Anthony Davis Injury: Updates on Pelicans Star’s Wrist and Return

The New Orleans Pelicans have a big problem to deal with, literally and figuratively. Star center Anthony Davis left the team’s 88-84 preseason win over the Washington Wizards due to a sprained wrist.

The Pelicans’ Twitter account provided the news:

John Reid of NOLA.com confirmed Davis’ status for the remainder of the night:

The Pelicans have been an ascending franchise for the past two years. They totaled 21 wins in the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, got the No. 1 pick in the draft following that campaign and took Davis. He led the franchise to 27 wins as a rookie and helped boost that number to 34 last season. 

Injuries, unfortunately, are nothing new for Davis. He missed 33 games in his two campaigns with the Pelicans due to an assortment of ailments. All that time out of the lineup has kept the 6’10″ star from reaching the heights his raw talent suggests he can. 

Davis also gave the Pelicans an injury scare in their first preseason game against Miami on Oct. 4. According to Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com, the 21-year-old jammed the index finger on his left hand but was available to return:

It’s scary for the rest of the NBA to think that Davis can get better, because he improved in every category last year. His points per game increased from 13.5 to 20.8, blocks went from 1.8 to 2.8 and rebounds went from 8.2 to 10.0. 

Davis has been going virtually nonstop all year. He went from the NBA season to playing for Team USA during the FIBA World Cup, but he told Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune that he wasn’t feeling any fatigue coming into training camp:

I’m 21-years-old. If I’m getting tired right now then we got a problem. I love playing the game of basketball. Being over there (in Spain for the World Cup) kind of kept me in shape. Coach Monty (Williams) was over there and kept me working on my game and what I needed to work on this season.

I think they are going to do a great job of making sure I manage my body well, whether it’s season, preseason or training camp. But as far as right now, I’m ready to go.

There’s a chance the Pelicans can be a sleeper playoff contender in the Western Conference, but health is the big question. They were decimated by injuries to key players, including Davis, last year. If they are without their best player for any length of time, we will be talking about what might have been. 

This also brings up the questions about Davis’ durability. Despite his insistence that there was no fatigue, the Pelicans tried to manage him in the preseason to make sure he was ready to go full-bore at the start of the regular season.

It’s certainly not time to give up on the young stud, but concerns about his ability to stay on the court are legitimate. 

 

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Celtics trade Joel Anthony to Pistons for Will Bynum

The Boston Celtics have traded center Joel Anthony to the Detroit Pistons for guard Will Bynum. The Celtics made the move to reduce their books.  Anthony is set to make $3.8 million this season, while Bynum will earn $2.9 million, saving the team $900,000. Anthony, 32, was acquired by the Celtics from the Miami Heat in January. “We’re getting a physical, experienced player who has a lot of intangibles and a lot of basketball savvy and strength to help our front line,” Pistons general manager Jeff Bower said Friday of Anthony. It’s unclear if the Celtics will keep Bynum. He appeared in 56 games for the Detroit Pistons last season where he averaged 8.7 points, 1.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 18.8 minutes per game. The post Celtics trade Joel Anthony to Pistons for Will Bynum appeared first on Sports Glory.

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Anthony, Knicks beat 76ers 84-77 in preseason (Yahoo Sports)

SYRACUSE, NY - OCTOBER 14: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks drives to the basket past Luc Richard Mbah a Moute #12 of the Philadelphia 76ers during a preseason game at the Carrier Dome on October 14, 2014 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Carmelo Anthony scored 17 points in a successful return to his college home, and the New York Knicks beat the Philadelphia 76ers 84-77 in a preseason game on Tuesday night.


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Celtics Notes: Carmelo Anthony, Knicks Roll Past Tired C’s At Mohegan Sun

Brad Stevens isn’t a fan of the Boston Celtics’ preseason schedule. Saturday night was an example of why.
The Celtics had already played three games in five days when their matchup with the New York Knicks tipped of at Mohegan Sun Arena, and it showed. The Knicks jumped ahead midway through the second quarter and did not look back en route to a 96-80 win.
“You learn a lot when you play four games in six days,” head coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the game. “It’s been, I’d say, more positive than not, but we’ve got a lot of room to improve.”
Ball distribution was an issue for the Celtics, whose team total of 12 assists was well below their preseason average (for contrast, they dished out 29 in Friday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors). Boston’s shooting also came back to earth, as the C’s shot more than 10 percentage points lower (37.5 percent) in the loss than they did in their 20-point blowout of the Knicks three days earlier.
Take a spin though a few bullet points from the

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How Flip Saunders Can Reboot Anthony Bennett’s NBA Future

In a frenzy of NBA offseason excitement, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett has become somewhat of a forgotten man.

It was just 16 short months ago when all eyes were on Bennett, the first overall selection of the 2013 NBA draft.

In that time, Bennett has moved from Las Vegas to Cleveland and then to Minneapolis. He’s had to rehab from shoulder surgery, switch positions, endure a trade and deal with critics who’ve called him the worst pick of the past 20 years.

Following a summer trade from the Cavaliers to the Timberwolves, Bennett wasn’t even the second- or third-best player in the deal. Kevin Love, Andrew Wiggins and Thaddeus Young headlined the blockbuster three-team swap, with Bennett’s name casually thrown in.

Clearly, a fresh start was needed.

With the Timberwolves and president of basketball operations/head coach Flip Saunders, that’s precisely what Bennett will get.

Here’s how Saunders can turn around the young forward’s future and get Bennett back on his very promising track.

 

Rookie Problems

A lot of Bennett’s struggles on the court as a rookie were physical.

Bennett was noticeably out of shape during training camp with the Cavaliers. During the team’s annual Wine and Gold Scrimmage, Bennett often grasped at his sides and remained bent over during breaks, even after just a few times up and down the court.

It was obvious he wasn’t in good playing condition.

Much of this was out of his control, however.

Bennett was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum. He suffered from sleep apnea and asthma. Despite playing around 240 pounds while at UNLV, Bennett tipped the scales around 260 pounds during training camp.

While Bennett had to fight to get back in shape, he faced a new battle on the court: playing in a Mike Brown offense.

Brown’s offense was incredibly stagnant last season. Even with players like Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Luol Deng, the Cavs finished 22nd in both scoring and offensive rating under Brown.

Brown rarely drew up a play for Bennett or worked to utilize his strengths as an athletic big. Instead, Bennett was often forced to hang out around the three-point line, where he struggled at a 24.5 percent clip.

Bennett’s weight effected his play. His poor play effected his confidence. His low confidence led to passiveness on the court and played a major role in his disappointing season.

“I’m just thinking too much,” Bennett told Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer in Nov. 2013. “That’s what it is right now. I try not to mess up. There’s a lot of plays, a lot of things thrown at me. It’s not the same as college. One mistake is kind of crucial.”

Asked why he’s overthinking, Bennett told Boyer, “I really don’t know. If I had an idea, I’d change it. I just have no idea.”

Nothing, as it seemed, could go right for Bennett.

Even after hitting a stretch of good play in early February, Brown mysteriously benched Bennett for long stretches, killing what progress he had made. A left-knee injury in early March would all but end his miserable rookie year.

 

Offseason Transformation

Since the end of April, Bennett has been on a mission to silence critics and regain his promise as a No. 1 pick.

He’s had his tonsils and adenoids removed, underwent LASIK eye surgery and dropped 10 pounds thanks to a grueling training regimen.

Bennett spent three weeks training with Frank Matrisciano, known for his work with NBA players as well as Navy SEALS. Phil Ervin of Fox Sports North tells us more:

Thanks to hours spent traversing the Santa Monica Stairs with medicine balls in tow, sprints on the beach with 50-pound weights on his back or pails full of sand in his hands, climbing hills of sand while Matrisciano tried to hold him back with a harness and performing other unconventional workouts, Bennett dropped about 10 pounds and weighs 243, he said.

The work clearly paid off for Bennett, as he showed during the team’s media day.

With many of the ailments he faced a season ago now healed, will Bennett finally find success in the NBA?

 

Saunders’ Plan for Bennett

While Wiggins may have headlined the trade for Love, it was certainly no accident that Minnesota ended up with Bennett as well.

Saunders specifically brought Bennett on board because of his belief in the 21-year-old’s abilities.

“He’s like a canvas that hasn’t been painted yet,” Saunders said, via Ervin. “I like his commitment. He’s a willing learner, and he’s one of those guys that is going to continue to get better and better with us every day. He does do a lot of things some other guys can’t do.”

Saunders is absolutely right.

For all the knocks on Bennett, there were quite a few positives as well.

Bennett may be a tad undersized for a power forward at 6’8″ but has an impressive 7’1″ wingspan. A good athlete when healthy, Bennett is capable of running the floor, spotting up or throwing down dunks like this:

If Saunders truly wants to maximize Bennett’s potential, he’ll have the Wolves get out and run as much as possible.

Ball movement is also key. Under Brown with the Cavs, the offense didn’t flow very well, causing Bennett to settle for a lot of three-pointers or isolation plays.

Playing for David Blatt during the summer league in a system that emphasized ball movement, Bennett thrived. In four games, Bennett put up 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds while helping lead the Cavaliers to a 3-1 record, per NBA.com.

Saunders no doubt studied these games very carefully and has already come up with an offensive guideline for Bennett.

While Bennett has the smooth stroke of a three-point shooter, his range just simply isn’t there yet. Bennett will be at his best in the open court, in transition and off cuts to the basket.

Forcing him to shoot a large quantity of three-pointers right now would be a step back in Bennett’s development.

 

Role with Team

It was very clear that Bennett’s confidence was quite low all throughout last year.

The pressure was excruciating. Not only was he an unexpected first-overall pick, but Bennett was supposed to be a major piece of the Cavs‘ return to the postseason.

As Bennett’s stats plummeted, so too did his confidence and the Cavaliers’ record.

Now with the Timberwolves, expectations have been tapered.

Minnesota isn’t expected to make the playoffs. Bennett isn’t expected to become a savior in the Twin Cities. Actually, Saunders isn’t even projecting Bennett to earn a starting spot right away.

“He’s an NBA player. He’s a guy that’s going to be a rotation-type player,” Saunders told reporters.

Not only can Bennett have the luxury of coming off the bench, but he’ll have a great role model to study ahead of him in Young. All eyes will be on Wiggins, and plenty of easy baskets should come this season off Ricky Rubio’s pinpoint passes.

For Bennett, few situations could be better for him to build back his confidence.

While it may not have been the career path be originally envisioned, Bennett is in a good place now.

Thanks to a change of scenery, an improved physique and the tutelage of coach Saunders, Bennett can now successfully resume his journey toward become an NBA star.

 

Greg Swartz has covered the NBA for Bleacher Report since 2010. Connect with him on Twitter for more basketball news and conversation.

All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Timberwolves want Anthony Bennett to stop shooting threes

Second-year forward Anthony Bennett might fashion himself as a ‘stretch four,’ but the Minnesota Timberwolves have seen enough of their newly acquired big man hoisting up three-pointers.
Flip called Bennett biggest surprise of camp so far w/ his wide body underneath his ability to shoot it, but he doesn’t want those to be 3s
— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) October 2, 2014

Bennett attempted an insane four three-point field goals per game at summer league (where he impressed) and attempted one per game in Cleveland last season despite limited playing time. The rub: He failed to shoot above 25 percent in either of those instances.
It’s great to see Bennett has impressed the Minnesota coaching staff thus far. The kid has always had potential, and continues to look healthier by the day. But he will have to embrace the fact that his allure has always been his explosiveness underneath the hoop and not his ability to impersonate Craig Hodges.1
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Footnotes:

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Should Jabari Parker Follow the Carmelo Anthony Blueprint at Power Forward?

The Carmelo Anthony comparisons were inevitable. Jabari Parker shares that wide, strong 6’8″ frame and confident face-up scoring arsenal. 

Given the success Melo has had as a pro, at least individually, Parker should really think about following his lead—right into the post.

Over the last few years for the undersized New York Knicks, Anthony has played some of his best minutes at power forward. It’s a spot on the floor that calls for a shot selection better suited for his strengths and one that helps diminish his weaknesses.

Parker’s NBA position has been up for debate since his days in high school. Though he always had the polished offensive game that allowed him to play away from the rim, he’s just not fueled by the same quickness, bounce or blow-by explosiveness of your traditional NBA wing. 

And those athletic limitations had always weighed on his defensive outlook as a small forward. We saw it at Duke. He’s just not a guy who’s built to play with his butt low to the ground while seamlessly sliding from side to side. 

The NBA small forwards could eat him up in isolation. 

Parker will be a lot safer defending slower but bigger forwards closer to the basket. There’s a lot less lateral movement down there. Plus, he’s got the size, length and mass to bang with most 4s. 

He’s also a strong rebounder, having led the ACC and averaged 8.2 a game in Las Vegas Summer League. 

Despite the difference in size up front moving from one level to the next, Parker should be able to hold his own down low from a physical standpoint.  

But playing the 4 isn’t just about masking his weaknesses as a defender. It could also help him exploit some of his offensive versatility that would hopefully lead to a more efficient output. 

Parker’s bread and butter is his post game. Between the fadeaways, spin moves and power moves, he shot 55 percent on post-ups last season, according to Synergy Sports Technology via ESPN’s Ryan Grace.

As a 4, Parker’s game would start in the post, which he can complement with opportunistic perimeter scoring. That’s a better formula for Parker than starting at the wing, where his shooting range remains a work in progress and quickness is below average for a 3.

Sure, Parker can stick the pull-up, step-back and spot-up jumper, but he hasn’t shown he can with any consistency. You don’t want him leaning on those shots early on. At this stage, he’s a shot-maker—not a shooter. Even though he’s capable from 15-25 feet, it’s ultimately a win for the defense if it can keep him firing away from outside. And he’d be more vulnerable to falling into that trap as a wing.

It’s no different for Anthony, who tends to get jump-shot happy when handling the ball too much around the arc. 

While Parker has the skill set needed to play small forward, he’s going to have a tougher time executing against NBA-level 3s.

He’s got an average first step. He lacks that turn-the-corner burst, which ultimately led to a number of low-percentage jumpers his freshman year. If I’m Parker, I don’t want those quick NBA wings covering me. Hopefully the Kawhi Leonards and Trevor Arizas of the world end up guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo

If I’m Parker, I want to be matched up with slower power forwards who he’ll have a much easier time exploiting as a scorer in face-up situations. And given his ability to knock down outside shots and create off the dribble, the Bucks will likely use him as a stretch 4—a position that lets him play outside as well as in the paint—where he’s now an offensive mismatch against those heavy-footed bigs. 

Parker talked to Nancy Lieberman on Sirius XM NBA Radio (via Charles F Gardner, Journal Sentinel) regarding his feelings for the power forward position. 

As of right now I’m more comfortable with the 4 position. That’s where I played previously, before getting drafted, at Duke. I played a lot of 4. Even in high school. I know this is a different level.

But in coach’s style of play, it’s more a stretch 4. That’s where I like to play my game, even though I like to post up a little. Just being on the perimeter, setting screens and popping, that’s what we’ve been doing so far. That’s what coach Kidd has been anticipating me playing that role.

Sticking Parker at the 4 ultimately allows him to play to his strengths as an interior scorer and rebounder and away from his weaknesses as a perimeter defender and shooter. 

The obvious hope is that he can hang with the big boys down low and school them from outside. 

At the end of the day, it might be foolish to lock Parker in as strictly a 3 or a 4. It’s not a black-and-white debate. Against a team like the Wizards, the Bucks may be better off playing John Henson against Nene Hilario at the 4 and letting Parker do battle with the slower Paul Pierce on the wing. 

Or maybe small ball works for the Bucks, as it typically creates more spacing by having a guy who can stretch the floor playing alongside the center. 

The beauty of Parker’s versatility is that it should allow Milwaukee to pick and choose how to use him. 

Still, long term, it’s the power forward position that should lead to higher-percentage looks and less defensive trouble for Parker.  

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What Has to Happen for Anthony Davis to Win Ahead-of-Schedule MVP?

The laws of physics don’t apply to Anthony Davis. So why should we expect conventional rules governing space and time to determine when he wins his first MVP award?

Think about it: Davis defies everything we’ve come to expect from the normal NBA athlete—insofar as there’s anything normal about NBA athletes. He’s essentially a 6’10″ guard with all the impossible-to-coach instincts of a polished big man. He moves in smooth, controlled bursts, somehow loping and darting at the same time—always in fully coordinated control.

Per Adi Joseph of USA Today:

Davis announced himself as a superstar-in-the-making in the 2012 NCAA championship game for Kentucky, when he dominated the entire game despite finishing 1-for-10 with six points. He does it all, and his Team USA performance this summer showed that again. Players with Davis’ size, athleticism, versatility and sense for the court come along once in a generation, and he’s primed for a huge season.

He covers more distance than any player his size has a right to. Sorry, space.

At 21, he’s already the third-best player in the NBA. Time, you’ve just been made obsolete.

Davis doesn’t operate by any book we’ve read, and his developmental timetable is unlike any we’ve seen in recent memory. By rights, he shouldn’t be in the running for this year’s MVP, and according to the rules of historical precedent, he’s got no business winning the damn thing outright.

But Davis isn’t big on rules. And if a few things go right, he could shatter the mold by taking home the highest individual honor of the 2014-15 NBA season.

 

Stay Strong

As superhuman as Davis so often seems, it’s hard to believe he’s capable of being hurt. But AD missed 18 games in his rookie season and another 15 last year. Far from frail, Davis merely ran into bad luck—a sprained ankle here, a broken hand there.

Freak injuries for a freak of nature. Nothing to be worried about long term.

That’s good, because Davis must stay impeccably healthy this season if he’s to have a real shot at the MVP award. Bill Walton grabbed the 1977-78 MVP despite playing just 58 games, by far the fewest of any winner. By and large, though, you’ve got to play a ton to win.

Since 1955-56, the first year the MVP was awarded, winners have averaged 77.3 games played.

As is the case for so many grand designs ahead of an NBA season, health is the most important factor. If Davis loses a couple of weeks to another unlucky break, he can probably kiss his MVP chances goodbye.

 

Dance

As in, making the dance.

Beset by injury, the 2013-14 New Orleans Pelicans finished 15 games out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon (in addition to Davis) all missed significant time, making even fringe playoff contention impossible.

That has to change this season.

Per Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com, Davis said:

We’ve got great talent – we’ve got all of the pieces that we need. Now it’s about figuring everything out. Our coaching staff does a great job of doing that. When we have training camp and preseason, we’re going to use that to make sure when that first game comes around, we get the ball rolling. … I had a great time over there in Spain. Now it’s time to get back to work.

More than half the teams in the league make the postseason, which means, relatively speaking, it’s not that hard to crack the playoffs in the NBA. For that reason, MVP voters have historically ignored players whose teams fall short of that modest standard.

Only once, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the 1975-76 MVP, has the award gone to a player who didn’t lead his squad to postseason action. The other 58 winners all made the playoffs.

The road will be brutally tough in the West, as the Pelicans, now little more than a dark-horse club, can’t realistically expect to leap over the conference’s elite. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers are all far superior to the Pellies, even if everything goes perfectly for Davis and Co.

That still leaves the rest of the West’s playoff teams from last year—the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks—as roadblocks. Toss in the Phoenix Suns, who were a playoff team in everything but name a year ago, and it’s going to be extremely tough for Davis and New Orleans to elbow their way into the picture.

But, if the Pelicans come together, avoid the injuries that crushed them a year ago and get major defensive production from new addition Omer Asik, the postseason isn’t out of the question.

In order to get Davis some real MVP consideration, though, New Orleans is going to have to push its way up toward the fifth or sixth seed, which can only happen if…

 

Davis Goes Statistically Bonkers

A note about Abdul-Jabbar winning MVP without making the playoffs: He averaged 27.7 points, 16.9 rebounds and five assists while shooting 52.9 percent from the field.

There’s your baseline, Brow. Get to work.

Realistically, Davis must score at least 25 points per game and grab 12 or 13 rebounds per contest to get the kind of notice he’ll need (and drive the Pellies to the playoffs). In addition, he’ll need to notch a few game-winners, preferably clustered together over a couple of weeks in order to build some buzz.

He’ll need a bunch of 40-20 games, ideally against Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki or another similarly high-profile opponent. Remember, Davis is at a disadvantage. He plays in a nearly invisible market, will be on national TV just 10 times and still isn’t recognized by casual fans as a superstar.

Sticking it to some better-known names will be important.

In addition to improving on his previous numbers, Davis must show new growth. He’ll need to crank up his assists, moving from 1.8 last year into the three-four range. He’ll have to show better efficiency, add some off-the-dribble moves (which we saw during the FIBA World Cup, if only in flashes) and wow us with increased range.

Davis is already capable of doing things few players his size have ever done, especially on defense. If he wants an MVP, he’ll have to do even more.

 

Contender Slippage

Unfortunately, no matter how great Davis is this year or how successful the Pelicans are, the MVP status quo is going to be hard to shake up.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the league’s premier talents, and it’s tough to envision one of them (let alone both) moving down a peg.

I suppose it’s possible Durant’s numbers diminish a bit if the Oklahoma City Thunder rest him periodically in hopes of preserving his legs for a title run. We’ve seen Durant wear down in the past, especially during the playoffs. So such an approach could be in the cards.

But even if KD sees fewer minutes, there’s always a chance he’ll enjoy an efficiency spike, which would appeal to a voting pool coming around to the value of analytics.

James might see his statistics decline with his new supporting cast. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love around—both of whom are high-volume offensive players—it’s possible LBJ will simply defer more frequently. We should also expect him to play fewer minutes as he enters his 30s this season.

Of course, it’s also possible James will reach an entirely new level of productivity with his new running mates. He has to set an example for his team’s younger stars, and strategically, he’s never been on a team with players as capable of drawing defensive attention as Irving and Love. 

James could be in for a statistical explosion. And if he is, Davis will find it very difficult to break through for his first MVP.

Nobody said this would be easy.

 

Throwing Out Convention

Is the smart money on Davis collecting an ahead-of-schedule MVP this season?

Of course not.

But it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility either.

Davis already defies so many of the conventions with which we’ve become familiar—positional, developmental, eyebrow trimming—that one more outside-the-norm achievement wouldn’t be all that strange.

With a whole career of shattering expectations ahead of him, Davis shouldn’t be feeling any urgency to win an MVP this season. There’ll be time for that down the line.

But if everything breaks right, he might just fast-track this entire process.

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Anthony back for ‘unfinished business’ in New York (Yahoo Sports)

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Carmelo Anthony knows the easiest path to a title probably isn’t in New York.

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How Carmelo Anthony Can Move Up on the NBA Superstar Ladder

Evolution isn’t a concept often associated with established NBA superstars who, more than a decade in, are usually done developing, their career arcs having peaked, their ceilings realized and reached.

Entering his 12th season, New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony, fresh off a fate-forming summer, doesn’t cart that sense of security. His growth as a player and person is ongoing, its continuation the offshoot of New York’s culture conversion and, per ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard, Anthony’s self-cheapening perception of his superstar standing:

Superstars aren’t usually considered underrated, hence them being referred to as superstars. The mere notion of Anthony being undervalued is difficult to understand—simultaneously ironic, cryptic and paradoxical—considering how high he already sits.

Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal identified him as the league’s sixth-best player heading into 2014-15. His issue with how he’s viewed, then, is actually a conflict of unfulfilled self-worth. Anthony believes he’s better than advertised and, therefore, capable of making the necessary adjustments and improvements that allow him to be seen in the same light through which he apparently sees himself.

 

Keep On Keepin‘ On

Any climb this substantial, this late into a player’s career begins with maintenance.

Anthony is already a top-10 player—top seven, even—for a reason. Rising through the superstar ranks won’t take a full-scale reinvention. Much of it is predicated on him remaining the best version of himself. 

That implies a repeat of last season in this case.

Despite the Knicks winning only 37 games, Anthony played at a high level. He ranked second in scoring (27.4 points per game), seventh in player efficiency rating (24.4) and 13th in win shares (10.7). The latter is especially impressive, since it basically means he represented 28.9 percent of New York’s victories on his own.

There was also movement in the way he scored.

Isolations were still a big part of his offensive bag. Too big. But he emerged as a more dangerous off-ball shooter.

Of the 246 NBA players who appeared in at least 25 games and averaged at least one catch-and-shoot three-point attempt a night, Anthony finished 25th in conversion rate, drilling 44 percent of his deep balls. For added context, consider Golden State Warriors long-range assassin Klay Thompson nailed 44.2 percent of his treys in the same situations.

Shooting such a high percentage on spot-up opportunities lends hope to the theory that Anthony can thrive within a ball-movement-heavy system, like the triangle offense New York is implementing. If he consistently puts in shots without dominating the rock, it becomes that much harder—so, almost impossible—to defend him.

The impact he had as a passer is not to be overlooked, either. 

While Anthony averaged just 3.1 assists per game, he also averaged 6.2 assists opportunities. Teammates shot 50 percent from the floor off his passes. The Knicks hit 48.2 percent of their field-goal attempts off passes overall, so it’s a noticeable difference.

This, too, offers optimism when it comes to Anthony’s performance within the triangle. The system doesn’t mandate certain plays; it dictates positioning and spacing, and opportunities emerge from there. 

Aspects of Anthony’s game are already triangle-friendly. As for the rest of it, well, that’s where the climb begins.

 

Ascension Through Adaptation

“I want (Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher) to know I’m in,” Anthony confessed at the Knicks’ media day, per the New York Daily NewsFrank Isola. “I’m embracing this challenge.”

Challenge is the perfect word for what he faces. For all he’s done, and for how much potential he has within the triangle, Anthony is not above adaptation.

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are quickly mentioned when it comes to Anthony’s role in this famed system. They both flourished under Jackson’s watchful eye, frequently attempting more than 20 shots—something Anthony has done just four times in 11 years—and posting gaudy scoring totals.

But they were both more distinguished distributors. Averaging five-plus assists per game wasn’t uncommon. It was the standard. And like The Wall Street Journal‘s Chris Herring explains, Anthony, who has never handed out more than 3.8 dimes, isn’t a preeminent passer:

The real thing to watch is whether Anthony can move the ball quickly enough to help the Knicks’ offense flow. (Last season, according to Synergy Sports, Anthony went one-on-one and slowed down games more frequently than any player in the NBA.) If he can, particularly with sweet-shooting guard in Jose Calderon added to the roster, it figures to pay dividends. …

Anthony, a less-talented passer than Jordan and Bryant, will need to make adjustments in this area, specifically with his decisiveness and willingness to pass the ball.

Morphing into this regularly willing passer will be out of character. Anthony has only ever been a situational facilitator. His teammates connect on shots he sets them up for, but he seldom sets them up.

Mike D’Antoni briefly tried turning Anthony into a point forward during their time together. That process backfired spectacularly. Though the triangle is different—it doesn’t require a primary ball-handler, so to speak—the ball-movement principles are similar.

And that means Anthony must take action for the first time. Herring adds that he’s talked triangle shop with Jordan, Bryant and even Scottie Pippen, but advice doesn’t define success. This is all about Anthony, playing within the ebb and flow of a system, breaking away from 11-year-old proclivities that have come to define him.

Not even his defensive displays can stand pat. The Knicks were a defensive disaster last season. They ranked 24th in points allowed per 100 possessions and finished with the Association’s worst pick-and-roll prevention, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).

Seth Rosenthal at Posting & Toasting says Anthony called the team’s defensive deficiencies “unacceptable” at media day, while (apparently) citing advanced metrics to support his claim. Kudos to him for finding the “Advanced Statistics” tab on one of the many existing stat-stuffed websites, but the Knicks’ overall performance wasn’t any worse than his own.

Defense has long been his greatest flaw, even more than his passing volume. He ranked 65th in defensive win shares (2.7) last year, behind noted sieves such as Kevin Love (3.7), Stephen Curry (4.0) and Carlos Boozer (4.3).

Collective defensive success helps boost those individual measurements, but you get the point: Anthony has never been a staunch defender. Even when the Knicks ranked fifth in defensive efficiency for 2011-12, he barely cracked the top 40 in defensive win shares.

All of which brings his effort under question. 

Watch Anthony from time to time and there are glimpses of a tenacious, effective defender. They’re infrequent and fleeting, but they exist…when he wills them into existence.

During an extensive breakdown of Anthony’s defensive woes, Bleacher Report’s Kelly Scaletta reached an identical conclusion with regards to his effort: 

First, in each case Anthony’s eyes are so locked onto the ball, he becomes oblivious to the fact that his man has leaked out for an open three. In the last instance, Shane Battier of the Miami Heat was camped out for nine full seconds without Anthony even once glancing in his direction!

Second, when Anthony does finally pay attention to his man, it’s too late. And just in case it’s not, he basically lopes towards the shooter with a halfhearted hand raised in the air.

Close-outs killed Anthony last season. Nearly 47 percent of the baskets he allowed came from spot-up shooters. Zeroing in on the ball left him adrift. Far too often he was out of position and unable to contest what became wide-open shots.

Having depleted their defensive corps even further by trading Tyson Chandler—not to mention housing a healthy Andrea Bargnani—the Knicks need a more engaged Anthony. And so does Anthony himself.

Two-way recognition is typically part and parcel of superstardom. That Anthony has climbed so high already, despite one-sided focus, reinforces his transcendent value on offense. But if he wants to climb higher, if he wishes to join the company of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and even Kevin Durant, individual defensive reform is paramount.

 

Finishing Touches

Everything Anthony is after falls on him.

Free agency gave him the chance to leave. He could have spurned the Knicks; he could have signed with a team on the fast track to title contention. 

Instead, he stayed. And not only did he stay and agree to shoulder the fate of this rebuilding operation by default, but he added another dynamic to his return by declaring—inadvertently or not—that his ceiling hasn’t leveled off.

If he believes he can headline the triangle, if he believes he’s underrated, he’ll have to change. And then he’ll have to win—not a championship necessarily, but more than he’s ever won with the Knicks.

Then, and only then, will his aging star rise further, catapulting him past some of those he trails, pinning him to points and prominence he hasn’t yet known.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference, NBA.com and Synergy Sports (subscription required) unless otherwise cited.

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