No One Is Bigger Than the TEAM
By Alan Hahn
February 13, 2012
Tyson Chandler made the most pointed statement of the night after the Knicks' gutsy win in Minnesota on Saturday. It was perceived as a warning shot rather than a mentality for a team that seemed to be finally developing an identity.
"The game should dictate the star," Chandler said, "not the individual."
Chandler's mantra -- which spawned 48 hours of hand-wringing over Carmelo Anthony's impact on Linsanity -- brought back to life a message originally promoted by legendary coach Red Holzman, who in the early 1970s had a team of stars but got them to sacrifice for the greater good.
Chandler's quote echoes the principle of Mike D'Antoni's offense and Holzman's "Find the Open Man" credo, which emphasizes the idea that the high-scorer or offensive star isn't established by the player, but by the game. It's what the opponent gives you. It's who has the hot hand. Not who has to "get theirs."
For instance, Walt Frazier, the point guard whose job was to set up others, put forth one of the greatest Game 7 performances of all-time in the 1970 NBA Finals. "That night," he often recalls, "I was the open man."
Other nights it was someone else. No one player was more emblematic of giving up personal achievements for the sake of team success more than Earl Monroe, who came to the team in 1971, a superstar from the Baltimore Bullets with the reputation as a dynamic soloist.
The criticism was that there was no way Monroe and his one-on-one game could fit into Holzman's symphony, with Frazier, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere and Willis Reed. Before agreeing to the trade, even Monroe wondered if it would work, but the more he heard the doubts from others, he turned it into a challenge.
"The ego thing always creeps in there, but at the same time, if you're a good basketball player, you know how to win," Monroe told Knicks historian Dennis D'Agostino in the terrific book, Garden Glory.
"I was always a winning basketball player. Even when I wasn't scoring an awful lot of points, guys always wanted to play with me. So I didn't have any problems with that. I just knew it was Clyde's ball and I'd have to fit my way in there."
In the midst of his prime years, Monroe sacrificed statistics (his scoring average dropped dramatically) but came away with an elusive -- and unforgettable -- championship ring in 1973.
Enter Melo, who, like Monroe, finds amusing the notion that he can't -- or won't -- buy into the beautiful team-concept flow the Knicks have played in the emergence of Jeremy Lin.
"People questioning whether I can fit in, I don't even know where that's coming from," Anthony said after Monday's practice. "I can play with anybody. It's funny for me."
Melo is still out with a groin strain, but could return to the lineup later this week, perhaps by Friday's game against the New Orleans Hornets. But the turnaround of the Knicks in his absence has not been lost on the All-Star forward. Actually, what few people know is he's one of the reasons why Lin got that chance against the Nets. Melo was one of the voices that encouraged D'Antoni to give the unknown, undrafted point guard more minutes.
And now people expect him to destroy what he helped create? Lin, as Carmelo said, is "thriving" in "the system that we're running" and that's undeniable.
Though it is a small sample, Lin's success isn't just in points or assists, but in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), which is 25.9, and Assist Percentage, which is 47.7. Compare those numbers to the current league leaders and Lin would rank fourth in PER behind LeBron James (31.8), Chris Paul (27.0) and Kevin Durant (26.3) and second in Assist Percentage behind Steve Nash (58.1). [Note: PER is a measure of Per-Minute production and Assist Percentage is percentage of team's baskets Lin assists on when he's in the game].
It should be pointed out here that Melo's highest scoring season came while playing with Andre Miller, a traditional point guard, and Allen Iverson, a ball-dominant scoring guard. Not to mention that with the ball in Lin's hands, the pressure is now off Melo to be a facilitator and now he can focus on what he does best: Scoring.
"It's very exciting time right now for myself to just sit back and intake all of this information and intake everybody's opinion," he said. "I'm telling you, I couldn’t be in a more blessed situation right now."
Make no mistake, it's on Melo to do it within the team concept that has awakened this group. And he knows it. If he puts in the effort to fit into the symphony, the way Monroe did, the possibilities are endless. If he falls into the habit of being a ball-dominating, isolation player, the way many of his critics are predicting, an entire city that is captivated by this team in a way it hasn't been in many years, will turn on him.
"When I get back, it will be that much more fun for myself," Melo said. "It will be that much more fun for the New York Knicks."
AMAR'E: 'SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT'
The Melo Effect -- and the penchant for doomsday prophesizing that is so distinctly New York -- overshadows the intrigue of Stoudemire's return to the team after his painful week mourning the death of his brother.
A somber Stoudemire appeared to still have a heavy heart after practice, but said that Lin's emergence and the success of the team in his absence gave him "something to smile about right now."
Lin, who was given a "recovery day," did not scrimmage with the team in practice so there were no sneak previews of he and Stoudemire in the pick-and-roll. But the anticipation is the two should be able to quickly develop -- will it be as early as Tuesday's game in Toronto? -- a chemistry similar to something seen in Phoenix a few years ago.
Stoudemire even acknowledged "some similarities" between Lin and his former pick-and-roll partner, Nash.
"He's definitely on his way," Stoudemire said. "Steve's obviously one of the all-time greats. If Jeremy keeps improving, he can continue to find success, and he'll be right there with Nash."
Nash, last week, tweeted his appreciation for Lin's amazing story. Perhaps the former two-time MVP might share some notes with the Harvard grad on how to get the most out of Stoudemire and D'Antoni's system?
"Oh sure," Lin said. "Whatever advice he has. How can you not listen to Nash?"
Amar'e already loves the swagger of Linsanity. "Only in New York can you become an international icon overnight," he said.
• Of all the amazing feats Lin has made over the last 10 days, the fact that he was named on Monday NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week was almost an afterthought. Lin averaged 27.3 points, 8.3 assists and 2 steals per game in four games -- the NBA "week" goes from Monday to Sunday, so it included the Jazz, Wizards, Lakers and Timberwolves wins -- to capture the award. As reported by CBSSports.com's Ken Berger, Lin became the first player to win D-League Player of the Week honors (last season) and NBA Player of the Week honors.
• Lin was asked which nicknames he has enjoyed most. "I like Jeremy," he said. He did eventually admit that "Super Lin-tendo" was pretty cool.
• A notably lean Baron Davis, still working his way back from a herniated disk, spent most of practice doing some very intense-looking core exercises on a side court and then participated in a pick-and-roll based shooting drill with Stoudemire.
• Chatted a bit with sharpshooting forward Steve Novak, who is averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game over the last four games and is shooting a sizzling 16-for-31 (51.6 percent) from downtown in that span. Told him, "I've never been happier with being proven terribly wrong" and admitted I questioned his ability to rebound and defend as reasons why he wasn't getting rotation minutes. He shrugged and said he originally thought I was an awful studio analyst. I guess we're even.
A FAN'S VIEW OF LINSANITY
Frank Levy is a professor of Urban Economics at MIT and, despite his location so deep in enemy territory outside of Boston, he is a lifelong Knicks fan. Many of us in the media have spent the past week trying to put to words the impact Jeremy Lin's story -- and game -- has had on this team, this franchise and this city, but I think Frank put it best in an email to me today:
“In October of 1969, I was living in the Bay Area. It was the beginning of the first full season with Reed at center and DeBusschere at forward. It was about 5:00 PM and I was driving home listening on the car radio to the Warriors/Knicks playing at MSG. The Warriors broadcaster was Bill King, a terrific guy who called games pretty straight. Frazier executed a backdoor play with Bradley and King went nuts - "I have never seen a backdoor executed that well..." You just knew something very special was beginning to happen.
In fact, the Knicks lost that game but it was THE brilliant season. Over the next 40 years, I haven't had that feeling many other times but I am getting that feeling now. Fingers crossed."
The point is that having stars is great. We spent the last four years focusing on stars through the LeBronathon, signing Amar'e, the Melopalooza and even the Chris Paul sweepstakes. But what really inspires people is when talent comes together to create something special.