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Nerd Alert: Is Carmelo's Surge For Real?

Jack Moore

Jack Moore is a freelance sports writer based in Minneapolis who appears regularly at VICE Sports, The Guardian and Baseball Prospectus Milwaukee, among others. Follow him on Twitter @jh_moore.

Carmelo Anthony is coming off a great fantasy week. In four games -- all without both Jeremy Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire, which is likely the case for the rest of the season as well -- the Knicks' suddenly lonely superstar tallied an even 27 points per game on 47.9 percent shooting to go with 7.5 rebounds. This is the player that was projected to show up before the season, the player who was projected to be worth a second-round draft pick this season.

Better late than never. Playoff owners with Carmelo are essentially locked in at this point anyway, but as we head into the final month of the season, the question is relevant: what happened last week, and can Carmelo keep up this late-season surge?

The trick for Melo's high-scoring barrage was simple: get to the line. Anthony attempted 40 free throws over the four games, for a 10.0 per game well above his 6.7 per game mark for the season. It took Anthony his previous nine games to get to 45 free throws. Just 12 times this season has he gone over the 10 free throw mark.

When we take a deeper look at the lineups Carmelo has played with this season, we see two different trends emerge. When Anthony has shared the floor with Amar'e Stoudemire this season, his attack on the free throw line has screeched to a halt. According to NBA Statscube, Anthony has attempted just 5.6 free throw attempts per 36 minutes with Stoudemire on the court, or 0.309 per field goal attempt. With Stoudemire off the court -- and with Anthony given relatively free reign over the offense -- he's averaged 10.0 attempts per 36 minutes. Even adjusting for the extra field goals he takes without Amar'e around, Anthony still takes a much higher 0.386 free throws per field goal attempt when he's the only superstar on the court for the Knicks.

Although Anthony and Stoudemire have spent the majority of their time this season on the court together instead of separated, there's still a decent sample size both ways thanks to Stoudemire's injury troubles this season. Anthony and Stoudemire have played 913 minutes together, but Anthony has played a solid 520 -- or just under 11 full games -- without Stoudemire on the court.

We've seen a similar effect with Jeremy Lin and Carmelo as well -- Anthony averages just 0.270 free throws per field goal attempt with Lin on the court and a superior 0.340 with Lin off the court. The two have played together for 505 minutes while Anthony has played 894 without Lin as his point guard.

If this is a real trend -- and 500+ minutes of data would suggest it is, at least partially -- we may see more of the Nuggets-era Anthony than the Knicks-era without Lin and Stoudemire around down the stretch. Anthony averaged at least 0.390 free throw attempts per field goal attempt in each of his seasons as a Nugget, and as he is a good shooter from the line to boot -- peaking at 84 percent last season -- getting to the line is an important and underrated factor in his scoring ability. Observe:

For much of the season, Anthony's scoring numbers have tracked nearly one-to-one with his field goal attempt numbers, which dropped a bit as Lin and Stoudemire took over bigger parts of the offense. But there are two distinct points where the green points line hovers well above the blue shot attempts line -- the two ends. To kick off the season Anthony was getting to the line at a similarly high rate and was scoring as he was expected to when the Knicks brought him to the Garden, and Stoudemire missed two of New York's first five games. Similarly, Melo has carried the Knicks' offense on his back over the previous four games -- all without Amar'e.

Why does Anthony get to the line more without Stoudemire on the court? Although this effect did exist last season, it wasn't nearly so large. To me, this suggests that the presence of both Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler on the court may have clogged the offensive lane to the point where Anthony resorted to too many long jumpers to possibly draw his typical high number of shooting fouls. We have seen Anthony take more free throws with Chandler off the court than on it as well (similar numbers as with Stoudemire off or on the court), although in a much smaller sample size (258 minutes).

Now, instead of Stoudemire and Lin, Anthony will be playing with the likes of Baron Davis and J.R. Smith. Carmelo will be seeing more minutes at the power forward position than he has all season, another similarity to his more productive time in Denver. If Anthony is going to continue the binge that we saw last week, it will have to be through aggressiveness. Luckily for fantasy owners, the absence of the other two Knicks' headliners should force New York's hand. Anthony will have to get to the line to produce for the Knicks' offense, and those points from the line could give fantasy owners the Anthony they hoped to draft in the second round this season as they head into the playoffs.