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Carmelo Anthony happy to let Knicks teammates step up

Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore drives the ball

Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore drives the ball past New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Carmelo Anthony wants to share.

In the course of an illustrious career, Anthony has been called plenty of things: an All-Star, a superstar, a scoring champion. And a ball hog.

That last one followed Anthony throughout his career with the Nuggets when, even as a rookie, he was tasked with turning around a franchise. It still dogs him well into his tenure with his current team.

He has said that at times as a Knick, he felt he had no choice but to take the shot himself. But with the Knicks in position to earn their 17th victory — matching last season’s output — Anthony has made a concerted effort to let his teammates step up. He knows that’s one of the keys to gaining the consistency that the team covets.

He has developed “trust in the guys that are out there,” he said after practice Monday. “They can go out there and believe in their skill level and their talent and what they can do on the court . . . and as far as me, I can figure the other part out. I’m not really too concerned about [how many shots he takes]. I’d rather get their confidence going — guys that probably haven’t played well lately — get them going early.”

That means that on days like Sunday, when Arron Afflalo looked nearly unstoppable against the Hawks, Anthony is happy to take a step back. Afflalo shot 14-for-17, including 7-for-8 from three-point range, and finished with 38 points. Anthony, meanwhile, remained on the periphery of the offense. He scored only 11 points, shooting 4-for-10, but had nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.

It’s a new look for Anthony, who admitted that last season and earlier this season, he believed he had to attempt low-probability shots in the hopes of starting something.

“You can look bad doing it sometimes when you try to force the issue,” he said. “But a game like on Sunday, and a couple games already throughout the season, you just kind of take it as it comes. Some games, I get double-teamed, triple-teamed, and Arron has 38 or KP [Kristaps Porzingis] has 25 or something, or RoLo [Robin Lopez] might have 20. That’s something that I was hoping for at the beginning of the season.”

Anthony averaged 20.2 field-goal attempts per game in 40 games last season before knee surgery in February. He is averaging only 18.0 field-goal attempts this season, his lowest output since the 2004-05 season, his second year in the league. His production also is down: He’s averaging 21.5 points, his lowest output since 2004-05, and his field-goal percentage is .427, nearly a career low.

But while the Anthony of yesteryear might have forced the issue, he now appears to see the benefit of leading in another way.

“It’s just the natural progression of a person who is maturing,” said Afflalo, who had a front-row seat to the Anthony of old when they were teammates in Denver. “He really wants to win. Everything that he puts into the game is about winning.”

Then again, it’s not only Anthony who has changed. He has a stronger supporting cast this season than he’s had in recent years. He said that as a young player, stepping back was a luxury he couldn’t afford.

“I was the guy that always had to go out there and score 30, score 40 points to even try to be in a close game,” he said. “With the makeup of this team, I don’t really have to do that. I feel a lot more comfortable now with only taking 10 shots on certain nights and letting somebody else have a breakout game and let other guys get involved and get their confidence up.

“The vibe is totally different. It’s night and day.”

Early visits Knicks at practice. Five days after getting shot in the right knee during a robbery in Queens, Cleanthony Early was back at the Knicks’ practice facility on crutches, visiting his teammates.

“It’s good to hear his voice — just his presence,” Anthony said. “He was able to walk around a little bit, even though he’s on crutches, but it’s just good to see him. Good to have him back.”

Said Afflalo: “He was in good spirits. I’m sure he’s recovering the right way.”

Derek Fisher said Early’s visit was “good for everybody.”

Early, who was released from the hospital Saturday, did not need surgery on the knee. It is unclear when he’ll be able to return.

Early has been relatively active on social media since the shooting, posting a picture on Instagram of himself pointing at the sky while in a hospital bed. He expressed relief that the injury was not life-threatening. In the last week, he has retweeted well-wishes and also tweeted, “Thank God for today” on Jan. 1.

Notes & quotes: Porzingis was named the Eastern Conference rookie of the month for the second month in a row, the league announced Monday. He shares the honor with his Western Conference counterpart, the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, who also won the title for the second straight month. Porzingis averaged 12.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in December . . . Lou Amundson (back) practiced with the team but has not been cleared to play, though he could be ready by the end of the week, Fisher said.


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