Carmelo Anthony is having the best season of his NBA career. He is currently putting up career highs in points per game (29.3), three-point field goal percentage (.435) and most importantly player efficiency rating (26.7).
To go along with this statistical success, Anthony has led his New York Knicks to a surprising 23-11 record.
However, to the disappointment of many Knicks fans, myself included, if the season ended today, Anthony would fall short of claiming the MVP trophy.
As great as Anthony has been, other superstars—notably Kevin Durant and Lebron James—are having unbelievable seasons of their own. Seasons, that when dissected both statistically and on film, are better than Anthony’s.
Durant is having one of the best shooting seasons in the history of basketball. With a field goal percentage above .50, a three-point field goal percentage above .40 and a free throw percentage above .90, Durant has an opportunity to become only the sixth NBA player ever to enter the .40/50/90 club.
Additionally Durant is averaging career highs in assists per game, steals per game and blocks per game.
Lebron James, on the other hand, might not have the shooting touch of Durant, but has been physically dominating the league on another level.
James’ unique combination of size and quickness has allowed him to get to the rim at will, grab rebounds at a career high rate and emerge as the best shut-down defensive player in the NBA.
In 2012-13, James has used his vast skill set and athletic talents to post a league leading player efficiency rating of 30.2.
So while Carmelo Anthony has ignited the New York Knicks to their most successful start in years, his complete game still lags behind that of Durant and James.
Luckily for Anthony though, the season isn’t over yet, and there is still time to improve his MVP resumé.
To do this, however, Anthony must make several adjustments to his game.
Throughout his career, Carmelo Anthony has established himself as an isolation nightmare for any defender.
His stellar mid-range game, upper body strength and aggressiveness make him difficult for even the league’s most elite athletes to handle.
Yet, while Anthony has thrived in isolation throughout his career, in 2012-13 Anthony has actually been more efficient in the post.
On isolation plays, Anthony is only averaging 0.90 points per possession, but on post ups he’s averaging 1.04 points per possession.
Despite these clear statistics favoring more post play, the Knicks offense runs isolation 15.51 percent of the time, compared to post offense only 6.47 percent of the time.
Going forward, if Anthony can look to post up more often his scoring efficiency will increase.
This increased efficiency will significantly assist Anthony in his quest to lead the league in scoring.
Most likely, at season’s end Anthony will trail James and Durant in both rebounds and assists. But if he can lead the league in scoring, he may be able to make up for the differences in those categories.
To win the MVP though, Anthony will also have to improve on the defensive end.
As much talk as there was early on about Anthony’s better defensive efforts in 2012-13, advanced statistics don’t exactly prove this to be true.
Through last Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic, Carmelo Anthony had a defensive rating of 107 (an advanced stat developed by Dean Oliver based on an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions).
That number is actually five points higher than the 102 defensive rating Anthony posted last season.
Compare that number to Lebron James or Kevin Durant and it puts Anthony in a deep hole in terms of MVP status. James has a defensive rating of 103 and Durant’s defensive rating is 101.
The perimeter is the area where Anthony can improve his defensive play.
The Knicks are the third worst team in the NBA at defending isolation plays (0.88 points per possession) and the sixth worst team at defending the pick-and-roll (0.89 points per possession).
Anthony unarguably holds the potential to defend both of these plays at a higher level than he has exhibited this season. More commitment from him in regards to perimeter defense—especially since the Knicks front line is finally getting healthy and won't need him as much—will greatly help his defensive rating.
Improved offensive efficiency and perimeter defense will aid Anthony, but in the end, his MVP fate will be primarily tied to the New York Knicks' success as a team.
For Anthony to have a legitimate claim at the NBA’s most prized individual award, it is mandatory the Knicks finish no worse than second in the Eastern Conference. If he really wants his MVP odds to increase, finishing ahead of the Miami Heat would be a plus.
There is no better way for Anthony to differentiate his 2012-13 resumè from Lebron James’ than by finishing ahead of his rival in the standings.
Undoubtedly, passing Lebron James and Kevin Durant in the MVP race will be no easy task for Carmelo Anthony.
Furthermore, he will face fierce competition from others like Chris Paul as well.
In the end he will likely have to win the scoring title, play better defense and lead the Knicks to a two seed or better in the Eastern Conference.
It will be tough to accomplish of all this, but in no way is it impossible.
With self-discipline and outstanding effort every single night, Carmelo Anthony could become only the second New York Knick to be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
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