The NBA All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks.
Anthony was held to just 15 points, shooting five for 19 from the field, in Sunday’s 112-100 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder – the Knicks’ fourth loss in their last five games.
Kevin Durant, who scored 41 points in the victory for the Thunder, certainly deserves some credit for shutting Anthony down, as Anthony made only three of the 11 shots he took with Durant guarding him. But Anthony is also showing signs of wearing down after a taxing first 51 games of the year.
In his 11th season in the NBA, Anthony is averaging a career high in minutes per game and currently leads the league in that category. It’s unlikely a coincidence then that Anthony’s shooting percentage is declining as the game goes on or that he is making 14 percent less of his shots in the fourth quarter this year when compared to his first quarter percentage.
Against the Thunder, Anthony missed all three shots he took in the fourth quarter and it was his second subpar shooting performance overall in the last three games.
Including this Wednesday’s home game against the Sacramento Kings, the Knicks play just once over the next eight days – giving Anthony a chance to rest his legs a bit. The lighter schedule is a good opportunity for Anthony to have some much needed downtime as the Knicks will need all they can get out of him as the team tries to make a run at the playoffs.
The Kings have lost nine of their last 11 games and will be playing on consecutive nights after going up against the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Tuesday. If the Knicks can jump out to a big lead against a struggling opponent, Anthony will get the chance to rest even more.
Anthony does play in an additional game on Sunday as he was voted as a starter for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game, though he should play less minutes than he does during the regular season. He saw 30 minutes of action in last year’s game, which is eight minutes less than what Anthony is averaging this season.
Joining Anthony in New Orleans for All-Star Weekend will be rookie guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who was chosen to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Anthony appeared in the event, when it was still known as the Rookie Challenge, in both 2004 and 2005.
Featuring the league’s best rookie and sophomore players, playing in the Rising Stars game is a great experience for Hardaway and could boost his confidence even further as his role with the Knicks continues to expand.
Hardaway is playing a little more than 30 minutes per game in the month of February -- nearly 10 minutes above his season average. The increase in playing time has also seen Hardaway’s shooting numbers decline a bit, so perhaps the time off as he hits the rookie wall will have a positive effect on his game too going forward.
In the team’s 20 wins this year, Anthony’s shooting percentage is six points higher than in the team’s 31 losses. Given how poor J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have been offensively, Hardaway evolving into a legitimate scoring option is something the team desperately needs to ease Anthony’s workload down the stretch.
After the All-Star break, eight of the Knicks’ next 10 games will be on the road – enough to wear down a team as it is. Coach Mike Woodson, or whoever the coach may be in the coming weeks, must find a few more minutes per game on the bench for Anthony, otherwise he’s going to have nothing left in the tank come April.