For those who were fortunate enough to watch Friday night’s New York Knicks win over the Charlotte Bobcats, Carmelo Anthony’s record-setting scoring performance is a memory that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, Melo’s exceptional scoring – 62 points on 23-of-35 (65.7%) shots – will not. In fact, it’s highly likely that Sunday’s box score for the Knicks-Lakers game at MSG will show that Melo scored below his average while shooting below his average as well.
This isn’t pessimism. It’s a prediction based on something I call the “Israeli Air Force Syndrome”. I’ve written about it before and it happens very frequently. But all may not be lost. After explaining the syndrome, I’ll describe some things that might help Melo avoid its clutches.
Back in the late 1960s, the Israeli Air Force conducted a study that showed that when a pilot set a new personal best in the flight simulator, the next time he was in the simulator would often result in a below average performance. Although I provide more details in my prior article on this, in a nutshell, the thinking is that the unconscious mind looks at the new “high” performance as the new “average”. Extra pressure is placed on the athlete to hit the “new average” the next game, the shots don’t fall as easily, and that adds more pressure. At a very high frequency, follow-up performances fall far short of the highlight reel performances of the prior games.
Melo’s Friday night highlight reel compounded the problem greatly. First, his 65.7% shooting is well above this season’s 44.7% and his career 45.5%. Second, his 62 points were a new personal best, a 24% increase over his prior 50-point mark. But third, and most important, his performance was the greatest scoring performance in the history of “the Mecca”, Madison Square Garden.
The last point is the biggest problem. Melo was “unconscious” on Friday night. But as I write this, I’m watching him on ESPN answering questions about what was going on in his head during the game. Asking questions makes things “conscious”. The assault on Melo’s mental zone began during the halftime interview on Friday night and has continued, unabated, as each and every reporter has asked him what was going on in his head. He’s probably way too conscious now to be unconscious at game time.
If Melo were on my “mental zone” program, there’d be no problems today. Allan Houston shot 60% or better in 15 of the 30 games that he was on my program and shot 50% or better in 27 of those 30 games. If Allan could become a first-time NBA All-Star and make at least half his shots 90% of the time we worked together, I think it’s safe to say that Carmelo could do roughly the same.
But Melo and I don’t work together, so here are some things he can do in the short term:
1. Watch the Muhammad Ali video before the game. While it’s probable that a number of things contributed to his “zone”, he believes this is one of them and he needs to watch.
2. Set his sights low. His season averages are 27 points per game on 44.7% shooting. Commit to believing that 18 points on 40% shooting will be considered a “win” to him and the team. This lowers the stress level from too-high expectations and often helps an athlete play a better overall game. Lowering his sights, at least for today, may help him hit shots that he’d otherwise miss after such an incredible performance.
3. Stay in the flow of the game. One of the best things about the other night was that Carmelo was taking shots in the flow of the game. He wasn’t pounding the ball into the floor for 20 seconds while his teammates stood open for easy shots. If Melo does the same thing today, he’ll be taking better and more makeable shots and could make more of them.
4. Utilize the backboard. It’s more forgiving when something about the shot isn’t quite right (too fast, too much arc, etc.). It’s easier to hit a shot off the backboard when you’re getting bumped than it is to hit a swish. Play a smart game and watch the points add up.
Regardless of Melo’s performance today, it won’t take any of the luster off the gem he posted on Friday. That’s a record that will stand for awhile and certainly won’t be broken this afternoon.