I know how Amare feels. The Heat, for all their talent, are a bunch of jerks. Lebron is a whiner and a flopper and a showoff and Bosh is inconsistent and not really as good as being part of the big three makes him. For all their swagger, the Heat are beatable by the right team. But Basketball is a team sport. And big men especially can’t change the game unless they’re actually given the ball in the right place.
Baron Davis does this in spurts, so does JR Smith, sometimes even Carmelo. But when this Knicks team panics, it goes back to go it alone, the tone set by Carmelo, back when the team looked like it could be something really special and he decided it wasn’t special enough. It’s not clear why this is; JR Smith has spoken at length about how he loves to pass to Steve Novak, but he doesn’t do it very often. He’s a much less reliable shooter than Novak, except in his own eyes. Carmelo is right to consider himself his best option, but if the Heat are throwing everyone they have at him, he needs to pass and Amare is an excellent second option.
There’s lots more Amare could do at the defensive end. He is an atrocious defender: he frequently watches rebounds go by without what appears to be any thought that he should do anything about them. He seems only to really care about the ball when it comes to him where he wants it on the offensive end. Once he gets it, he is truly unstoppable but the contrast is remarkable (the way it was in Carmelo’s game before Carmelo got the coach he wanted). The real problem, here, I think, is the spot the two of them are unstoppable from is basically the same. Just to one side of the top of the key. That neither one of them seems able to find a way to work even slightly differently does not speak well of their talents or of Coach Woodson’s. But the difference is, Carmelo can bring the ball down, and Amare can’t.
In pickup basketball the hacker who plays down low quickly learns that if you screw up and the point guard decides you’re not getting the ball, the only way you’re going to touch it again is if you rebound. Point guards are capricious, but there are many, at least in the pickup game, who decide they’re the best option and stick to that plan. For anyone not included, like the big guys down low who are strongly discouraged from bringing the ball down on their own, that means a rather impotent game, especially if the other team’s guard has not made this decision yet about his big.
Now in many cases (speaking as a former longtime hacker big), that may be the right decision (not that any bigs will agree with it), and the big in question should compensate by fighting for rebounds and putbacks, the way Chandler does. Amare for some reason refuses to do this; but in his defense (no jokes necessary here) he is a much better scorer than Chandler from further out, facing the basket and, Chandler gets 90 percent of the rebounds. Once Amare’s in rhythm, he’s unstoppable, excels at getting points and fouling out the opposition. But it takes him a while. He needs to be given the damn ball more often, and with more leeway.
That hasn’t happened under the Carmelo/Woodson system. And leaving Monday’s game after having scored a lame 18 points and having been called for a number of idiotic missteps (steps! At this level?), you could imagine how pissed he was and how embarrassed he felt. There was nothing he could do to save the day because he couldn’t very well just take the ball from JR or Carmelo. Though, from the point of view of a former hacker big, that’s something I would have loved to see.
As a hacker big, I thought D‘Antoni’s departure spelled a victory for ballhogs the world over. Wiser heads countered that relying on an offensive system that treated all players equally when you had Carmelo on the floor didn’t make sense. Subsequent games seemed to bear that out. To his credit, Coach Woodson managed to create a middle ground that truly worked for a while. But it never fully incorporated Amare and then it didn’t have to because he was injured and Carmelo bought in.
Like all the other Knick fans, I’ll still be watching Thursday and Sunday. Hoping for a miracle, if not a Carmelo explosion, then a Lin comeback on one leg to break the eleven-year playoff drought (don’t even mention the many, many years since the team has won a championship). That’s what Knick fans do.
But there are some fundamental problems here that need to be addressed: and one of them is, just as much as the Knicks are never winning a championship with an offense-first system built around role players, they are also never winning one with an indulgent coach and a one-hit wonder. They need a second hit, and a coach willing to make Carmelo give up the damn ball.