With Jeremy Lin out for the next six weeks, and Amar'e Stoudemire's return date to the court unknown, there are many questions as to whether or not Carmelo Anthony can carry the Knicks on his own.
Like Stoudemire (who basked in the spotlight of being team-savior last season), Anthony seems to thrive when he is the center of attention. He appears to enjoy carrying the scoring burden, plays better under pressure, and furthermore, elevates his leadership when he's put into such a situation.
Regardless of whether or not being "the man" is what Anthony prefers, the underlying question remains: can he do it all?
As he led the Knicks to a 6-4 start to begin the season, the answer to that question was yes. Of course, there were games in which Anthony was off, but the fact is when you're helping your team win 60% of their games, chances are you're doing a decent job.
Unfortunately that trend didn't go on forever, and Anthony has had to cope with injuries all throughout the season, most recently suffering his second groin injury of the season. As he continues to play through the pain, Anthony will ultimately need some help if the Knicks want to firmly hold onto a playoff spot.
The Knicks having to rely upon a balanced effort offensively is exactly why Lin's absence will hurt the team that much more than Stoudemire's. Despite STAT being a six-time all-star, a potential M.V.P. candidate, and most recently, an 18 point per game scorer, his production and impact appears easier to replace than Lin's.
Without Jeremy Lin (or Steve Nash, Raymond Felton, Chauncey Billups, etc.), there is no Amar'e Stoudemire. His production is almost entirely dependent upon a point guard effectively finding him in the right spots. Unfortunately, this stands to be the case for many of the Knicks, as the outbreak of LINsanity resulted in a domino effect of elevated performances. Steve Novak, Landry Fields, and even Iman Shumpert all saw spikes in offensive production as Lin emerged, finding them in the open floor again and again.
With other potent offensive options, the Knicks have the opportunity to replace Stoudemire's scoring. But it's clear a number of teammates have struggled since Lin has been sidelined. Aside from Novak and Fields, Tyson Chandler has also seen his role on offense diminish, though that in itself could be a result of a slightly different offensive playbook as of late. Even Baron Davis played better with Lin active, simply because he began to find a rhythm with the second unit with Lin as starter.
Though Shumpert did in fact play decently with Lin, he's also been looked upon to fill a void offensively. So far, he's done well answering the call, turning in back-to-back 25 point performances last week. Though he's just a rookie, Shumpert too seems to crave the spotlight, anxious to take on different challenges, so expect him to thrive while taking on more responsibility as well.
With Lin sidelined and the loss of him on the court likely to continue affecting a handful of his teammates, the Knicks will have to look for someone else to step up to the plate aside from Anthony and Shumpert. That player should indeed become J.R. Smith, who was signed by the Knicks midseason not simply for more depth, but also to help provide a boost towards their playoff push.
Smith's moment in New York is now, if there ever was one. Aside from being signed for this very reason, Smith game and style of play suits him perfectly for what the Knicks are in need of right now. With very few options at point guard, the team will surely benefit from having other position players create their own offense. Whereas a player like Stoudemire may depend on a floor general, Anthony will play well because he can do things for himself. And so will Smith. In fact, Smith struggled early on and that could very well be because he doesn't play well if the ball doesn't start off in his hands.
As it stands now, Smith has the green light to shoot the ball, and will likely thrive while being able to create for himself. Hopefully, such an elevated effort can propel the Knicks to some key needed victories down the stretch, much like his 20 points did Saturday night vs. the Cavaliers.