Carmelo Anthony has never really been known for his defense, but this year, even as his offense has continued to slide after undergoing major knee surgery back in February, he might be playing better D than ever before.
Herring also takes note of Anthony's defensive style changing. He's going harder at three-point shooters than ever before, and when he mans the ball, he seems to be more engaged. Of course, off the ball, it's been a different story.
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Anthony has still been caught sleeping on backdoor cuts and switches all too much. Herring attributes it to being “lazy.” In reality, it's hard to say if it's that or him just being aloof. Anthony has mostly been playing hard on both ends this year. Sometimes, certain guys are just prone to zoning out. The difference is semantic and doesn't matter in terms of performance, but it does matter in terms of motivation.
Anthony isn't an elite defender now, and metrics for off-the-ball defense still aren't good enough to indicate exactly how effective Melo's overall defense has been. He'll never be an upper-echelon defender, but he's been better. Much better. And that's a big deal for a Knicks team that's still trying to form a winning roster around him.
As far back as the preseason, Anthony has been sprinting at dangerous shooters on the perimeter, something he hardly ever did last season. As a result, he has contested almost as many 3-pointers (17) this year as he did in 40 games last year (18).
And it seems to be working. Opposing shooters are making just 23.8% of their 3-pointers when Anthony is the closest defender to the play, according to SportVU player-tracking technology. That’s the second-lowest mark among all NBA wing defenders behind only LeBron James—a remarkable feat considering that Anthony surrendered the NBA’s second-highest percentage on 3-pointers (41.9%) last season.
This essentially makes Anthony a microcosm of the Knicks, who were dead last in 3-point defense last season, and rank second-best in that category this season.