The Myth of Melo

Carmelo Anthony is a superstar. So why is he criticized more than any other NBA Star?

Carmelo vs. LeBron

Image courtesy of: www.talkinhoopz.com

Skipped over by Detroit with the second pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, Carmelo Anthony has always played with a swagger and chip on his shoulder that reflected that late June draft night. Darko Milicic, the prospect that never panned out for the Pistons (or anyone else for that matter), stole some of Melo’s spotlight that night, who was expected to be chosen directly after all-time-great-to-be LeBron James. It didn’t happen. But now, ten years into his NBA career, it really does not matter for Carmelo Anthony that he was skipped over that night. He ultimately forced his way out of Denver three years ago to fulfill his childhood dream of playing for his hometown New York Knicks.

After ten years of consistently being one of the best players in the NBA, and one of the top scorers the game has ever seen, now it is all about proving the naysayers wrong and winning a championship. Some say he will never be able to do it; there are just too many flaws in his game. Some of my favorite comments about him:  “He’s too one dimensional.” “He doesn’t play defense.” “His teammates don’t like him.” “He doesn’t pass.” “He creates a culture of selfishness.” This list goes on. I once thought along these lines too. As a Knicks fan distant from the land of the Denver Nuggets, I believed the stereotypes. But, when you sit down and watch Melo for 100 or so games day in and day out, you realize he does elevate the play of his teammates and they do like him. He does more than score. And, he can play defense (when he wants to).

Recently, Bleacher Report wrote an article of the top ten most unfairly criticized players in the NBA. Carmelo came in third. But, despite saying he’s gotten an unfair shake, the author went on to criticize him, and flatly stated, “Anthony is unfairly criticized because we want him to be something he’s not.” This is a common theme for Melo, a guy who has the spotlight on him even more since becoming a Knick. In the next several sections I’ll debunk just about every theory of the “Carmelo is overrated” argument. Fasten your seatbelts “Melo haters,” it’s about to get ugly.

He’s not LeBron

Whenever the conversation is started regarding Carmelo as a basketball player, the first thing I hear is that he is not LeBron James. And that is precisely correct – he’s not. James is on a different level than Anthony, and quite frankly, a different level than any other player in the league. I can, however, make the case that Carmelo Anthony is the next best thing in the NBA to LeBron James . . . even if that means it’s a distant second place.

The comparisons are inevitable, I suppose, considering they entered the league in the same year, and they are of similar size and stature. Both have vibrant personalities and a clear passion for the game. They are even good friends off the court. However, number 23 and number 7’s on court styles couldn’t be more diverse. LeBron is the complete package, a “do-it-all” type of player, while Carmelo is more of a pure scorer, with a nice all-around game, but not nearly on the same planet of a LeBron James. James is the better leaper, passer, rebounder and defensive player. Offensively, Carmelo surpasses LeBron as a pure scorer simply because he’s a better jump shooter, has a better post game, and an overall better arsenal of moves at his disposal.

But to compare them seems rather silly, at a point where they are both great players, but LeBron is obviously better. At times I feel like as a fan of Carmelo, I should be happy that many sportswriters and radio talk show hosts are comparing Anthony to James. I guess it should be taken as a certain level of respect, but it seems that all they do is slam Carmelo in comparing him to James. Carmelo does not need to alter his game to be more like LeBron. Because he isn’t LeBron. And that’s OK. He doesn’t need to be James in order to succeed and win a championship in the NBA.

Carmelo vs. Durant

Image courtesy of: www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com

We’ve already seen the success of a player that is actually more comparable to Carmelo Anthony and that is Kevin Durant. KD is a terrific player, a pure scorer who is similar to Anthony. However, when Durant is discussed in the national media, not a single person points out his mediocre defense, and mediocre assist numbers. No one points out that for a guy who is three inches taller than Melo, he has eerily similar rebounding numbers. And despite playing on a loaded roster with a plethora of young talent (which includes Russell Westbrook, who I’ll talk more about later), KD is never criticized for “not making his teammates better” or that he “creates an atmosphere of selfish basketball.” Interestingly enough, Carmelo’s teams are 11-1 versus Durant led teams. And Carmelo has better statistics in each individual category in their matchups. This is slightly unfair, since Melo has been in the league significantly longer and Durant is now just hitting his prime, but it just seems odd that everyone thinks Durant is a better overall player than Anthony, yet his teams can never beat Carmelo’s, and their statistics are nearly identical. (Side Note: Kevin Durant is the second best player in the league according to ESPN, while Carmelo is ranked 15th)

Now that I have laid out my arguments, below are the career statistics of the three players:

Carmelo Anthony 25.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, 45% FG

LeBron James 27.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 6.9 APG, 49% FG

Kevin Durant 26.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 47% FG

Beyond The Stats: An In-Depth Look at Melo’s Career

Carmelo Anthony’s entire career has been up and down, highlighted with great successes such as an NCAA Championship as a freshman for Syracuse, or a trip to the Western Conference Finals with the 2008-2009 Denver Nuggets, only to lose to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. A broad overview of his career also shows several blips on the screen, or failures of the past. His inability to bring the Nuggets past the first round in every season but one is certainly a fair critique. And, his rough relationships with past coaches that just couldn’t get things to click, such as George Karl in Denver or Mike D’Antoni in New York is another fair shot at the six-time All-Star.

As I give a summary of each season, specifically the playoff results which everyone is interested in, what you’ll find is Anthony’s teams were the lower seed (and, not nearly as good as the opponent), and the team that ousted Melo and company ultimately went on to win the NBA Finals.

2002-2003 – In Carmelo’s freshman season at Syracuse, they win the national championship. Anthony averages 22 PPG and 10 RPG for the season, and elevates his game in the NCAA tournament, eventually going on to win the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award.

2003-2004 – Melo’s rookie year for the Denver Nuggets, he took a 17-win team to a 43-win team. Denver made the playoffs as the eight-seed in a tough, competitive Western Conference only to be eliminated in five games by the Timberwolves. Anthony became the first player in 15 years to lead a playoff team in scoring as a Rookie.

2004-2005 – Anthony has another solid season, and improves the Nuggets again, this time winning 49 games, which was only good enough for the seventh-seed. They eventually get eliminated by the Spurs, once again in five games.

2005-2006 – The Nuggets win their division and finish third in the Western Conference playoff standings. They lose the opening round to the Clippers, which is when whispers of Carmelo’s playoff record started to percolate. And rightfully so, this was supposed to be the year the Nuggets could get past the first round, and failed.

2006-2007 – Following another solid season, the Nuggets finish sixth. They battle San Antonio in the first round, and lose in five games. Speculations continue as to whether Carmelo can get his team over the hump, as LeBron (the standard he is held to) takes the Cavs (with no supporting cast) to the Finals.

2007-2008 – Denver finishes with 50 wins for the first time in 20 years. Despite reaching the 50 win plateau, the Nuggets barely make the playoffs as the eighth-seed. For the first time in NBA history, all eight playoff teams in the West had at least 50 wins. The Nuggets were swept by the first-seed LA Lakers in four games. Once again, the debate over Anthony’s playoff record seems to be the only thing anyone cares about.

2008-2009 – A 54 win season would qualify Denver for the number two seed in the Western Conference. After the franchise record setting season, Carmelo finally got the monkey off his back by winning a playoff series, and ultimately reaching the Western Conference Finals, where he was eliminated by the Lakers in six games. Anthony averaged 27 PPG, 6 RPG, and 4 APG through the 16 games in the 2009 playoff campaign, proving to the doubters that he could lead a team deep into the playoffs.

2009-2010 – Following another 50+ win season, Anthony and the Nuggets dropped the opening playoff series, this time, to the Utah Jazz. At this point, it was obvious as an outside observer that Carmelo in Denver was never going to get over the hump unless they provided him with a better roster that fit his game. In the playoff series loss, Anthony did just as much as one can do, averaging 30 PPG, 8 RPG, 3 APG, and 2 SPG. Playing both ends of the court, scoring and rebounding just simply wasn’t enough to get Denver out of the first round for the sixth time in his career.

2010-2011 – After another first round exit, rumblings started to begin that Anthony would bolt for New York in the off-season. After refusing to sign an extension with the Nuggets and his contract expiring at the end of the season, the Nuggets made a wise decision to trade Carmelo and Chauncey Billups to the Knicks in exchange for some young, talented pieces. The trade worked out for both parties, landing Anthony in the bright lights of New York where he always dreamed of playing.

Looking back on this season, lost in the shuffle of the mid-season acquisition of Anthony was the fact the Knicks gave the Boston Celtics one hell of a run in the first round. Following the injuries to Billups and Stoudemire in the 2nd game of the series, Anthony put the Knicks on his back averaging 26 PPG, 10 RPG, and 5 APG versus Boston in a series in which they were eventually swept. What most fans and analysts don’t realize is that series would have been a long, drawn out series had Stoudemire and Billups been healthy and available. Anthony was essentially alone in competing against the Celtics, which included the legendary big three: KG, Pierce and Allen.

2011-2012 – In the lockout shortened, chaotic season, Anthony still led the Knicks (with the help of Jeremy Lin when Melo was injured. I have to give Linsanity some credit!) to the seventh-seed in the Eastern Conference. Following the resignation of Coach D’Antoni, Carmelo played much better under Mike Woodson’s half-court offense, only to drop another first round series to a much superior Miami Heat team, losing in five games. The Knicks did win their first playoff game in thirteen years.

2012-2013 – Just last season, the Carmelo-led Knicks won 54 games, secured the second-seed in the East, and beat the Boston Celtics in the first round. This marked the first playoff series victory since the year 2000 for New York. Anthony won the scoring title, barely edging out Kevin Durant. And if it weren’t for Carmelo’s partially torn-labrum, and JR Smith’s torn patella tendon and torn meniscus, the Knicks may have been able to rise above the Pacers. However, the old and beleaguered Knicks eventually fell to Indiana in six games.

It’s easy to see why Carmelo Anthony is a target by some in the national media, and basketball fans worldwide. For the successes Anthony has had in his career, he’s had his fair share of failures, specifically all the first-round playoff losses. But, in his defense, his teams have only been the higher seed four times out of the ten playoff exits. To also look at it objectively, Carmelo has never been surrounded with all-star level talent, or anything that closely resembles a championship caliber team. Chauncey Billups and Allen Iverson were the two most notable players Anthony has been paired with, both clearly past their primes. J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin were two other talented players who have played with Anthony the majority of their careers, but they are hardly capable of being a second-option.

Another aspect no one seems to grasp is how difficult it was to make the playoffs all those years in the Western Conference. For example, in 2007-2008, that 50 win Nugget team barely snuck in to the last playoff spot. He took the Nuggets from 17 wins to 43 wins, as a Rookie, and has made the playoffs every year of his career. Carmelo turned around the Denver Nuggets franchise, and is currently turning around a Knicks franchise that has been nothing short of dismal the past decade. As I mentioned earlier, ESPN ranked every player in the NBA, and Melo didn’t crack the top ten, which is the entire thesis of my article: he is the most unfairly criticized and disrespected player in the league (James Harden, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, and Blake Griffin ahead of Carmelo, really?). The final script has yet to be written for Anthony, who is clearly still in his prime. In the next section, I’ll discuss this season and where I think him and the Knicks go from here.

This Season and the Future

As the Knicks tip-off their 2013-2014 campaign tonight against Milwaukee, some serious questions about this current Carmelo-led team remain. Are they good enough defensively to seriously contend? Can they come out of the Eastern Conference with the likes of Miami, Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn looming? Can the Knicks get enough out of Amar’e to put them over the top? And the answer to all of these is No.

This current Knicks team just isn’t good enough in an improved Eastern Conference to make an NBA Finals run. Another 2nd round exit is likely, and as a fan, I’d take that. I know it sounds like low expectations, but with a veteran group that is consistently bedeviled by injuries, this roster just isn’t as good as Miami’s or Chicago’s. What I foresee out of this team is a 50 win season, which should be good enough for 3rd in the East. Three years ago, the front office of the Knicks prayed that Amar’e Stoudemire could make it through his max contract relatively injury-free. That clearly hasn’t happened, and now, as he takes up a ton of cap space, he’s become undependable and virtually useless going forward. The remainder of the roster is full of aging vets such as Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace, or good role players such as Felton, Chandler, and J.R. Smith.

At this point, reality says this is not a good enough supporting cast to provide Carmelo Anthony and expect him to beat a deep roster like Chicago and Derrick Rose or the best team on the planet in Miami and LeBron.

Past this season is where things get interesting as a Knick fan and basketball fan. Melo is almost surely going to opt-out of his contract after this year, making him a free agent. Several teams will be in hot pursuit, and rumored to be on the top of that list is the Lakers. I don’t see Carmelo leaving New York, because I think he really enjoys the spotlight and playing for his hometown team, and also because he can make the most money with the Knicks. But, don’t rule the possibility of him joining forces with LeBron or another top free agent in Hollywood. If the Knicks don’t show a commitment with providing him a better overall roster than the current one, he may bolt for the West Coast.

I’m not concerned about the future free agency status of Melo, or anyone else. For now, I am going to sit back, enjoy some NBA basketball, and watch and listen to all the commentators (especially ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd) blast the Knicks and Carmelo all season long.

Maybe this year, Carmelo Anthony will finally change some opinions.

About Tyler Michels

Tyler is an NC State alum living in Raleigh, NC. Growing up in Northwest New Jersey, Tyler developed a love for New York sports teams, driving his desire to become a writer. In his free time, Tyler can probably be found on a golf course.

Comments

  1. Carmelo Anthony is a superstar. So why is he criticized more than any other NBA Star?

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