‘I’m Going to Defend’

Carmelo Anthony was asked about his improved defense this season prior to Sunday’s game against the Pacers. He said this:

“Just my focus now with the team I have,” he said. “Everybody knows I can score the basketball, that’s a no-brainer. But for me it was being able to go out there and say, ‘Today I’m going to lead my team. I’m going to defend. I’m going to help out. I’m going to do what I’ve got to do. I’m going to sacrifice something out there on the basketball court.’ That was my motivation … to approach this season as a new beginning for me. My focus is extremely high right now.”

Brian DiMenna

First, I just love the no-brainer line from Carmelo, I’d like to use that in my own life, “Everybody knows I can sweat through my tie, that’s a no-brainer,” but nothing sounds quite as good as score the basketball.

But I find the rest of what he said sort of strange. Obviously, everything he alluded to is great, but I’m just so curious as to how he explains the change. It’s almost as though he’s acknowledging that every criticism of him prior to this season was accurate and he’s decided to address it, which is great, but sort of weird.

I guess I’m starting to be a little dubious as to how much different a Carmelo we’re really seeing here. A look at his numbers, both on offense and defense, for the most part show a fairly similar guy. Is it possible what we’re really seeing is a better Knicks team, with Anthony getting the credit for a superior supporting cast? This excellent breakdown from Jared Dubin over at Hoops Chalk is pretty convincing about the ways in which the Knicks’ offense has better utilized Melo’s talents, by limiting isolations and taking advantage of his ability to pass from the post, something he’s also done more willingly so far this season.

But though I’ve been as ecstatic about this Knicks start as anybody, and genuinely thrilled with the maturation in Anthony’s game, that above quote feels like kind of a startling admission. It reads like he’s literally saying, “I used to only care about scoring, but now I don’t do that anymore.” Really? Why? It makes you wonder about the long-term commitment, a little like having a friend boast they’ve gone three days without drinking over a celebratory beer.

Certainly, Woodson could deserve much of the credit for the change of heart, as there does appear to be a natural chemistry between the two that perhaps is bringing out the best in the franchise forward. Or maybe people are capable of recognizing that there are improvements they need to make, and Anthony’s quote is like a former 500-pound man showing off his old parachute-like jeans. “Look, this is what I used to be like! I’m a new man!”

All of which is to say, I’m still struggling to figure out if Melo has made necessary improvements in his game that we ought to applaud, or if he’s just always been this good and he’s owed an apology, or both, or neither, or some alternate interpretation that I’m not even considering.

Or maybe who cares, we’re 7-1?

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