The Knicks Are The Only Undefeated Team In The NBA — And There’s One Big Reason Why

Carmelo Anthony Knicks trade

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The Knicks are undefeated because Carmelo Anthony is playing power forward rather than small forward.Of all the reasons why NY is 6-0 — with wins against Miami, San Antonio, and three other 2011 playoff teams — this is the single most important.

Let’s break it down.

1. First of all, Carmelo has always been better at the 4 than the 3. He has been reluctant to play power forward throughout his career, for whatever reason, saying as recently as this preseason that he sees himself as a small forward.

But the stats say the guy is a dominant power forward. Here’s the positional break down this season from He scores more, shoots better, rebounds more, and is more efficient at PF:

carmelo anthony stat box

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He was similarly more productive at PF last year:

carmelo anthony at the 4

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Carmelo is sturdy enough to rebound and defend most power forwards on the defensive end. But on the offensive end he’s light years quicker than almost every single power forward in the league.

So teams have a dilemma — Do we change what we do and go small to deal with Carmelo on offence? Or do we put a big, slow power forward on him and hope he wears down on the defensive end?

That dilemma is the source of his dominance at the 4.

2. His passing has been just as important as his scoring. Carmelo had an ugly-looking box score last night against San Antonio (9 points on 3-12 shooting). But in totally uncharacteristic, almost Lebron-ian fashion, he changed the game without scoring. The Spurs were feverishly fronting, nudging, and otherwise making it difficult for Carmelo to get the ball in the post or attack the basket. But rather than forcing the issue, he made quick, decisive passes out of the double-team that ultimately got his team whipping the ball around the perimeter to find the open shooter. Despite his own struggles, his passing helped his teammates shoot 49% from the field and 48% from three-point range last night.

There’s nothing deadlier in basketball than an elite scorer who can also pass out of the double team. And that’s exactly what Carmelo has been this season.

3. He’s rebounding and defending with vigor. The consensus on Carmelo is he can’t defend. But with the exception of the Orlando game, he has been defending with maximum effort this season. Last year NY was 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse on defence when Carmelo was on the court. This year, they’re a minuscule 0.4 points worse. 

He’s also rebounding at the highest rate of his career — which is key since the Knicks are playing so much small ball. He has actually rebounded at a slightly higher rate than centre Tyson Chandler on the defensive end.

The fun side of playing Carmelo at the 4 is that he can blow by big, slow guys on offence.

The not-so-fun side is that he should get dominated on the boards. But at least so far, Carmelo is working surprisingly hard on the glass, and that has ameliorated some of the potential problems of going small.

Obviously there are other reasons the Knicks have been so good:

  • Raymond Felton has been spry, and his pick-and-rolls with Chandler have become a cornerstore of the offence along with Carmelo’s post ups.
  • They’re not turning the ball over, at all. They have the lowest turnover rate in the league.
  • The defence has been just as good as last year. NY was a top-5 defensive unit in 2011-12, and they’ve continued that this year. The addition of Ronnie Brewer has helped on that front.

But Carmelo playing at the 4 dramatically changed how this team plays, and it’s impossible to overstate how important that move has been.