As we inch closer and closer to the All-Star break, the NBA MVP race is starting to heat up. And with Carmelo Anthony dominating during the first half of the season, he is shaping up to be the Knicks' first genuine contender for the award in years.
Melo has been leading the way for a Knicks team playing fantastic basketball, and he must be taken seriously as a contender for the award.
This season, Anthony has really developed into a true franchise player and has taken the responsibility of leading his childhood team to what has so far been their best season in recent memory.
Before the season, Melo told us he was a changed man, and was now focused completely on winning and making the necessary changes to take his game to the next level. Per Newsday, Anthony had the following to say during the team's annual media day back in October:
At the end of the day, it's about winning basketball games. I'm done trying to score 30, 35, 40 points for us to win a basketball game. I don't want that role anymore. It's what I do best. But in order for this team to be successful with the guys that we have, we need a more well-rounded team. So if I have to sacrifice on the offensive end, I'm willing to do it.
At this point, it's safe to say that Anthony has been true to his words. He's playing a more team-oriented style of basketball, and though his assist numbers are down, he's making some great passes out of double-teams to pick up hockey assists.
Even more impressively, Anthony has continued to make strides on the defensive end, picking up where he left off toward the end of last season under Mike Woodson. Melo is no longer a liability on that end of the floor and, if anything, has been a difference-maker with his increased effort in the post.
But as much as Melo has shifted the focus from his offensive numbers, it's clear that he is still one of the NBA's elite scorers.
For a player who has always been known as a great scoring talent, it's surprising to see that Melo is averaging career highs in multiple offensive categories. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Anthony's three-point percentage, offensive rating, true shooting percentage, effective field-goal percentage and win shares per 48 minutes are all higher than we've ever seen from him before.
In terms of efficiency, Anthony's PER is right up there with the best of them. He ranks fifth behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Brook Lopez. Melo also leads the league in usage rate, which shows just how important he is to the Knicks offense.
It's not only the numbers, though—the narrative is also on Anthony's side. The storyline of the Knicks overcoming age, injuries and much criticism over the summer has been one of the main topics of discussion in the NBA this year.
Anthony has literally received MVP chants from around the world, with fans cheering him on in road arenas (and even London), to go with the routine chants he hears at the Garden.
Obviously, Carmelo does have his work cut out for him in the race, with plenty of high-level competition around him.
LeBron James has been as good as ever, but could lose out due to voter fatigue, having won the award three times already. Some consider it to be Kevin Durant's "turn" this year. And with KD averaging more points per game than Melo at this point in the season, Anthony is probably behind him in the pecking order right now.
Finally, Chris Paul has been leading the way for a Clippers team that has already racked up 30-plus wins and has to be considered a front-runner due to his importance to everything that his team does.
But with just over a half-season left to play, Melo is very much in the MVP race.
One of the main things Melo can do to aid his campaign is learn how to keep his cool. There is a fine line between being passionate and hurting your team with technical fouls and suspensions, and Anthony has crossed that line a fair few times already.
Building a truly dynamic relationship with Amar'e Stoudemire will also help, in the same way that LeBron's work with Dwyane Wade has helped him out throughout his Miami tenure.
At this point in the season, it's hard to predict a winner for the award, and whilst Melo is by no means the front-runner, it would be foolish to rule him out as a legitimate candidate. If Anthony keeps his efficiency up and the Knicks keep winning, he will be right up there at season's end.