from the 2015 off-season a changed man, opting to share the ball with his teammates instead of launching low-percentage shots. The Knicks have already exceeded their win total from 2014–15 by seven games, and Anthony has taken significant strides toward rounding out his game.
Anthony is averaging fewer than 18 field-goal attempts per game so far this season, something he hasn’t done in over a decade. His willingness to spend less time looking at the basket has helped the young Porzingis, along with Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway, gain the most value from their minutes. In what was once dubbed a developmental season, Anthony has played a large role in putting the Knicks in position to compete.
“Those guys are talented,” says Arron Afflalo, a teammate of Anthony’s in Denver and New York. “When they see a talented player like Melo commanding some attention and finding open guys, it just becomes contagious. It’s the right way to play the game. I think the combination of seeing those two things is good for them.”
The NBA has compiled player tracking statistics for three seasons, and Anthony has never looked more selfless than he has this year. He’s posted a high in potential assists—which assumes every player he sets up makes the shot—and Adjusted Assists per pass, a measurement of how many times Anthony's passes result in a bucket, free-throw attempt, or an assist for the receiving player. Those stats are in line with Anthony's career-high 4.2 assists per game.
Assists per game
In his years under Mike Woodson and Mike D’Antoni, one thing was universally understood about Anthony: With seconds remaining in a tie game, you were going to give him the rock, and get the hell away. Now, the “Law of Melo” has been abolished. A nation collectively gasped when Anthony passed to an open Jose Calderon for a potential game-winner against the Spurs on Jan. 8.
What Anthony did on that final possession is something he has done all season long—pass out of double teams. This was an occurrence that bordered on impossible in years past. Anthony gained a reputation for fighting through doubles and earning tough buckets. Even on some of the best teams he’s played for, Anthony has still insisted on shouldering the load instead of sharing the ball.
What made that approach more maddening is that Anthony has not only possessed the vision to anticipate an extra defender, but he has known exactly where to go with the ball. Now, he's making the play.
“I know that I’ve benefited tremendously from playing at the same time as him,” Robin Lopez said. “Melo just attracts so much attention, and he’s so talented at distributing the ball that it makes him a serious threat out there.”
Anthony’s awareness of his teammates, and newfound love for helping them prosper, have quieted those who clamored for him to be traded over the off-season. Anthony, 31, is fully embracing his role as a leader and mentor to a small, promising cluster of young talent. He has done the unthinkable; he has managed to fit himself into Phil Jackson’s rebuild.
“It’s huge, because he’s a willing passer and that helps out in the long run,” said Galloway. “The defense is definitely dictating that. They might be coming with a double team, or he just might be able to find us sometimes. He’s trying to get a good shot, but the defense is helping and he just finds us.”
Behind a refreshed and focused Anthony, the Knicks will continue to trend upward and climb the standings in the East in the coming years. Anthony’s story is changing, and he may one day achieve more team success in the NBA than most previously thought was possible in New York.