2015-16 Season

Knicks 103, Timberwolves 95: Smooth Carmelo


My wife and I welcomed our second baby boy on January 8th. It’s great and wonderful and we’re lucky – really, I cannot believe how blessed I am – but until Saturday night, I hadn’t ventured down to Target Center since we welcomed our new arrival. Since my wife is a saint, she agreed to watch our rambunctious two year old and six-week-old poop machine all by her lonesome so I could sneak away to catch the game.

As I skipped along the skyway from C Ramp to the Target Center, happy to cover my first NBA game in a month and a half, I had one thought:

I’m not sure there are two players in the league I enjoy watching more than the first and fourth overall picks in the 2015 draft. Towns and Porzingis are the front-runners to win Rookie of the Year, have yet to turn 21, and encapsulate the future of big men in the NBA. They can step out to the three point line, protect the rim, and have ball-handling skills most centers only dream of.

All I wanted was to watch KAT and 3-6 Latvia battle it out for 30-to-36 minutes, like so:

But that’s not what happened. Porzingis got into foul trouble and only logged 11:51 of playing time on the night. Towns held up his end of the bargain and was terrific, putting up 24 points, pulling out 8 rebounds, and dishing out 4 assists in 41 minutes, but the majority of his teammates left him hanging, as evidenced by the egregious conduct of Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad below:

Like, what the hell, Wiggs and Bazzy? Their one job on the first of two free throws, when they’re standing along the paint like that, is to slap hands with their teammate at the charity stripe. That’s it. That is literally it. 

The letdown was fitting, because it set the tone for the rest of the game. Ricky Rubio was pretty good, racking up 16 assists and 3 steals in his 35 minutes, and Shabazz Muhammad (absent-minded failures to high-five teammates aside) tried his damndest off the bench, scoring 20 points on 11 shots in 32 minutes, but it didn’t help much in the end (more on him later). Gorgui couldn’t box out Robin Lopez to save his life; the Knicks’ center set the tone early by destroying the Wolves’ front line in the opening period, scoring 16 of his 26 points, 6 of which came on offensive rebounds. Zach LaVine was completely lost on defense, with one particularly funny example. An inadvertent whistle blew as New York began to ran a baseline out of bounds play, but the ball hadn’t been inbounded, so they were able to re-set. As the Knicks set up for their second attempt to inbound the ball, they ran the exact same action, and LaVine, although he’d seen the play once already, still didn’t figure it out, giving up a wide open shot at the top of the key. Andrew Wiggins started woefully slow, and his solid-looking final line (24 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals) was fluffed up by garbage time heroics. Kevin Martin and Tayshaun Prince were more or less invisible. Damjan Rudez communicated well on defense and even stuck close to ‘Melo for a few possessions, but in the end was more or less inconsequential in his 3:53 of action.

What kept the game from being a total dud (which would have been disappointing, because like I said, I just had a baby and I don’t get out much, so when I escape the house it has to COUNT, DAMMIT) were the theatrics of Carmelo Kyam Anthony. Playing him 41 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back probably wasn’t wise (way to go, Chief Ramdangle), but selfishly speaking, I was happy to see so much of ‘Melo. I’ve written before about LeBron’s sheer power, and how watching him dribble at the top of the key before attacking the rim is like listening to that moment of silence before a tornado strikes. I’ve written about the awe-insipiring, lightning-quick, jaw-dropping speed and agility of Russell Westbrook. Watching Carmelo when he’s locked in is a different experience. He sizes up opponents with an endless series of jab steps, triple threat positions, and hesitation dribbles, all to ease his defender onto his heels (fearing the drive). Once he’s gained enough space, he quickly glides into the air, gently snapping off one of the prettiest jump shots in basketball. Check his shot chart for where he did the majority of his damage:

Melo shot chart

Minnesota threw Tayshaun Prince, Andrew Wiggins, Damjan Rudez, and Shabazz Muhammad at ‘Melo. Prince was okay, Wiggins was up and down, Rudez handled it fine for the few possessions he was asked to do it, but Bazzy got worked. As Anthony backpedaled back to his defensive spot after a few of his makes over Muhammad, he seemed to smirk at the Wolves’ bench, as if to let them know the gentleman assigned to guard him really wasn’t up to the task. 

Watching Carmelo come down the floor and isolate against his man got me thinking – it wasn’t wrong to be excited to see Towns and Porzingis, two players who going to be big parts of the future of the league, just like it isn’t wrong to wish the Wolves would shoot more threes (12 for the night) or know the mathematical reality that isolation possessions are some of the least efficient in basketball. But the lesson I learned is that the future is still the future, and no matter what anyone thinks of Carmelo Anthony, watching him in the present, when he is locked in, is pretty damn fun, even if (especially when?) he’s sizing up his man and finessing his way into a nylon-tickling jumper or slithering to the hoop.

One final thing – Jim and Dave, I’d like to hear some more stories about the two of you clubbing back in the day. This an acceptable replacement for “yard work” talk. Thank you.

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5 thoughts on “Knicks 103, Timberwolves 95: Smooth Carmelo

  1. To me what happened in this blowout was pretty simple. Sure, LaVine is going to get lost on D a lot. Yeah, Wiggins and Shabazz seem to have attitude problems developing. Yup, the Wolves still have a hard time playing in the groove they need to be in, with the right fundamentals a whole game at a time. All that taken into account, what the HELL is Sam Mitchel’s problem? He finally got to the line-up that makes sense, gives us the best chance to win puts everyone in the correct positions and that fans have been waiting for him to stumble on all season. And then he abandons it. We got killed from minute one in this game. But there was no LaVine to give us a punch on offense. He came in as a normal bench guy and played some point (later, as Sam realized the game was out of control, he tried to keep Zach off the ball more). I recall Sam saying something like he’d start Prince situationally, and I cringed (this coming from Mr steady line-ups are the most important thing, until I decide it’s not randomly). Clearly that’s what he did here. He saw Carmelo coming and panicked and decided he needed Prince. Well, how’s that go for you Sam, 30 and 11 later? I think he also made the same mistake he’s committed several times this season—when he had the ‘right’ lineup, he put in Tyus as the back up. Look, Tyus is a guy we hope to be our back up PG, but he’s not ready yet. He’s just not. So that undercut otherwise good lineups. And I think he feared that again. Instead of playing Miller, the obvious solution, he went to his old January death spiral lineup.

    Now, I get that we are short some bigs now. But in this game we got murdered on the glass. I first must say this is what is holding back Dieng from being our guy next to Towns going forward. You just can’t lay total eggs on both sides of the ball like that—ever, but certainly not steadily. Deing is like 4-5 games of good play then one or two total eggs. Towns never does that. He works through tough games. Dieng was terrible. He made Lopez look like Hakeem or something. So, yeah, we were short bigs and Dieng was playing awful and we were getting killed on the glass. OK? I know Payne isn’t very good, but he didn’t play at all. If Sam took the cartoonish deficit on the glass seriously, he would have put those fresh legs of Payne’s in for some minutes. It’s like he doesn’t want a solution. Like he’d rather ‘prove a point’ with his players than win or compete (against a team that just dropped it’s last 7). Guess what, you also ‘prove a point’ to fans, and it isn’t a good one.

  2. What’s ironic is that I wasn’t able to watch the game but kept checking my phone for the box score. When I viewed the starting line up I just shook my head in disbelief. I literally said the same thing you did.. “what the he’ll is Sam Mitchell doing.” That guy just doesn’t have a clue, and in my humble opinion, he shouldn’t even be considered for the head coaching job next season.

  3. I’m just gonna leave this here:
    Melo in the first quarter when Prince was on the floor: 0-1, 1 foul drawn, 1 point. Melo in the third quarter when Prince was on the floor: 1-5, 2 points, 1 turnover. 27 of his 30 points came in the 27 minutes that Prince wasn’t on the floor with him, along with 17 of his shot attempts. Prince didn’t play in the 4th when Melo had 10, he wasn’t on the floor at the same time as Melo when he got 9 in the second, and almost all of his points in the 1st and 3rd came after Prince was subbed out.

    FFS, it’s not hard to look up this information and confirm whether your bias against Prince and Mitchell was true or false in this instance. I’m not a fan of either, but sports are one place where stats can override a lot of bias if they’re used. That’s not even mentioning that part of his value is not putting Wiggins on Melo for 40 minutes, since that’s probably as tough a matchup for Wiggins physically as any in the league.

    I only watched the 4th because the 1st 3 quarters were spoiled before starting the recording, but Rubio’s energy and fight in that quarter were a great form of leadership. I forget who brought up this point on Twitter, but it’s amazing how casual fans supposedly love the guys who hustle and play hard every minute they’re on the floor yet don’t see what Rubio does in that area to go along with all of his other skills. He leads by example, and that gets overlooked.

    1. FFS, I waste enough time commenting on here, I’m not going to go look up advanced stats to every blowout game to pad arguments.

      About this specific point: It doesn’t matter that Prince defended well. I know he’s a good defender. Carmelo still got 30 points and 11 boards, and we started the game in an offensive hole that could have been helped by having LaVine in the starting lineup. I read this two ways–one, we can’t keep playing for defense in the starting lineup. It’s not working. We aren’t scoring well enough to keep pace, even in games were we are defending. I like Prince and I like defense, but starting him has not been working. We can still use him some, but I think it is wise to limit his minutes and come out with a more potent starting unit. When we start bleeding too many points we can sub a fresh Prince (haha) in. Second, going forward I believe LaVine will be a starter and best off the ball. Lately, we’ve played better with LaVine staring at 2. And the guys do well with some continuity, particularly the really young guys. Ping ponging between lineups do to daily match ups ruins continuity for the players and makes it harder for them to succeed. It also shows a lack of confidence that the players feel and other teams sense. Carmelo smelled blood. It’s also a domino effect. Wiggins was touted as a defender who’s offense would come along during the draft. He’s going to have to learn to defend all kinds of guys. I think we need to stop babying him in the regard. But no matter how far along Wiggins is on D and no matter what he weighs now, he has the skills of a small forward more than a shooting guard–he’s got a bad handle and barely makes threes. LaVine has the skills of a shooting guard. He’s been playing better off the ball. Starting Prince helps puts two guys out of position (in my opinion) and keeps a guy we want starting from doing so. It also keeps us from having a vet defender on the bench and that seems to be where we need more defensive help on most nights. I wonder what lineup we’ll see tonight. My bet (or desire) is a reversion to LaVine starting as the 2 (because Boston doesn’t have a star). But who knows.

      Ha, yeah I think Rubio is also under appreciated by the media and basketball ‘experts’. He brings a lot of skill, smarts and effort to every game. He plays like he’s thrilled to be in the NBA every game. I’m worried Wiggins is playing less and less like he’s thankful to be in the NBA every game.

      These are all simply my reads and opinions, but clearly this team has a lot of issues that go beyond the players not having enough talent and experience. In talent, our future is bright and out present should be better. If I was playing under Sam I think I’d be frustrated and underachieving too.

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