Carmelo Anthony spent his Tuesday and Wednesday evenings pouring in 90 points on 53 shots, which is a pretty nice way to spend your evenings, if you ask me. Melo is no stranger to scoring binges; he previously scored 40+ points in consecutive games in October 2009, and he’s always been a player capable of piling up points very, very quickly. What was unusual about these last two games, though, is that he went about getting his points in completely different ways in each game.
Against the LeBron and Wade-less Miami Heat on Tuesday, 12 of Carmelo’s 18 baskets came when he acted as an off ball scoring threat (i.e. spot-ups or off screen plays). Of those 12 baskets, 10 didn’t even require Melo to take a dribble. He went 10-for-12 on such shots for the evening. Only four of Carmelo’s baskets against the Heat came via isolation, one came via post-up and one more came when he was the ball handler in a pick-and-roll.
It was mostly a catch-and-shoot clinic, with a dash of one-on-one play thrown in for posterity’s sake. Let’s take a look at a few clips. This one’s from early in the first quarter.
Here, the Knicks have Pablo Prigioni bring the ball up the court, while Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler are stacked near the left block, and Melo and Iman Shumpert mirror them near the right block. Shump and Felton criss-cross and come jetting off screens from Chandler and Carmelo, respectively, at the same time, giving Prigioni the option to choose whichever side he wants. This isn’t your typical Knicks set, what with Melo playing decoy in the early part of it and all.
But as soon as Prigioni chooses Felton, it becomes clear that Carmelo has already ducked into post position. Normally in this situation, Melo would stick his hand straight up in the air and just wait for Felton to enter the ball. We saw this against the Heat ad nauseum in last year’s playoffs. Melo standing near the block or the elbow with his hand held high, waiting for 8, 10, 15 seconds as a Knick point guard struggled to throw an entry pass.
But when Haslem fronts Melo in the post, as the Heat so often did in the playoffs, Melo quickly clears out, motioning for Chandler to come set a screen for Felton. This achieves its desired effect.
The Heat love to trap pick-and-roll ball handlers and hope their back line defenders can chuck the roller and still recover back to their own man in time to contest a shot. That’s exactly what happens here. Norris Cole and Chris Bosh trap Felton at the top of the key, while Haslem slides down to tag Chandler on the roll, leaving Melo momentarily open on the wing. Felton delivers the pass, and Melo’s trigger is quick enough to make the three before Haslem recovers.
If the first clip here looks familiar, it should. It’s a modified version of the set the Knicks ran on their first half court possession of the game in 14 of their first 20 games this season. The goal is to get Melo a quick jumper to open the game from the left elbow.
Just a quick aside here: Getting Melo an elbow jumper to open the game, get him in rhythm, etc. makes sense. By all means, get your best scorer going early on. Why that play is called for a shot from the left elbow, where Melo is a career 38.1% shooter, rather than the right elbow, from which he shoots 43.7%, is somewhat odd. The only season in the last five in which Carmelo’s shot better from the left elbow than the right was last year’s lockout-shortened, injury-riddled campaign, and the sample was incredibly small. Even accepting from the supposition that it’s theoretically easier for a right-handed shooter to align his body to shoot when moving left than it is when moving right, it seems like this play should probably be run to the other side of the court.
The second clip sees him come off the stack for a quick catch-and-shoot from the corner on a baseline out of bounds play. He was already on fire (10-for-13 from the field with 29 of New York’s 52 points) at this point, so it was a pretty good idea to get him open for another quick jumper especially with a double screen to give him some extra space.
Let’s take a look at another play from the first quarter, this time one where Melo again changes strategy to beat the front, only he isn’t the beneficiary. Previously when Haslem fronted him in the post, Carmelo cleared out to the corner and motioned for Chandler to set Felton a screen on the wing. This time, Melo goes and sets the screen himself. (Though it’s in an incredibly small sample, Carmelo has been the league’s 2nd most efficient scorer as a roll man this season with 1.5 points per play, per mySynergySports)
Haslem, as the is the practice for Heat bigs, jumps out and traps Felton as he comes around the screen. Carmelo – as he most often does – slips his pick entirely, heading for the deep wing area he likes so much.
You can probably guess the result of this play just based on this screenshot, from before the first pass is even thrown. Cole and Haslem trapping the ball handler means 1. Mike Miller has to slide toward the middle to cut off dribble penetration in case Felton beats the trap and 2. Bosh has to leave Chandler under the rim to make sure Melo doesn’t get a wide open jumper. Bosh abandoning Chandler means Rashard Lewis has to slide over from the corner to protect against the lob.
When Felton is able to turn the corner and get to a spot just above the free throw line, Miller is there waiting for him, but that leaves Prigioni open on the wing.
Before Miller can even recover to contest a potential Prigioni jumper, Pablo has already swung the ball around to Shumpert in the corner. Lewis, though, took just a half-step in the wrong dirction (toward Prigioni, rather than to the corner to shut down any potential Shumpert shot) and it leaves more than enough space for Shump to get off the shot. The second-year guard/forward generally isn’t considered much of a three-point threat, but he’s shooting 42.4% from deep this season (after opening his career shooting 26.5% on threes in his first 29 games, during which he mostly played point guard, he’s at 39.3% in his last 67 games since his move to a more natural off the ball spot) on a healthy 4.6 attempts per 36 minutes, and his percentage is unsurprisingly even better from the corners.
After toying with the Heat via off ball action, Melo changed it up last night against the Hawks. Of his 17 baskets, 11 came via isolation or post-up, while two on spot-ups, one of a screen, one via offensive rebound, one on a cut and one as the roll man in a pick-and-roll.
The Hawks, much like the Heat, elected to single cover Carmelo in the post (though you’ll see them bringing some half-hearted help as the game goes along in the clips below) for most of the night. Josh Smith, Anthony Tolliver, DeShawn Stevenson, Ivan Johnson. It didn’t much matter who Atlanta tried to guard him with; he torched them all.
Notice again that the Knicks began the game with a cross-screen to free Melo at the left elbow. This time he turned it into a post-up rather than a quick catch-and-shoot jumper. Baseline spins, middle spins, stepback jumpers, drives to the rim; he put the whole repertoire on display, on both sides of the court, whether from the elbow, the deep wing or the low block. Nine of his 17 baskets came via the post-up. It was a masterful performance, showcasing what is probably his best asset.
This one was probably my personal favorite Melo basket of the evening. After receiving a (pretty bad) cross screen from Felton, Melo catches the ball on the right block, posting Josh Smith just as he had all night. Jason Kidd slides over from the wing to the top of the key as Melo quickly surveys the land. Noticing that Kyle Korver is shaded a little too close to him and a little too far from Kidd, Melo passes out and looks for a second as if he’ll re-post, before…
Yeah. He pulls one of those quick, Dwight Howard-esque, “I’m going to spin off post position, stick my elbow in your back on my way by so you can’t even come close to contesting and/or fouling me, and then I’m going to catch this lob for a dunk” moves, and Smith can only shake his head. Kidd, as is his wont, delivers a picture perfect pass.
Melo didn’t flash his playmaker gene much in either of the two contests, but he did save one of his best passes for what proved to be a backbreaker, put-the-lead-in-the-bank type of play.
Here, Melo is again posting up on the left wing. He’s got a size, strength and speed mismatch against Kyle Korver, and this time the Hawks actually send some strong help his way in the form of Shelvin Mack. A quick fake-pass to Felton at the top of the key gets both Mack and Jeff Teague to bite, opening up a clear lane to JR Smith across the court.
JR catches, then catches Josh napping, and explodes around him to the rim for a dunk that essentially sealed the win, putting the Knicks up by 12 with just over 3 minutes left in the game.
There’s a reason Carmelo’s often referred to in the same sentence as all the best scorers in the league. He can beat a team in so many different ways, on or off the ball, when he’s aggressive, yet still patient enough to know when and where to pick his spots. And when his shot is on, it is on, man, and sometimes there’s really just nothing the opposition can do. There aren’t many players in the league that can go on scoring binges like Carmelo, and he showed us why the last two nights.