My favorite TV show returns tonight when the Knicks begin their season at home against the Bulls. And while many are wondering how the Knicks will fare in rookie coach Derek Fisher’s iteration of Phil Jackson’s Triangle*, my burning question is this: how does the main character interact with the younger supporting cast this season?
*Bulky phrase, I know. Should be a bulky operation in the early going.
We simply don’t know how he’ll treat being the older superstar among up-and-coming young guns. Make no mistake, this roster is not the 2010 Thunder**. But this year’s Knicks roster has the best assemblage of younger talent that Melo’s ever played with. This group consists of Tim Hardaway Jr, Iman Shumpert, Cleanthony Early, and Shane Larkin.
To our knowledge, Carmelo has never been a bad teammate or a great one. You get the impression that he’s a nice dude who understands that he’ll get the lion share of the media attention in the locker room, as well as an equally large share of blame for the team’s win-loss record. Everything you hear about him from the beat writers is that he’s a calm and patient professional.
Has he ever screamed “leadership”, though? He certainly hasn't in the way that his buddies LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant do. Since we know him as neither a great leader nor a headcase, it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll handle having younger talent around for the first time.
Consider his best season at each stop. He won the national championship at Syracuse his freshman year, when he was the youngest player on the team. He of course never stuck around to become an upperclassman.
On the 2009 Denver Nuggets, he was the second youngest player on the team that made it to the Western Conference Finals. That team had loud veterans (and good friends of Carmelo’s) Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin.
Even on the 2013 Knicks, he was 28, in his 9th year, and yet still the 3rd youngest guy on the team. That team was the oldest in league history and boasted a bevy of loud veterans (Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, Kurt Thomas) who were there to be “teammates” and leaders to younger guys. Melo’s job was to score. It was widely speculated that Kidd’s absence contributed, even if in a small way, to the Knicks' pathetic showing last season.
There’s just very little precedent for Carmelo and younger talent. Unless, of course, you include Linsanity. I’d look past that as a special case (and an increasingly not-special player), but Melo didn’t exactly handle that one smoothly. And, ironically enough, it was Lin who said recently that he’s never had someone helping him the way Kobe currently is this season. Kobe’s reputation as a teammate is far from stellar, but at least he tries to get the best out of guys. Can Melo be bothered to care about his younger teammates’ potential?
It’s in his best interest to empower and mentor those young guys. Until the Knicks can get under the cap and sign another piece next offseason or in 2016, they’re his best chance at a well-rounded supporting cast. And while Melo probably never met minutes or shots he didn’t like, he could definitely benefit from guys like Tim Hardaway Jr or Cleanthony Early spelling him for longer stretches and holding their own on both ends of the floor. He played the most minutes per game of anyone in the NBA last season, and his efficiency plummeted late in games. Many writers attribute that to fatigue from over-usage.
What exactly does being a great teammate to the younger guys mean? It’s hard to say, because we as fans are removed from the million little interactions these guys have with each other away from the cameras. You just hope that he serves as a mentor and as a resource for these guys to get better. What I do know is that Kevin Durant did this:
So you’ve got KD spreading love and Kobe spreading tough love for his own personal gain.
It feels like Melo doesn’t fall into either category. Is that a bad thing? We’re about to find out.
In preseason, we saw glimpses of Melo the teammate:
This was nice, but keep in mind that Pablo is 7 years his senior. There was also this about 22 year old Hardaway Jr, who had a good rookie season and an even better summer:
"I see more confidence" Anthony says of Hardaway "That says alot because Tim has a lot of confidence. He believes in himself a lot more. I need Tim's confidence to be sky-high"
Melo needs Tim’s confidence to be sky high. But really what he should have said was “we” need Tim’s confidence to be sky high. Small detail, but let’s keep an eye on all this. For the record, I am rooting for him to succeed in this new role, and for those younger guys to flourish, whoever is serving as their mentor.
The season starts tonight. Everyone’s wondering how Carmelo will adapt to the triangle, but I’m just as interested to see who he brings into his circle.
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