All By Myself
So far, the hero of the NBA playoffs opening day is Carmelo Anthony
who scored 36 points, leading his Knicks to an 85-78, Game One victory over the Boston Celtics. Knicks’ fans can begin rolling their eyes now, but I’d like to point out that Anthony needed 35 offensive possessions to cobble together those 36 points. Criticizing Anthony for freely spending offensive possessions in the passionate pursuit of points has become old hat, and in looking through his own personal record book this game doesn’t even approach some of his historically inefficient performances. But his relative inefficiency in this game was not nearly as troubling as the way it manifested. Of the 35 possessions Anthony used in Game One, 20 of them came on isolations. The majority of those isolations resulted in mid-range jumpers. Here’s a sampling of what I’m talking about.
In Anthony’s defense at least one of those shots was taken up against the shot clock and most featured little, if any, movement from his teammates. But even on the one made jumper I included we see some of the old, familiar elements of his offensive game – a pounding dribble, jab-steps a-plenty, and a culminating jumpshot with a hand in his face. Anthony is a tremendously talented offensive player and if some crazy, hypothetical, life-0r-death situation called for choosing a player to make a contested jumper, you’d be a fool not to have him on your short list. But that skill is simply not the foundation of an efficient team offense.
This season the Knicks pushed the boundaries of their offensive potential, taking a ton of high-value spot-up three-pointers. Those high-quality perimeter looks were largely created by an increased emphasis on the pick-and-roll. The ‘Melo Medusa’ possessions, where Anthony isolated at the elbow, turning his four teammates to stone, were no longer the offensive framework. According to mySynergySports the Knicks used just 15.8% of their offensive possessions on isolations this season. 23.8% were finished by spot-up shooters and 21.0% were used on the pick-and-roll, split between the screener and the ball-handler.
And then we have Game One. In case you don’t have a calculator handy, 20 isolations on 35 possessions works out to 57.1%. Anthony attempted just four spot-up jumpshots, which works out to 11.4% of his possessions. The Knicks as a whole used 25.8% of their possessions on spot-ups, but also 33.0% on isolations. Just 16.5% were finished by pick-and-roll screeners and ball-handlers. The Celtics’ defense disrupted the Knicks, giving them a not so subtle shove right off their game plan. But the Celtics can’t take all the credit for the Knicks offensive struggles. I hate to repeat every basketball writer who has ever appeared on the internet, but when Anthony is allowed to isolate so often he usually settles into the mid-range jumpshot and offensive stagnation results. It was true in Denver and it’s certainly been true in New York.
Watching the shots in the clip above you have to feel that the Celtics would rate every single one of those defensive possessions as a job well done. For all the good work he did in Game One, Anthony repeatedly bailed out the Celtics’ defense by declining to put pressure on them and allowing a single defender to keep him out of the paint. The sad thing is that he has nine years of NBA experience which should be reminding him that this style of attack doesn’t sustain.
This type of offense might be enough to get them past the Celtics, but Indiana and Miami will eat it alive. The Knicks aren’t a strong enough defensive team to make a sustained playoff push with the isolation slug-fest offense they relied on the past two seasons. A playoff victory is nothing to sneeze at and the Knicks absolutely deserved to come away with that win. But if they hope to start piling on top of this first one they’re going to need to get back to the offensive recipe that carried them during the regular season.