The 'Melo Verdict: Knicks Vault To Top 3 in East . . . Next Season

February 25, 2011

The blockbuster, three-team deal that sent Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knickerbockers in exchange for cash, draft picks, and a collection of solid role players, not only puts the Knicks back into the world of NBA relevance, but also legitimately puts them into the conversation, dare we say, for NBA title contention.

Unfortunately, for fans in Gotham, that conversation will not realistically occur this season, given the short amount of time that coach Mike D'Antoni has to harmonize all the new faces.

Next season, however, should prove to be an altogether different matter, as no team likely will look forward to matching up with a smoothly functioning Knicks "big three" of Billups, 'Melo, and Amar'e Stoudemire.

Considering that the Knicks received not only the best, but also the second-best player in the transaction, it is safe to say that this deal could genuinely alter the balance of power in the Eastern Conference for the next two seasons.

How This Trade Affects The Knicks

In one day the Knicks went from Amare Stoudemire and a fun group of kids, to a serious Eastern Conference contender with two number one options (Anthony and Stoudemire) and two proven closers (Anthony and Billups).

While the mainstream media has taken a wait-and-see approach and has labeled the trade as one that simply "improves" the Knicks to a top 5 team in the East, the reality is that talent-wise, the Knicks very likely are superior to every team in the conference save for Miami and Boston.

On paper at least, New York's Billups-Stoudemire-Anthony trio packs more offensive punch than Chicago's Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng.  That trio also has more versatility on offense than the Orlando Magic's top three options in crunch time, especially given the free throw troubles of star center Dwight Howard.

One of the primary reason's for this improvement is the most overlooked player in the deal -- veteran point guard Chauncey Billups.

Billups, 34, is still capable of playing at an All-Star level, especially in a seven game series with no back-to-backs.  He performed well this summer at the FIBA World Championships, and remains one of the game's best closers thanks to his clutch daggers from the perimeter.

Billups' leadership and steadying influence on the court cannot be underestimated, as he single-handedly transformed the Nuggets into a contender after he was acquired for Allen Iverson.

Although he is slowing defensively and will struggle trying to defend quicker point guards, Billups has good size and strength for a point guard, and thus, can occasionally match up with 2's.

Offensively, he will not be able to create the same fast-paced tempo as the now-departed Ray Felton, nor is he likely to duplicate the creativity and chemistry that Felton and Stoudemire exhibited in their screen-roll game.

However, Billups will be an upgrade over Felton when it comes to draining crunch-time jumpers -- an important quality considering the double-teams Stoudemire and 'Melo are likely to see. In addition, since Billups still has the ability to score in the post against smaller guards, he will provide another dimension to the Knicks half-court offense.

Simply put, Billups currently is a better, more well-rounded player than the still-developing Felton.

As for 'Melo, his addition provides New York with two of the NBA's top 15 players in their starting lineup.

As good as Billups is in the clutch, 'Melo is arguably the game's second-best closer behind Kobe Bryant. He is also a true number one option through which the Knicks can run their sets.

Anthony is a premiere scorer at the 3, who can score on the block or from three-point land.  His outstanding face-up game will produce Knick points by simply running iso's on the wing and having Anthony beat his man one-on-one. In fact, none other than Kobe Bryant himself has proclaimed Anthony to be the best midrange shooter in the game today.

Despite 'Melo's multiple skills and versatility to go to either his left or right, he can often halt an offense's flow with his high-volume shooting and tendency to break from the set offense and go one-on-one.

But that does not necessarily mean things will not work out in New York.

In other words, with his versatile skills, there is no reason why 'Melo could not successfully run a 3-5 pick-and-roll with Stoudemire ala Larry Bird and Robert Parish. Because 'Melo is a proven winner -- both at Syracuse and with the U.S. Olympic Team -- it is likely that he does have the capacity to blend his game with that of Stoudemire.

In fact, one's initial impression should be that the two can be a good fit. With 'Melo's range he can space the floor for Amar'e. Likewise, Stoudemire can hit the open 18-footer when Anthony goes down on the block and commands a double team. In the end, the Knicks now have two elite stars who can create their own shot and provide matchup advantages on offense.

So with all this talent going to New York, why won't they win a ring this year?

First, there is very little time to gel all the new parts. With this deal occurring after the All-Star break, the Knicks coaches and players lack the time to gain proper familiarity with each other by the time the playoffs start.

Second, the Knicks' bigs are short and undersized.  Without Mozgov in the middle, the Knicks will now have to rely on true 4's Ronny Turiaf, Stoudemire, and Shelden Williams to play out of position at center. Not one of those players is a 7-footer.

Third, the team will be suspect in two key areas required to win a championship -- defense and rebounding.

Although Anthony showed during the Olympics that he can buy in defensively, he never duplicated that effort in Denver.  Moreover, he now has a coach in D'Antoni who does not emphasize defense, and whose teams have yet to demonstrate an ability to get stops.  Without more defensive consistency, this team will not make a deep run in the playoffs.

Interestingly, depth is not going to be as big a problem as many have claimed. The Knicks did ship out some rotation guys, but also got players in return capable of filling those spots. Veteran Anthony Carter can run the point for the second unit, putting explosive gunner Toney Douglas in a more natural scoring role.

Plus, there are other options at D'Antoni's disposal.  Roger Mason hasn't seen the light of day this year, but still has a jumper D'Antoni can rely on if he decides to give him some playing time. Bill Walker can at least hit treys with regularity. Corey Brewer will defend and fill the lanes in transition.  Rookie glue-guy Landry Fields will rebound, hit threes, and score at the 2 without having to run any plays for him.

Ultimately, there is enough on the roster to allow the Knicks to compete this year.  They just will not advance very deep.

But next year will be different.  Boston will be a year older, even with the infusion of young Jeff Green to their rotation. Rose is an MVP candidate in Chicago, but Boozer, the team's number two option, has a history of disappearing come playoff time. And unless Gilbert Arenas can recapture his pre-injury form, Orlando will not have enough firepower around Howard to win the Conference.

So the Knicks will be in the thick of things next year.  Not on the fringe, not on the outside looking in, but battling to get past Boston and Miami in the East.

Somewhere, Red Holzman is watching these developments, ecstatic.

What About Denver and Minnesota?

Welcome to NBA irrelevance.

Denver received some decent young complementary players in the deal capable of commanding some trade value in the future.  Newly-acquired lead guard Ray Felton is in the midst of a career year, and is significantly younger than Billups.

Under D'Antoni's uptempo system, Felton proved to be a capable three-point shooter and creative floor general, who was effective running pick-and-rolls with Stoudemire.

Although Felton is the most polished player coming to the Nuggets, he might not even be a long-term team fixture because the Denver brass seems eager to turn over the starting point guard role to speedy youngster Ty Lawson.

Denver's other additions are all young players as well, transforming the Nuggets into a true rebuilding project.

One such player is swingman Wilson Chandler, who is a good athlete with a versatile offensive game. He can drain threes, score in double figures, and should see many of Melo's minutes at the 3.

Forward Danilo Gallinari is a slow, below-average athlete, but can space the floor offensively and light it up from behind the arc when his stroke is right. It will be interesting to see if coach George Karl gives him the same green light to shoot that he enjoyed with the Knicks.

Finally, center Timofey Mozgov was best known as the guy Blake Griffin dunked over before he started to string together some solid performances in the middle for the Knicks. He is a raw, mobile big, with good upside, who runs the floor and could be a difference-maker in the future for Denver.

But let's not kid ourselves, it is now rebuilding time in the Mile High City. With 'Melo gone, the Denver fanbase will be far more concerned with Tim Tebow's progress than that of any of the current players on the Nuggets.

Meanwhile, Minnesota got rid of lottery-bust Corey Brewer -- a long, athletic defender that lacked the offensive polish and consistency to nail down a starting job. His exodus means more minutes for rook Wesley Johnson and shooter Martell Webster.

Intriguing Anthony Randolph is a tall, lanky 3, built similarly to Kevin Durant.  He can handle the ball well, but needs to gain more strength in order to see the floor. Still, a Randolph-Michael Beasley-Kevin Love frontline gives the 'Wolves a nice rotation of forwards to build on for the future.

Here is what each team ended up with in this mega-deal:

Carmelo Anthony, Forward
Chauncey Billups, Guard
Shelden Williams, Forward
Renaldo Balkman, Forward
Anthony Carter, Guard
Corey Brewer, Forward

Danilo Gallinari, Forward
Wilson Chandler, Forward
Raymond Felton, Guard
Timofey Mozgov, Center
Kosta Koufos, Center
Knicks first-round pick (2014 or later)
Second-round picks in 2012 and 2013
$3 million 

Eddy Curry, Center
Anthony Randolph, Forward

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

1 comment:

  1. I like the deal. Now D'Antoni is on the hot seat. If they don't win then lets bring Phil Jax on board


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