It seems like forever and a day ago that Carmelo Anthony was greeted as a savior by the New York Knicks faithful. He'd arrived at Madison Square Garden after a protracted extraction from the Denver Nuggets to join forces with Amar'e Stoudemire in what was billed as the return of big-time basketball in the Big Apple.
Funny thing about expectations—they have a way of evading the reach of even the most celebrated athletes, especially in a sports-crazed metropolis like New York.
Of course, Carmelo's current contract with the Knicks is far from over, leaving him plenty of opportunity to reach the bar, if not raise it. He's locked in until 2015 if he so desires, though he'll be free to get in on the whole "Summer of LeBron II" business in 2014 by way of an early termination option.
In the meantime, Knicks fans can and should take some modicum of comfort in knowing that their team employs one of the most gifted scorers in the game today (if not of all time).
And one who just so happens to be motivated to put together a career year.
Much has been made of whether the Knicks can/should/will play Carmelo at power forward instead of his typical spot on the wing, and for good reason. According to 82games.com, Anthony compiled a player efficiency rating (PER) of 29.5 while at the 4—which would've placed him second in the NBA in that department, behind only LeBron James.
It's easy to see how and why when watching footage of 'Melo, old and new. For one, he's a tough cover in the low post, to say the least. Whereas LeBron has been lavished with praise for adding a post game to his extensive offensive repertoire over the last year or so, Anthony has been punishing opponents in the paint since his days in Denver.
He's quick and athletic enough on his feet to maneuver around bigger, slower defenders and, at 6'8" and 240 pounds, he's strong and bulky enough to power his way through smaller wings on the block. Anthony's at his best when facing up, from which point he can launch a midrange jumper or spin his way to the cup.
Oh, and underestimate 'Melo's back-to-the-basket ability at your own peril. He's something of a savant when it comes to bodying up, drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line, as his 7.8 freebies per game for his career would suggest.
Many of those same qualities (i.e. his quickness, his athleticism, his ability to create contact) contribute to Carmelo's effectiveness on dribble drives. According to Grantland's Zach Lowe, Anthony was the most effective player in the NBA at driving the ball from 20 or more feet out to within 10 feet of the basket last season, particularly when matched up against power forwards. Opposing players at that position simply don't have the foot speed to keep up with Carmelo, who can be a blur when he wants to get to the rim.
Being (and re-becoming) a superstar athlete in New York is about more than just pure productivity, though. Legacies in the big city are constructed amid a particular context, one from which a more heroic narrative can be more readily spun.
That is a fancy way of saying that Carmelo needs to come through in the clutch if he's to be revered in his hometown.
So far, the reviews of Anthony's performance in crunch time have been mixed. On the one hand, he hit just 37.8 percent of his shots in "clutch time"—which 82games.com defines as "fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, neither team ahead by more than five points"—during the 2011-12 season. What's more, the Knicks were 5.6 points worse per 48 minutes of clutch time with Carmelo on the floor.
On the other hand, Anthony was the third-most prolific clutch time scorer in the league last year. And, since joining the Knicks in February of 2011, he's strung together a highlight reel's worth of game-winning shots.
Clearly, the guy's not afraid to take (and make) shots when the pressure is most intense. That's what any team should want its star player to be—someone who doesn't shy away from the spotlight, but rather relishes every moment in it. Someone who wants to be "The Man" and can back it up when the game's on the line.
Yes, he tends to bring his team's offense to a standstill, and yes, his defense effort often leaves much to be desired.
But the talent is still there, as is the mega-watt star power. For better or worse, Carmelo will be a marquee name until he calls it quits.
Current Knicks coach Mike Woodson might also be just the man to put Carmelo in the proper position to push New York to the next level. In 23 regular-season games under Woodson last season, Anthony averaged 24.5 points on 47-percent shooting from the field, including a 37.2-percent mark from three.
On the other end of the floor, 'Melo (and the Knicks, as a whole) looked far more competent, if not occasionally stingy, defensively, as the team crept ever closer to the top of the rankings in that regard.
An 82-game season with a full complement of practices should be a boon to the Anthony-Woodson dynamic, not to mention the Anthony-Stoudemire pairing, the Anthony-Chandler antithesis and whatever other Carmelo-related conundrum comes to mind.
And if things work out, if Carmelo turns that all-important corner from "selfish scorer" to "successful superstar" this season, the days of Anthony as a petulant pariah on his native soil will be as quickly forgotten as his triumphant debut in orange and blue has been to this point.