The Inbounds: The First Treatise on ISOMelo

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

INTRODUCTION: I’m not a big believer in the Knicks’ offense. I tend to like things like ball movement. And efficiency. And, you know, not mid-range fall-away jumpshots. But the Knicks aren’t the Bulls. They haven’t just left the offense out there to figure itself out. They’re not the Nuggets, trusting in individual team concepts. The construction of their isolation-for-Melo heavy offense is a deliberate and carefully considered creation. So I wanted to think, if I were making a treatise on the explanation of why and how to enact this offense, how would I structure it in Aristotle’s time, or in the mold of Locke? This is what I came up with. So here’s the First Treatise on ISOMelo and the New York Knicks Offense in 2012-2013.

 

I.

Whereas, the Knicks have forged their present and married their future to the ideal of the ISOMelo, and Whereas, it become necessary to understand the mechanics and causation of that precise decision, we therefore reach the conclusion that a First Treatise on ISOMelo is required, and should in good faith be produced to understand the future of the 2012-2013 New York Knicks.

(Related materials: The 2012 Knicks Season Preview on PBT.)

Therefore we must begin with the central tenets of ISOMelo and what it entails. The foundation of our ideological framework stands in four tenets.

1. It is best, whenever possible, and with full respect and consideration to the flow of the game and in taking full advantage of mismatches, to in all other instances trust the most talented offensive player with acting as both the initiator and finisher of a standard offensive possession.

2. In pursuit of maximizing the effectiveness of the above tenet, a player’s input should not only be considered but made a priority with regard to comfort and decision-making. Therefore, if he feels most comfortable in the post, he should receive the ball there; if he feels his best work is done from the high pick and roll, the offense should be structured as such. A happy and comfortable player is a self-actualized player is a productive player.

3. Carmelo Anthony is the best and most effective offensive player on the New York Knicks, and is most comfortable in a one-on-one offensive set (referred to as “isolation,” “ISO” or “that thing Carmelo does where he catches the ball and holds it for like fifteen seconds”). He prefers to work out of the high-to-mid post with an emphasis on using the space on the “wing” from above the block to top of the arc, and expanding to the perimeter.

4. A winning and successful basketball offense can be produced incorporating the above tenets to produce an offense that relies heavily on the isolation abilities of Carmelo Anthony as the primary option in any given set.

The above follows a logical train of thought that is both simplistic and nuanced, taking into account the most central concept in regards to the goal of an offensive possession: CREATE A BASKETBALL SHOT THAT RESULTS IN A MADE FIELD GOAL. The policy is not enacted out of carelessness or disregard for the offense or its efficiency, nor is it done simply to appease the priorities and objectives of Anthony, or his representatives at the Creative Artists Agency (also known as “The Knicks”). It is done with full forethought to the best way to structure the offense, the reasons for which will be enumerated below.

1. Modern, high-pace, high-efficiency offenses featuring ball-movement and a shared responsibility have shown an inability to produce in the postseason (referred to as “when it matters”). The mid-00’s Phoenix Suns, the current-era Denver Nuggets, the current-era San Antonio Spurs, the early-00’s Dallas Mavericks, and many others  have fallen short of their collective goal of an NBA championship due to the stylistic difference in the National Basketball Association’s postseason from the National Basketball Association regular season. In consideration of this, a slower-pace, “grind-it-out” offense relying on superstar capability such as that held by Carmelo Anthony has a more productive history in postseason play.

2. Postseason play is a reductionist pursuit. With the intensity and physicality provided by playoff defense, the ability of an offensive set to reduce any given set to a matter of one player with superior shot-making ability vs. any given opponent regardless of defensive capability provides an advantage that while not efficient, may prove more reliable in the long run.

3. If we are to assume the other ideas traditionally regarded as essential for team success (sacrifice, shared responsibility, the propensity to make the entire team better) are both true and worth in pursuit,  it is not essentially true that ISOMelo stands in opposition  to these fundamental philosophies. In truth, should the shooters, scorers, rebounders, dunkers, shot-makers, put-backers, pick-and-rollers all make that same sacrifice in pursuit of the ISOMelo, it can produce more efficient and higher percentage opportunities for their skills.

4. ISOMelo rejects the notion that all players’ sacrifice are both created and expressed equally. ISOMelo holds that Melo bears the weight of the offense, and therefore the weight of any such failures unnecessarily high, providing for no excuse for his play. Supporting players, regardless of their talent, are then held to the only standard of contributing to the team concept, which is ISOMelo.

5. The existence of help defenders in the modern NBA scheme should not be held as a reason to abandon or deny the effectiveness of ISOMelo and its value as the standard set of the New York Knicks. While efficiency does reduce in the presence of multiple defenders upon the act of a Melo field goal attempt, there are benefits in the drawing of a help defender, namely, the  production of an unguarded offensive player, and a subsequent easier shot. Even in the event of a field goal attempt over multiple defenders, Anthony’s shot-making ability is such to justify an attempt, with regards to maintaining Anthony’s comfort level. At all times, the belief that a happy Melo is a productive Anthony must be maintained, lest the entire ISOMelo tent collapse like a flan in a cupboard.

It is the belief in this system and these ideas that result in the essential ideology of the 2012-2013 New York Knicks, having made such moves as to maximize the effectiveness of this system, including but not limited to the hiring of Mike Woodson as head coach (a classic supporter of the system under another name: ISOJoe), and the addition of shooters to compliment and work alongside Anthony without challenging his authority, as some other point guards from Ivy League schools may have.

ISOMelo is not a default option, it is part of a greater tapestry that the Knicks believe will result in the achievement of the ultimate goal. It comes not from nefarious or flawed malapropisms, but instead from a deliberate pursuit of an effective, if not efficient, offense. Efficiency is neither the key to the gates of basketball heaven nor the end-all, be-all of basketball. The alternative path blazed by ISOMelo is one of physicality and the gradual destruction of a defense through superior talent and expression of the greatest singular shot-making ability on the team, in the simplest context. What it lacks in nuance, it makes up for in brute force. What it fails in efficiency, it excels in effectiveness. And in the most key moments of any basketball contest, the final seconds, it provides the most reliable of any basketball ever produced, even more so than the once-vaunted pick-and-roll, a high-percentage jump shooter shooting a jump shot with the clock ticking to zero.

It is in the ISOMelo we believe, once and forever, until a rebuilding period is needed. In CAA we place our faith, amen.

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?