By John Schmeelk
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When the Knicks decided whether or not they wanted to sign Carmelo Anthony, hundreds of articles were written about whether or not he could be the best player on a championship team, if he was a team player, was a good enough defender or was worth the money he received. They were abstract issues everyone could logically disagree on.
One part of the equation that wasn’t discussed much at all was whether or not Anthony could continue at the level he was playing at as he turned 30 years old. This season he already has a knee issue that he has played through, and now back spasms have forced him out of a game.
Last season, his season ended with a labrum tear in his right shoulder. The year before, he had a partially torn labrum and rotator cuff in his left shoulder. On Christmas day the previous year he suffered a knee injury against the Lakers.
The disturbing part is that these injuries are now coming earlier in the season. Anthony is shooting 48 percent from the field, a great number, but he is averaging only 23.2 points per game, which would be his lowest total since 2008-09. He is averaging just 5.8 rebounds per game, which would be his lowest season total since 2005-06. His PER has dropped all the way to 22.17, two points lower than his numbers the last two seasons.
Is age already creeping up on Anthony? Or are some of those numbers the product of the triangle and his return to small forward?
This is not to say Anthony is playing poorly, or is in any way responsible for the Knicks’ awful record. He is not. He is doing everything he can, at least offensively, to win ball games. But there should be some lingering questions as to whether or not he can maintain this level play through the length of his contract. By the time the Knicks are ready to win an NBA championship, probably not until the 2016-2017 season, will Anthony be able to stay healthy and provide upper echelon player production? Anthony will have to play at that level if the Knicks want to win a title during his time here.
Heading into this season, Anthony had already played 29,000 minutes of regular season basketball and 790 games. He played another nearly full season of playoff games (66), which are often more intense and taxing on the body. For reference, Anthony has already played only 35 fewer regular season games than Allan Houston did before he had to retire. He has played only 40 fewer games than Stephon Marbury did. He has played only 18 games less than David Robinson did before he retired.
There is no science in figuring out when a player begins to have a drop in performance. Joe Johnson, though still an excellent player, took a step back at age 31 after a smaller dip at 29. Rip Hamilton fell apart at 31. Reggie Miller played at a high level until he turned 35. Glen Rice fell off a cliff at 32. Scottie Pippen began to decline at 33. Clyde Drexler made it to 34 playing well. Michael Jordan retired at the top of his game at 34. There is no way to know when Melo’s time will come.
It was encouraging when Anthony dropped weight in the offseason because I thought it would help him relieve some pressure on his legs and back, two things that can take a player out of his prime years quickly. Perhaps these two early injuries are just a blip on a radar, and Anthony will end up playing 78 games at his peak efficiency. Maybe he’ll do it each of the next four years, too. It is too early to worry. But it is not too early to wonder how much longer Knicks fans will be able to enjoy Anthony in his prime years before age and injury truly begin to take their toll.
For everything Knicks at Giants, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk
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