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NBA, Smack / Feb 24, 2014 / 3:15 pm

Kevin Love Or Carmelo Anthony: Who Needs New Teammates More?

Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love

Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love (Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports)

They’re both forwards on teams that were supposed to make a bit of a splash in their respective conferences, but while Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love have largely lived up to their pre-season hype, their teams have not. ‘Melo’s Knicks were supposed to be within the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket by now, and Love’s ‘Wolves were supposed to be in the thick of the last few spots out west. With the future of both in doubt, it’s time to figure out which All-Star forward needs a change of scenery or drastically re-altered lineups to support them.

Before we break it down, lets caution some of the less astute among us that we still don’t know if either of these forwards can be the best player on a championship team. ‘Melo has never missed the playoffs in his 11-year career, and Love has never made the playoffs. But while ‘Melo has won a few playoffs series (most recently against the Celtics last year), neither has gotten further than a Conference Final — again ‘Melo with the Nuggets in 2009 after Kiki Vandeweghe (and up-and-comer Masai Ujiri) swindled a still-effective Chauncey Billups for the walking corpse of Allen Iverson from Joe Dumars.

But the Knicks are 21-35 on the year, five and a half games back of Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the LEastern Conference. Carmelo even recently told Al Iannazzone of Newsday his optimism is “definitely being tested” this year:

It’s become an all-too-familiar sight and trend for the Knicks. They have 26 games to dramatically change things, or Anthony will miss out on the playoffs for the first time in his 11-year career. “I can’t imagine what that’s like,” he said. “I’m not even trying to think about that at this point. We still got a lot of basketball to play.”

But Anthony admits his optimism is “definitely being tested” this season, and you wonder if his desire to stay with the Knicks is too.

Anthony has been playing one of the best seasons of his career, personified by that incredible, record-setting performance at Madison Square Garden. He’s sporting career-bests in PER and total rebounding percentage, and the second-highest win share, per 48 minutes, of his career (all stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted). His true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage are both near the best marks of his NBA tenure, and the Knicks are actually giving up greater than six more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting than when he’s in the game, via NBA.com. To say it another way, Melo’s no longer a total diva about defense and genuinely gives a crap on that end of the floor, even while battling some fours in Woodson’s depreciating attempts to play small.

But the Knicks are dreadful, ranking near the bottom of the league in pace and points per possession. So not only are they giving up a ton of easy buckets in the half-court, but they’re playing super slow leading to fewer transition looks and fewer easy buckets. That means more forced one-on-one iso time for an overextended ‘Melo as the shot clock winds down. Overall, the Knicks are 22nd in the league in overall net rating, per NBA.com, which is why they’re 21-35.

Let us count the various issues the Knicks have run into during a season from hell: Tyson Chandler has been hobbled with injuries and is a long way from the form that made him the 2012 DPOY; Raymond Felton is probably the worst staring point guard in the league; Iman Shumpert after vacillating between Mike Woodson and James Dolan‘s dog house, while also being a fan favorite, now has a sprained left MCL — the same knee where he tore the ACL in the playoffs during his rookie year; J.R. Smith is playing as if he’s still in a ganja cloud from his summer, and Andrea Bargnani has somehow been a bigger bust than he was in Toronto.

‘Melo can, and will, opt out of his current deal this summer to enter free agency. Even with the Knicks possessing his Bird Rights, which allow them to re-sign him for an extra year and $33 million more than any other team), there’s very little within the team keeping him in town. So whether he needs and/or gets better teammates between now and this summer (and he won’t since the deadline has passed), it will go a long way towards his decision to re-sign this summer, or flee for another club that can get him a lot closer to the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Kevin Love is in a similar boat as ‘Melo, though Love can’t opt-out of his current deal until the summer of 2015. Let’s find out how Love’s performance — in relation to his teammates — stacks up against Anthony.

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  • SweetdickWilly

    These two players really can’t use the lack of teammates card. Both of them are offensive players and neither gives you anything defensively on a regular basis. The teams they play on have their systems set up to hide them on defense, especially in Kevin’s case. Nikola Pekovic carries Kevin defensively as did Darko Milicic too. Carmelo is theoretically better than Kevin but Kevin makes the most sense to bring in on a team since he doesn’t dominate the ball and he out rebounds Melo by light years.

  • 2cents

    SWD telling the truth yet again. You beat me to the punch on this one. Great article Dime, but I agree, no way can a max player with their experience, say they need better teammates. They need to make their team mates better. If their team lacks something, then they need to improve their own game in that area.

  • Jose

    You give the current supporting cast of the Timberwolves to KG and that
    will be by FAAARRR the best teammates he had there,still KG didn’t
    complain so Love has no case to make.
    Melo has never ever had the
    problem of inferior teammates his entire career this year included.He’s
    just not a leader type player who can rally his teammates around him.

  • JAY

    I’m sure if KG had the choice between Cassell/Sprewell and Rubio/Pekovic, he would choose Sam and Spree every single day of the week.

  • spencer

    While I agree both players are far from defensive stalwarts, I think they both try hard on the defensive end, which is more than I can say for some stars (cough, _____ ______, cough). ‘Melo hasn’t cared about D until this year, though, so you gotta take that into account.

    Also, you must be watching a different Pek than the one I’ve seen because he’s slow to rotate on p&r’s when he’s coming from the back line, and he has a tendency to allow easy layups as a way to avoid foul trouble. On that latter point, Love does the same thing, but I don’t think Pek is carrying him. Your mention of Darko made me laugh a little, but Darko was actually a pretty solid rim presence, so I agree on that point.

    In a perfect world, Melo and Love could carry their current teams to a title, but they’re not KD and ‘Bron. They’re more like Dirk, circa ’09, when everyone was blasting him for the things he couldn’t do instead of mentioning all the things he could. Personally, I think ‘Melo and Love can be the best players on a title-contender, I just think they need more help than James, Durant, Duncan or even a younger Kobe.

    Good stuff from you and @2cents though; it’s nice to write for an educated NBA audience.

  • Jose

    No way.KG hated to play the 5 and Rubio is better than Cassel in every other area except scoring which would be balanced out by Kevin Martin.Besides at their age Spree and Cassell were dead man walking which is why I laugh at anybody who thought Minnesota was Cassell’s team back then.

  • JAY

    KG didn’t hate playing the 5…. he hated being 7′, which is why he’s still listed at 6’11” but is a legit 7′. If he hated playing the 5, he played it anyway. He still plays the 5.

    Rubio is all Flash. Cassell got shit done. He arrived in Minny and took pressure off of KG. The clutch situations were no longer Garnett’s duty to seize…. Cassell took that load. What is How does Rubio handle clutch situations? The ’03 Wolves made the Western Final and lost the series mainly because Cassell was out with a hip injury. Rubio is running a team with one of the top big tandem in the entire league with Pek and Love and his team is 10th in the conference. Put Cassell on that team and that’s a playoff team, easy. He would light a fire under his teammates and take over games when needed. Rubio is better than Cassell in every way?? That’s just stupid.

  • JAY

    From an ESPN article…

    “Western conference scout: “Part of why he’s overrated is the ‘Rubio Thing.’ If he was Ricky Rubio from Wichita State, there’d be no conversation about him. But since he came over with so much hype, he gets scrutinized more than he otherwise would. If you watch Minnesota closely, you’ll see that he doesn’t even finish games. It’s one of the biggest contentions within that organization — the fact that Rubio doesn’t finish the games. It drives management crazy because he’s their guy. He’s supposed to be their future. They tried like crazy to trade (backup) J.J. Barea at the trade deadline, and that’s one of the reasons why, because Barea’s been finishing games. “I like the way he passes and runs a team, but his lack of shooting ability is really an issue. If you’ve got four capable scorers on the floor, you can kind of get away with him, but if not, Rubio gets exposed. Guys back off of Rubio. He shot an airball 3-pointer the other night, missing it by three feet. It landed in the paint. He’s good in transition and he can make plays in the open court, but in the playoffs, when the game gets slower and compressed, you don’t have to guard that guy and he becomes a liability.”

    Like i said, Rubio is all flash. Cassell got shit done. Sam would eat Rubio up.

  • Jose

    OK I like a nice discussions no need to get your panties in a
    twist.First of all KG HATES playing the 5,if u have followed him even through locker room interviews you would have heard it straight from his mouth.Clearly you didn’t but even you could see Pek is a huge upgrade over any big man in Minny KG played with.

    Second I said Rubio is better in every OTHER AREA you don’t need to tell me he can’t shoot to save his life but so can’t Rondo and they are very similar players.How a coach uses his players is none of my concerns.

    Third if you think KG isn’t clutch then watch game 7 against the Kings particularly the 4th quarter KG is doing EVERYTHING…..Post ups,off the dribble even bail out three when Cassell was running out the clock doing nothing not to mention his always world class D.No one can seize the moment when he has to carry scrubs on his back for over a decade NOONE.

    Fourth if you know anything about KG he will go to war with anybody and he always has the backs of any teammate his with but for some reason was closest with his PG’s.Marbury and Billlups and later Rondo were like brothers to him.Cassell falls under the same category.Spree had that same tough attitude that KG has so of course he would relate.Point being team chemistry was never a problem on a team with KG there just see what he did in Boston.

    Lastly MAYBE If you swapped Cassell for Rubio the Timberwolves makes the playoffs MAYBE.You swap KG for Love I say Conf Finals easy.Also we are talking whole supporting cast not just Pek and Rubio versus Sprewell and Cassell.Incase you didn’t notice every player is an upgrade at their positions bench.

    If you thing two aging stars with one foot in the retirement home is worth Brewer ,Matin, Budinger, MBoute, Barea, Shved,Turiaf plus the above two you are beyond stupid you need help and fast.The fact that both of them weren’t resigned should tell you how important they were.

    And don’t bother replying unless you search youtube for the video where KG says he hates playing the 5.I hope you are not that stupid.