Why Carmelo Anthony Has a Legitimate Case for 2013 NBA MVP

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIIFebruary 10, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks sets up for a free throw during the NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 25, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Knicks 100-94.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The focus of the NBA's 2013 MVP race may be on LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but there is a third superstar small forward who is making a strong case for the award: Carmelo Anthony.

Just one year ago, when the New York Knicks were underachieving and Anthony was struggling with his efficiency, this statement would have seemed absurd. But in 2012-13, the Knicks have emerged as surprising contenders behind 'Melo.

The team stands at 32-16, currently 1.5 games behind the Miami Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference, and 2.5 games ahead of the third-place Indiana Pacers.

Although his field-goal percentage has dropped since a blazing start, Anthony is still averaging 28.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 45.1 percent from the floor and an impressive 40.9 percent from three-point range.

He remains one of the best scorers in the game, using his strength and quickness to create matchup problems. It is difficult for small forwards to guard him because he can punish them with his post game, but power forwards have difficulty keeping up with his off-the-dribble game.

Thanks to New York's new ball-movement-oriented offense, Anthony is taking smarter shots and finding himself open more regularly, especially around the three-point arc. He will still jack up a poor attempt once in a while, but he'll do it far less than he ever did during his first two years with New York.

What has been most impressive about Anthony, and what makes him a legitimate MVP candidate, has been his effort in the non-scoring aspects of the game. New York ranks eighth in the league in points scored per game, at 100.9, but it is also eighth in points allowed, at 95.7 per night. 

He has shown a greater commitment to the defensive end than ever before, and though he is accruing fewer assists than in years past, he is making the right pass more often than not. The lower total is a reflection of him spending less time in the point forward role, not in his overall play. 

Logging more minutes at power forward, Anthony remains a solid rebounder and someone capable of making an impact on the glass if necessary.

His 24.23 PER is the highest of his career. This is especially significant considering that his usage rating stands at 34.2, which is also the highest of his 10-year NBA career.

Even with J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire on the roster, Mike Woodson's offense runs almost solely through Anthony. His ability to shoot from the perimeter and attack the paint makes it extremely difficult for a defense to game-plan for him.

As a result of his excellent play on the offensive end, teammates are finding themselves with more open looks. New York's offense, one of the best at shooting the three-ball, has thrived.

He may not be putting up the all-around numbers on a nightly basis that Durant and James are, but he has been just as integral to his squad's success.

With their rash of injuries to key players, chiefly Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Iman Shumpert, New York easily could have floundered. However, Anthony stepped up and carried the team, keeping them among the conference's elite. New York appears poised to nab its first Atlantic Division crown since 1994.

Anthony has also been leaned on in the clutch as much as any superstar in the league. Whenever the Knicks need a fourth-quarter bucket, the ball will likely go to Anthony. Defenses still can't stop him from bullying his way to the hole or creating space for an open jumper.

'Melo might not be first on anybody's MVP watch list, but the former Syracuse star is as serious a threat as anyone to take home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy once the season ends.