People in many parts of New York City are still digging themselves out of the remnants of Superstorm Sandy, so they may not have noticed that Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks have made the NBA their personal playground in the first week of the season. If they have noticed, then no one should begrudge them an opportunity to experience something other than power outages and mass flooding.
With Anthony picking his spots and his teammates knocking down wide-open 3-pointers at an insane pace, the Knicks won their first three games in convincing fashion. Their double-digit margins of victory over the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, both playoff participants last spring, led to even non-New Yorkers wondering if the Knickerbockers could keep this up.
In a word, no, they cannot.
Apologies if this ruins any Knicks fan’s high, but very little about the Knicks’ incredible start is sustainable. They are not the 1972-73 Sixers masquerading as a real basketball team, but they are not the 1971-72 Lakers, either. This is not the ravings of some anti-Knicks extremist, either. These are hard truths about a group of players playing way above their heads at the moment.
Through three games — an absurdly small sample size — the Knicks were shooting 45.3 percent on 3-point attempts, an improvement of almost 12 percent from last season’s 33.6 percent mark. This single statistic should be enough to illustrate that the Knicks, while good, are dealing with fool’s gold this early in the season. For all the love Anthony has received (and he was outstanding Sunday against the Sixers), 3-point shooting has been the primary method used by the Knicks to blow out their opponents. Teams do not just become 11.3 percentage points better from any distance in a matter of months.
On a player-by-player level, the improvement is even more clearly a momentary blip. J.R. Smith, who shot a perfectly reasonable 34.6 percent from beyond the arc last season, is 8-for-13 from deep thus far. Ronnie Brewer, a career 25.4 percent 3-pointer shooter, is 5-for-9 from that distance, while Jason Kidd is 6-for-11. (Kidd has hit the third-most 3-pointers in NBA history, but he has not even hit 35 percent of his career attempts.) Raymond Felton‘s relatively modest 6-for-16 mark is still a better 3-point shooting percentage than he had in six of his seven seasons as a pro. The only Knicks shooter who can realistically be expected to trend upward is Steve Novak, whose 7-for-15 (46.7 percent) tally is a smidge lower than his league-leading 47.2 percent rate from last season — but even that is significantly higher than his career 43.7 percent mark.
Anthony has gotten a lot of blame for the Knicks’ problems over the last two years, so he is entitled to some of the credit for their apparent turnaround. This team is greatly improved, especially if Amar’e Stoudemire and Marcus Camby get healthy. Anthony’s 26.0 points per game is the third-highest average in the league, and when a team does well, the star typically gets the credit.
The story of the Knicks’ early-season success does not match up with facts, however. Experts might say that Anthony is scoring more efficiently and balancing his own shots with creating shots for others, which would be nice if it were not completely incorrect.
Anthony averaged 1.7 assists through the first three games, almost half as many assists as he has averaged for his career. He had assisted on less than nine percent of his teammates’ field goals, according to Basketball Reference, which would be a career low if it continued. (It won’t, but that is the entire point: Virtually nothing about the Knicks’ start is sustainable.) Meanwhile, he was taking more shots per game than in all but three of his previous nine seasons and posting the fourth-lowest field goal percentage of his career. None of this is inherently bad — OK, some of it is — but it simply serves as proof that Anthony has not truly discovered his inner John Stockton as much as we are led to believe.
The Knicks deserve credit for coming into the season ready to go and for blitzing two opponents who might still have been in their feeling-out phases. They vaulted to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, however fleeting their stay there may be, and have a two-win head start on the Celtics and Sixers, two teams with whom they figure to contend for a playoff spot.
Anthony and the Knicks are not world-beaters, though, unless they continue to shoot at a rate they never have. Their most hopeful fans may argue that “never” only means that something has not happened before, but keeping this up would be almost impossible.
In other words, all the Knicks have to do to maintain their current pace is to do the impossible. Good luck with that.