Ballhog [bawl-hog] noun – A very trendy term used by NBA fans to describe scorers they deem selfish.
While it is true in some cases, it’s unfair in others. For example, the Houston Rockets’ James Harden often gets saddled with that label. Some people even have the gall to call Kobe Bryant a ballhog (a thought that mercifully drowns in its own stupidity). But nobody hears it more than the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony who, in spite of having a career year and leading the NBA in scoring, has to endure the abuse from media-types and fans who are too ignorant to understand the situation – or the game for that matter. And within their childish, misguided cause, Anthony has some very special company.
Hmm… Where Have We Seen This Before?
Over his first seven seasons Wilt Chamberlain averaged a surreal 39.6 points a game, led the league in scoring each year and set virtually every record in the book, most of which still stand. His arrival transformed the Philadelphia Warriors from a last place club into solid contenders. After the franchise moved to San Francisco, Chamberlain led the Warriors to the NBA Finals in 1964, losing to Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. The critics were constantly on Chamberlain for shooting too much and preached the play of Bill Russell and teamwork because while Chamberlain was winning seven straight scoring titles, Russell’s Celtics won seven straight NBA titles.
It’s sure tough to argue with those facts but what people fail to notice to this day is that, with all due respect, Russell had much better players around him than Chamberlain did during that period. The Celtics had many future Hall-of-Famers on their roster every year (seven in 1962), not to mention the legendary coach Red Auerbach. It made Chamberlain’s role different than Russell’s.
When Chamberlain had those kind of players around him for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1966-67 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72 he was able to alter his style accordingly and those teams dominated more than those Celtic teams did in any one season. In fact, it was Chamberlain’s 76ers,who ended the Celtics’ run at eight straight championships by wiping them out in 5 games in the Eastern Division Finals on their way to the title. It was the first time Chamberlain didn’t lead the league in scoring. He averaged 24.1 points, 24.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists and made 68% of his shots. To say the least, he had made the adjustment.
Obviously, Carmelo Anthony is nowhere near the player Wilt Chamberlain was but he’s catching the same abuse for shooting too much and not passing enough. However, a closer look at the Knicks roster begs the obvious question to his critics: What choice did Anthony really have? With Amar’e Stoudemire injured most of the year the Knicks had no secondary threat, virtually no production from the starting small-forward and shooting guard slots, they were old, severely shorthanded and lacking in size most of the year. The only other player who could score was J.R. Smith but he came off the bench while continuing to prove that he’s about as dependable as Congress. That leaves… Raymond Felton? Please. Yet the Knicks still went 54-28. Right there is your reality check right through the skull about Carmelo Anthony’s importance to the Knicks because without that league-leading average this team would have gone 28-54 or worse.
Basketball is a team game but many teams have had success with offenses that feature a dominant scorer – Michael Jordan being the starring example. However, a top scorer must have at least one other option to keep opposing defenses honest. Elgin Baylor had Jerry West, Jordan had Scottie Pippin and LeBron James has Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Before that, Wade had Shaquille O’Neal, who himself had Kobe Bryant (and vice versa) before that. Need more proof? Okay. Look what happened to Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City after Russell Westbrook got hurt. Without their second primary option (not to mention their starting point guard) the Thunder were about as effective as the Knicks during the post-season. It’s no accident.
So, What’s the Answer?
Well, I’ll tell ya. Anthony isn’t perfect, of course, he has a few flaws but other than that he remains one of the most dangerous snipers in the league, he’s an excellent clutch shooter and to his credit, he willingly played out of position at power forward all year, went to the boards more often and led the Knicks on a 13-game winning streak that turned their season around. He busted his butt for his team, which leads to another trendy and equally inane topic and that’s whether Anthony and Stoudemire can play together. It’s a pity those so-called experts and their loyal subjects have the combined attention span of a gnat because Anthony and Stoudemire have long since proven that they can co-exist. The issue is dead.
Here’s what the Knicks’ game-plan should be: In addition to injecting some much-needed size and youth to the bench, the Knicks need to get smarter and they can start by dumping J.R. Smith and his play-breaking ways. He’s shot the Knicks out of two straight playoff appearances and there’s no reason to believe that he’ll ever be any different. Besides, the Knicks have a ready-made replacement in Iman Shumpert because of his consistent all-around play and hustle on both ends of the court.
Next, they must find a legitimate shooting guard. It’s amazing that the Knicks got away with starting 40-year old Jason Kidd and then 35-year old Pablo Prigioni at shooting guard when they’re both career point guards who were never good shooters. They didn’t even combine to average 10 points a game. And speaking of the point, if it’s at all possible the Knicks have to find an upgrade over Felton because he just makes too many mistakes that don’t show up in the turnover column.
The Knicks likely won’t be able to accomplish all of those goals in just one off-season but they should be able to do some of them this summer within the constraints of the salary cap. If they do, and Stoudemire can stay healthy (lots of fingers are crossed for that one) Carmelo Anthony will get the chance to finally shed that mistaken “ballhog” image once and for all. The opinion here – unlike most – is that if all goes well around him, Anthony will succeed and that will make the Knicks that much tougher to beat.