If eleven years have gone by since Carmelo Anthony was a rookie then it only means that so much of what he has accomplished has gotten lost in the prism of everything he has not done, he has not won in the playoffs, he has not been the MVP, he has not been first team All-NBA. Yes, he has matured but his game, well, that has remained pretty much where it was when he entered, fresh off of a NCAA title. It has been eleven years of offensive excellence and clutch shot making and twenty five points a game, eleven years of carrying two teams in which Carmelo did more but came up with less and both cities have been disappointed, both cites have been grateful. It has been eleven years of Carmelo Anthony’s beautiful jump shot over a defender who could do nothing but admire the artistry of it. It has been eleven years of creating a false legend because Carmelo Anthony the All Star, the scorer extraordinaire, the dominant offensive player, the last second shot maker, the Olympian, has been to a conference finals once, lost in the semi-finals once, lost in the first round eight times . So much of his career has led to the NBA anticipating his free agency. So much of his career has led to the NBA saying no to Carmelo as a team’s best player.
Talent is a tree; failure is one of its roots. So is success. It was undeniable as a freshman at Syracuse what Carmelo was, this 19 year old. He led the team in every possible category: scoring, rebounding, free throws, minutes played. He was a 6’8” forward who could score from everywhere, from anywhere, he had every conceivable offensive move and yet it all seemed effortless, almost too easy, as if he was barely trying. He was a freshman but he was already a man in terms of basketball gifts. Against Texas, in the NCAA Tournament, he set a record by a freshman, 33 points. In the championship game he had a double- double, 20 points, 10 rebounds. He entered the NBA draft with Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and there was some discussion that Carmelo, the most ready of all the players, the most polished, should be the first pick.
Drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the number 3 pick in the 2003 draft Carmelo scored 41 points in March of his rookie year against the Sonics, a Denver Nuggets rookie record. He was the second youngest player to score 40 points in a game. He won every single Rookie of the Month Award. He was responsible for a 26 game turnaround for the Nuggets his rookie year and got them into the playoffs where they were eliminated in five games. Little did he know that losing in the playoffs would be his constant.
Nearly every offensive milestone Carmelo reached, Kobe and Lebron reached first. He was the second youngest player to score 30 points in a game (Kobe was first.) He was the second youngest to reach 5,000 total points. (Lebron was first.) His second year in the NBA he played on the sophomore team of the Rookie Challenge at the All-Star game which Denver was hosting. He had 31 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals and was the MVP. The Nuggets reached the playoffs that year but were eliminated in the first round.
In his third year he made five game winning shots in the last five seconds of games. He made a last second shot to send a game into overtime at Dallas. The Nuggets won their division but in the first round of the playoffs they lost to the Clippers.
In his fourth year he faced the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. He lost in the first round. In his fifth year he was part of a Denver Nugget team with Allen Iverson that won 50 games. He lost in the first round. It was only the second time in NBA history a team that won 50 games was swept in the first round. In his sixth year the Nuggets won the division again and for the first time in his career Carmelo got out of the first round. In the second round, in game 3 the Nuggets were trailing by two and Carmelo hit a game winning three. His team would advance to the Western Conference Finals. But in six games they were beaten by the Lakers. Once again Carmelo lost, this time on his birthday. In his seventh year the Nuggets won the division but Carmelo lost. In the first round.
What does it say about a player who was billed as the face of the organization but could not win in the playoffs? Is he less excellent? Is he overrated? Or is he just what he appears to be: a very good scorer, a great scorer. And yet, while Carmelo was losing in the playoffs, his friends, the ones he had been drafted with, were leading their teams to unparalleled heights which only increased the gap between Carmelo’s professional failures and their bright success. Dwayne Wade, the 5th pick in the 2003 draft, won a NBA title in 2006 and was the Finals MVP. He was selected to All- NBA First Team in 2009 and 2010. Lebron James won Rookie of the Year, was selected to All-NBA First Team twice, All-NBA Defensive Team twice, he won two MVP’s. The only trophy Carmelo won was in the rookie-sophomore game.
Frustrated, in his eighth year, Carmelo was traded to the Knicks at his request. It has been a rocky marriage since. In the playoffs, against the Celtics, he lost in the first round. The next year he went up against his friend Lebron James and lost in the first round. Last year, in the playoffs, Carmelo faced the Boston Celtics and in the clinching game 6 Carmelo had 21 points, 7 assists , 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a block. It was the Knicks first playoff series win in 13 years. It was Carmelo’s first playoff series win in four years. In the next round the Knicks faced the Indiana Pacers and lost in six. Carmelo was eliminated again.
This is what they say about Carmelo Anthony, his critics. He is not a winner, his WinShares is 143. (Lebron James WinShares is 19. Kobe Bryant’s is 14). He dominates the ball. He is in the top five in usage, in field goals attempted. In the playoffs he cannot lead a team. He has only won three playoff series. He has been swept out of the playoffs. He has lost in five games. He has lost in 6 games. He has never played in a 7th game.
This is what they say about Carmelo, his defenders. He is the best offensive player of his generation. 7 of his 11 seasons he has averaged over 25 points a game. He has been the league’s leading scorer. He has had 121 double-doubles, 2 triple-doubles. He has scored 40 points or more 27 times, 50 points or more 3 times, 60 points or more once. In 2013 he had 50 points against the Heat. The next night he had 40 points against the Hawks. The next night he had 41 points against the Bucks. He has consistently hit game winners and clutch shots in his career. One of the most memorable was against Miami in 2010. In that game Lebron had 43 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds. Carmelo had 40 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds and with 1.9 seconds left in overtime he hit a game winner over Lebron ending the Cavaliers thirteen game winning streak. In the playoffs he has had 42 points against Utah, 42 points Aagainst the Celtics, 41 points against the Heat.
But the question is not of his offensive greatness, simply he is a brilliant scorer, but the question is in relation to Carmelo as a max player. Should he be paid like Kobe and Lebron, can he drive a team to the NBA Finals? As it stands now that seems farfetched, part of the myth making he wants everyone to believe. This is the truth: he has hardly gotten his team out of the first round. Yes, his offense will keep a team in games, but will it win playoff series that depend upon defensive commitment and mental toughness. Carmelo wants glory but there is not much glory in exerting yourself to the point you keep the other team in a state of misery. But with Carmelo it is always about offense and even then he has struggled. He is only a 45% shooter for his career, a low number for a forward. In the playoffs, when you face the best defenders, when coaches draw up schemes to stop you, he has succumbed. One year he shot 32%. One year he shot 33%. One year he shot 36%. One year he shot 37%. His most productive playoff series was when he was in Denver. In 2007 he shot 48%. In 2009 he shot 45%.
Scoring is fluorescent, it blocks out the sun. It is easy to be blinded by the light, by Carmelo’s offensive beauty. His 62 point game against the Bobcats was a master class in shot making. But if that is all there is to Carmelo Anthony, if he is just going to score and score and score and not do much of anything else, if he is not going to carry a team through their collective adversity, or abandon his talent for his will and his intellect, then is he a risk worth taking at 20 million dollars a year? The Knicks are 16-27 this year with Carmelo Anthony. Isn’t this basic math? A great scorer will sell tickets, will have iconic nights that will keep the city buzzing. But a great scorer who is average at just about everything else will not create a culture of winning and on the downside he will take up cap room and inhibit flexibility. Carmelo is a pleasure to watch in January and February and March. Come April he has disappeared. And if you pay him 20 million dollars your money may have disappeared along with him.