The question burning on everyone’s mind in the basketball universe recently centers around former Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony and current sensation Jeremy Lin. Anthony has been out for the majority of Lin’s amazing run with the New York Knicks—save six or so minutes—and everyone’s wondering what’s going to happen when Anthony returns.
On the one hand, there’s an argument to be made that it’s going to be a pure disaster. The Knicks of the last seven games run a free flowing, motion offense, while Anthony has been one of the biggest isolation players in the league his entire career.
For instance, this season, he’s averaging 32.2 percent of his plays coming from isolations, which leads the league. Last year, he led the league with 37.2. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Anthony would get in the way of Lin’s abilities to get to the basket and create opportunities for his teammates.
But I think the Anthony-Lin combination will be fine. The whole theory that Anthony can’t work with a point guard who has the ball in his hands a lot is bunk. And it’s not based on a hunch or theory; it’s based on the empirical evidence in front of us.
Flashback to the 2009-10 season.
Anthony had one of the finest statistical seasons of his career, averaging 29.2 points and 6.6 rebounds with Chauncey Billups at the point guard. The same year, Billups averaged a career-high 19.5 points and 5.6 assists per game.
To further crunch the numbers, Billups took 962 shots that season in 73 games, or 13.1 shots per game. Anthony took 1,502 shots in 69 games, or 21.7 shots per game. The Nuggets went on to win 53 games that season, although they were ousted by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs.
Since Lin’s rise over the past seven games, he’s averaged 17.5 shots per game. But Lin proved in Wednesday’s 100-85 win over the Sacramento Kings that he’s more than content with being a distributor. Lin took just six shots and had 13 assists (and, yes, six turnovers). I’m not really comparing Lin to Billups (yet), but Billups took more than his fair share of shots and Anthony was still able to thrive offensively.
Plus, we know that Lin isn’t going to take 17.5 shots per game. That came more out of a necessity, with Amare Stoudemire and Anthony both out of the lineup and a ragtag group resembling more of a college than NBA team on the floor. I doubt Lin will complain about taking four or five fewer shots a game.
This got me thinking of Anthony’s lone year at Syracuse. Anthony was allowed to dominate the ball, taking 612 shots over 35 games. Keep in mind that college games only run 40 minutes, so to account for that, per 48 minutes, Anthony would’ve taken an extra 104 shots. In total, he’d average 20.4 shots per game and 25.9 points over 48 minutes.
Anthony played with Gerry McNamara, a point guard who wasn’t afraid to shoot—somewhat similar to what’s going on in New York and what went on in Denver. McNamara took the second most shots on the 2002-03 team (tied with Hakim Warrick, who for the purposes of this hypothetical would be Stoudemire) with 364 shots. Over 48 minutes, he would’ve averaged 15.5 points, 12.1 shots and 5.1 assists per game.
Syracuse obviously did just fine that season, winning a national championship.
Is it a perfect comparison to Anthony and Lin’s current situation? Of course not. Denver ran a different system than the Knicks currently do, and the college game is completely different from the pros. But at a base level, it demonstrates that Anthony has played well with point guards who need to have the ball in their hands to be successful.
If Lin is the point guard that we (meaning I) think he is, Lin will start with the ball in his hands at the start of the possession, and Anthony will finish with it.
In other words, Lin and Anthony should have no problems playing on the same floor.