Carmelo Anthony gets mentioned as one of the game’s elite scorers. As he should. Few players can average 25 points a season consistently. Few players in the league can fill it up — from anywhere on the court, creating their own shot — like Anthony. He doesn’t do it terribly efficiently (his shooting percentage is about the league average), but he puts up the numbers. He is an elite scorer.
But elite leader? Guy who makes his team better? Guy who can lead his team to a title?
No. Not yet anyway. Carmelo Anthony is not considered in the same strata with Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and even LeBron James (who has taken a team with questionable talent around him to the finals).
If Anthony wants to be in that group, he’ll have to prove it in New York. By winning. And not just 60 regular season games, but by winning when it matters in the playoffs. By leading a team that in a couple years can beat the Heat and Bulls. By leading a true title contender.
What happens with the Knicks in the next three years will be how we remember Anthony after his career. Will it be as an elite scorer, or as a winner?
Anthony has always put up a fight in New York — remember the Dec.16, 2006 fight where he (and the other 9 players on the floor at the time) but tossed for a brawl? Even the crowd was fighting that night. He’s going to need that kind of fight now, much of it to push and pull his teammates up to contender status.
Some things are beyond Anthony’s control. The roster around him and Amar’e Stoudemire is not ready to contend — the Knicks just shipped out their best role players to get Anthony. They are going to need a center who can defend the paint. They need depth everywhere. They need a point guard who can run Mike D’Antoni’s system (Chauncey Billups at age 34 is a more efficient point guard than Raymond Felton was, but how a guy who thrives walking the ball up into halfcourt sets does with the Knicks system remains to be seen).
A lot of what will be around him — and the ability to bring in Chris Paul or Deron Williams to really run the show — will be decided in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Nobody knows what that is going to look like. It could be so restrictive as to make it hard to put much of a team together. While that will be true of the Knicks it will be true of other teams as well. The Knicks problem is that the Heat and Bulls (and Celtics for this season and next) got a jump on it and have more complete rosters already. The Knicks will be playing catch up under different rules.
This season, the Knicks may (if they get lucky) climb all the way up to the fifth seed (they are 5.5 games behind the Hawks, but Atlanta has one of the toughest schedules in the league the rest of the way).
But next season, and for a couple seasons after that, the expectations for the Knicks will be ridiculous. Fans will expect a contender, whether or not it is warranted.
It’s going to fall to Carmelo Anthony (and Amar’e Stoudemire) to lead them there. To push them and, if necessary, drag them there. That is what elite players do — they make teams better than just the sum of their parts. They lead, by example and in the locker room. They make their teams contenders by play and by force of will.
If Anthony wants that to be his legacy, he will have to prove it in New York. On the league’s biggest stage.
Whatever happens, that will be his legacy.