Much like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, we anticipated the two duking it out for the Larry O’Brien trophy every June.
We quickly realized that it’s unfair to compare him to James. However, we still thought ‘Melo would have more postseason success under his belt at the 10-year mark than he actually has.
He’s escaped the first round just twice and has never truly been close to reaching the NBA Finals. His teams have never possessed a killer instinct, and his current New York Knicks squad was exposed in the playoffs by the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers.
Was Anthony’s college championship the height of his winning ways? Does he have what it takes to lead a squad past all others?
No one questions his talent and superstar status. ‘Melo has nearly 18,000 points, six All-Star appearances and a couple Olympic gold medals. He’s the face of the Knickerbockers franchise and is a versatile, lethal scorer.
Anthony hasn’t been able to translate that pedigree into postseason success, and he’s increasingly criticized for it.
Does he deserve as much blame as he gets? Probably not, because he’s never had a legitimate championship-caliber supporting cast.
But I’m still skeptical of him as a winner, because his style of play isn’t conducive to overachieving at all.
A couple of his Denver Nuggets teams, along with the 2012-13 Knicks, could have advanced further had they maximized their resources. ‘Melo’s isolation-based tendencies make it extremely difficult to tap into the team’s full potential as a unit. All too often, his clubs live and die with his shots.
He must become a better passer and better defender if he ever wants to win it all. Anthony’s distribution tendencies are inconsistent and depend on the team that surrounds him. In 2013, he recorded his second-worst playoff assists average of 1.6 per game.
If he were an overachiever and a champion-caliber NBA player, it would be the other way around. He’d use his ball skills to create mismatches and find his coach the best possible opportunities, no matter who surrounded him.
It comes down to the little things: Improving as a pick-and-roll passer, being willing to give the ball up to get it back, finding teammates on back-door cuts and much more.
As for defense, well, let’s just say he’s not the type of guy who takes his team to the next level.
In fact, in 2012-13, New York fared better defensively with him on the bench than it did with him on the court. According to 82games.com, the Knicks allowed 108.3 points per 100 possessions when he was playing, and 105.7 while he watched from the sideline.
So we’ve established that he’s not the easiest guy to win with. Is that the end of it? Is there no hope for him?
There is a little hope, if he can somehow surround himself with a better roster.
Let’s be real: Carmelo didn’t have much help the past few weeks, or at any other point in his career.
J.R. Smith is not a championship-level second option (a good sixth man, yes, but not a second option). Tyson Chandler is almost no threat to score in the post. Amar’e Stoudemire is a shell of his former self, and the three-headed point guard attack of Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Jason Kidd are routinely overmatched physically.
According to Syracuse.com, when ‘Melo’s college coach, Jim Boeheim, was asked about Anthony’s teammates, he was quick to point out they weren’t top-tier performers:
"Those guys weren't great players where they were and now they're asking them to be second and third options.. In Miami the second and third options are Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Your fourth option is Ray Allen, who is still in good shape. Your fifth option is Shane Battier, who is still a good player. The New York Knicks have who?"
"I said to my son, 'He's going to have to get 50 for them to win.' That's what he needed. Fifty. You're not going to get that against Indiana. They run an isolation offense so he goes one-on-one all the time. It's hard. It's hard work. They need more of an offense where he can get something going. He has to work too hard. That's not his fault. That's how it's set up."
The sheer size of Stoudemire’s contract alongside Anthony’s is going to make it difficult for New York to bring any kind of substantial help in the near future.
Ultimately, like most things in life, this is a two-way street. ‘Melo needs to improve as a defender, leader and dynamic creator on offense, but he also needs better help and a legitimate second option.
He doesn’t have many years left in his prime, and unfortunately, New York is financially strapped until the 2015 offseason.
The Knicks must either overachieve with the group they have, or Anthony will have to wait a couple more years to assemble a bona fide title contender.
Either way, the odds aren’t looking good for ‘Melo to scale the NBA heights.