Opening Tip: Melo's 'A' game on D

Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the New York Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.

Today's Burning Question: How important has Carmelo Anthony's defense been to the Knicks' hot start?

Melo's scoring is probably going to dominate any and all Knicks talk on Wednesday.

And deservedly so.

After all, he had 29 points in 28 minutes in the Knicks’ win in New Orleans, going off for 19 in the first quarter on 8-of-9 shooting. Melo showed again why he’s one of the most gifted scorers on the planet and a nightmare matchup at the power forward spot.

But the bigger surprise when it comes to Anthony this season -- and arguably the biggest surprise of the NBA outside of Mike D’Antoni landing the Lakers job -- is that he's extending himself on the defensive end.

For most of his first nine seasons in the NBA, Anthony was known as a scorer who showed little effort on defense.

And that reputation followed him to New York. Under D’Antoni, Anthony was routinely criticized by NBA observers for a his poor commitment on D.

But so far this season, Anthony’s given an honest effort on the defensive end -- and, through nine games, he has shown that he’s no longer a liability.

Let’s take a look at the numbers:

Anthony’s defensive efficiency -- or the points allowed per 100 possessions when he is on the floor -- was at 97 entering play Tuesday.

Last season, it was 100. The season prior, it was 106.

This stat is heavily influenced by Anthony’s teammates, so the presence of Tyson Chandler, Ronnie Brewer, J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd no doubt has had a positive impact on Anthony’s number.

But another measure of Anthony’s success on defense is this: the Knicks’ point differential per 100 possessions with Melo on the floor is 12.4 points higher than when he's on the bench.

Entering play Tuesday, opponents were shooting 43.5 percent from the floor when Anthony was out there. Last season, they shot 44.4 and the season before, they hit 46 percent.

Now, Anthony shares the floor with Chandler and Brewer or Smith for large stretches of the game, so those numbers are no doubt influenced by Chandler’s presence.

So his impact on the defensive end isn't easy to quantify. Here's one way to measure it: According to Grantland's Zach Lowe, the players Melo guards were shooting just 7-of-20 on post-up shots and turning the ball over on nearly 30 percent of those plays entering play Tuesday -- a staggering number, per Synergy Sports.

The difference this year, of course, is that Anthony is giving more effort on the defensive end.

"It was always there," former Knicks and current Pacers president Donnie Walsh said of Anthony's ability to play defense. "Carmelo is one of the few players in this league who can do everything. And now he's doing everything."

Added one veteran NBA scout: “It just seems like he’s giving more effort. … It’s straight want-to. Mike Woodson has been able to push the right buttons. He respects the guy.”

Let’s not forget: it’s only nine games into the season. And Anthony hasn’t been perfect on the defensive end. He has had a few defensive lapses on screens and failed to find cutters at times. Some are wondering if he’ll give 100 percent effort all season.

But for now, it’s working.

How important is Anthony’s defense to the Knicks’ long-term success this season?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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