Catch on the left block. Jab step. One dribble. Step-back. Rinse. Repeat. Catch on the left block. Jab step. One dribble. Step-back. Rinse. Repeat.
Carmelo Anthony has made a superstar’s career off that series of moves. Even on the other side of 30 and with years of subpar teams, Melo still gets buckets.
The elite scoring mentality has worked, too. Ten trips to the Playoffs, eight-time All-Star, a pair of max-contracts, a signature line with Jordan Brand and the keys to the New York Knicks. Also one of the best players to ever suit up for Team USA.
Yeah, Anthony has had a good run as a shoot-first superstar. But he still ain’t got no rings. He still ain’t been to the Finals.
Now at 31, it looks like buddy is maturing beautifully. And it started with the youngest player on the Knicks.
The Kristaps train left the station early this season. He’s already gotten a cover, he’s fourth in jersey sales, blah, blah, blah. But all the fanfare and put-back dunks wouldn’t mean anything if Young Taps wasn’t actually playing well and couldn’t be trusted with the rock. The teammate who has assisted Kristaps the second most, behind point guard Jose Calderon?
“All the facets of the game, he’s capable of being really good at,” Knicks’ coach Derek Fisher said after an overtime win against Utah at the Garden. “Scoring, rebounding and sharing the ball. And he showed a level of trust in his teammates that is required for us to be successful. That builds a trust, as a unit, that we’re gonna need down the stretch in these games.”
That trust, halfway through the season, has developed at a rapid pace. Especially because this is, yet again, a new team in New York. Since Carmelo came to the Knicks in February 2011, he’s played with 71 different players.
Plus, as people around the team have mentioned, this isn’t a squad full of Melo’s boys anymore. All the friends (JR, Iman, Chauncey, Tyson, Amar’e) that came to the Knicks because of him are gone. Yet, Carmelo has never played a better all-around game than he is right now.
“I think the interesting thing for Melo is that there is this land of opportunity that he has not reached yet and that’s what we’re here to do,” Fisher said. “He’s a prolific scorer, no doubt about it. But I think the other facets of the game that he’s capable of dominating as well, those are the parts that will elevate him and elevate our team.”
So Carmelo has transitioned to firing cross-court bullet feeds out of double-teams and lending his tried-and-true advice to the players that will be in his position one day.
“Melo is setting a great example for us, how strong mentally we have to be in those situations. Find that energy, push through those overtimes and get those wins,” Porzingis said after beating the Jazz in OT.
“Carmelo Anthony is a good basketball player,” Jazz coach Quinn Synder said. “There’s a little bit of sarcasm there because he’s a great offensive player. When he’s scoring like that, when he’s that physical…I don’t think we gave him easy baskets. It just puts a lot of pressure on us. I though he hurt us most with his passing.”
The evolution of the new Melo is a hyper-conscious, reactionary player. He no longer has his mind made up when he catches the ball on the block. Instead, he’s looking, hunting the next best look, which has translated to a team that people in the organization think is ready to turn the corner.
“Because of his ability to score the ball so well, he’s seeing more,” Fisher said. “As we’ve improved our spacing, who’s open is more obvious. He’s more a willing passer than he’s given credit for.”
Last month against the Wolves, he racked up 9 assists, in a game where Porzingis came up huge in the clutch, thanks in large part to catching passes from No. 7. That night Melo also pulled down 15 rebounds, to go with 20 points. He’s also had multiple games with 8, 7 and 6 helpers.
His patience, with the ball, and with the youngins’ has been un-Melo. We haven’t seen this version of him. But as if we could ever forget how lethal he is when he does decide to shoot, he just passed Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list.