Time to Trade Carmelo?

BY DAN

We’ve all been there.

You meet someone and you click. Early on you know this is something special and that you never want to be without them. You start getting carried away, wondering about your future together. Every time you see them it makes you happy. You smile just thinking about them. You want to change every bit of your world for them. And just as things couldn’t seem better, you start to think you need to trade away your shoot-first franchise player to make a run at the playoffs.

Woah. Slow down. Don’t go the full Boyle.

Kp4
Things are going so well. Don’t screw it up.
The New York Knicks are this person right now. Kristaps Porzingis has revived a franchise that as recently as April this year had seemed destined for years of putridity. Most Knicks fans hoped that some tanking and a few good drafts could turn this side around. Few thought that begun when the Latvian’s name was announced by Adam Silver in June. But Porzingis has impressed on both ends of the floor, showing an impressive shooting stroke, quick feet on defence, excellent passing, and an athleticism rarely seen in someone who lives 7 foot 3 inches from the ground. More importantly, he has shown a resilience and maturity rarely seen in someone so young. Also this.

If he develops a stronger back to the-basket game[1], more strength in his bottom half, improves his defensive rotations and continues to refine his outside stroke, he might just end up being the franchise player capable of dominating both ends of the court the Knicks have been searching for since they traded away Patrick Ewing.[2]

This has led to some to begin to wonder if the Knicks should move on from their current flame, one Carmelo Anthony.

Knicks fans, like a newly besotted romantic, need to remind themselves to take things slow. Things are going so well New York. Don’t screw it up.

First of all, as Zach Lowe pointed out earlier this week, the realistic suitors for Melo’s hand are few and far between. Carmelo is still a very good player, an elite scorer, and a surprisingly effective defender when he puts his mind to it. The purpose of the trade would be to get back assets in return, but unless they were able to get a chance at drafting Ben Simmons,[3] it is just impossible to see another team providing anything but pain.

Taking back ‘assets’ is risky. For example, send him to Chicago and get back a broken down Rose and Noah. Sure you’ll be adequate for a couple of years. You’ll make the playoffs. But you won’t get anywhere that Melo and the Zinger won’t already take you. Bits and pieces from Boston without Brooklyn’s pick? Worse in the long and short term. Some of Houston’s spare parts? Only if you think Melo’s jump shot is about to fall off a cliff. 

And you might think of trading him for expiring deals in order to get back into the free agent market for a superstar. But it’s clear New York isn’t the destination it once was, as demonstrated by last years offseason. And with the new TV rights deal making everyone flush with cash, the market has never been more competitive for free agents. Creating cap space and hoping a star comes to magically fix the Knicks is a fool’s hope. 

Take  it slow New York. You can build this thing properly.

Melo3
Trading Melo has many risks.
Apart from the lack of a decent suitor is the issue that this current batch of Knicks is built to suit Melo’s unique skills. Porzingis will eventually fill out the five spot. But this Knicks team currently has 117 different big men who are essentially competing for that same spot. It’s why Porzingis has spent so much time at the four this year (apart from this less-than-bulky bottom end). Lopez, O’Quinn and Seraphin all really only fit at that spot, and there is no depth behind Melo on the wing. Trade Melo and you risk putting Porzingis in an even worse team. 

And that would be bad. The Knicks brass hopefully learnt an important lesson in Sunday’s loss without Melo to the Houston Rockets. All game they leaned on Porzingis in the low-post, or Afflalo from range for points. Too often they had to settle for the kind of low-percentage, twenty-foot jump shot that make sabremetricians weep. Offence in the last quarter of the game has been a sore point for this Knicks side all season. Without Melo on Sunday, the Knicks blew a 14 point lead in the game’s last seven minutes. 

Porzingis’ offence revolves around his undeveloped post-game and the pick and pop at this point. Remove the space Melo’s mere presence creates and you may restrict his ability to refine both. Asking him to put an entire offence on his shoulders is the kind of short-sighted thinking the Knicks have fallen prey to in the past, and must avoid in the future.

Porzingis can still progress next to Melo. In fact, both may be suited by Melo spending more time at the power forward position, operating out of his favoured high post. Porzingis and Melo can run a devastating pick-and-roll.[4] In fact, Porzingis’ impressive shot-blocking ability will allow him to cover for Melo’s likely defensive lapses from the centre. The Knicks can instead focus on filling the wing and point guard spots with more ‘Porzingis’ friendly candidates (as in someone that can get to the rack off one of his screens).

Trading Melo to go all in with Porzingis is something the Knicks may need to do in the future. But right now? It’s time to take it slow.

 

 

[1] He’s already showing a turnaround over both shoulders but he’ll need more than that to be an elite force down low.

[2] To be fair, when Ewing got traded in 2000, he wasn’t the franchise player they were searching for either.

[3] That would be either Philli’s top pick, or Brooklyn’s pick from Boston. It’s more likely my dog is going to make me pancakes tomorrow morning.

[4] Please, someone tell Derek Fisher he’s allowed to put Melo and Porzingis in this action together. Melo is a great passer when he’s put in a position, and it’s one more way to get someone on this side to get to the rack. There’s a reason we’re last in the league in points in the paint.

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