5 Reasons to Believe Carmelo Anthony Is Ready to Finally Evolve

Josh Cohen@@arealjoshcohenCorrespondent IINovember 15, 2012

5 Reasons to Believe Carmelo Anthony Is Ready to Finally Evolve

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    Leading the scorching New York Knicks with some of the best basketball of his career, it appears Carmelo Anthony is ready to make the leap from star to superstar.

    Though he has his detractors, no one can reasonably deny Melo's skills. He has uncommon strength for a guy as agile as he is. With his underrated dribbling and his effectiveness around the basket, Melo is nearly unstoppable on the isolation. Tack on his shooting ability and his fearlessness with the ball in his hands, and you get one of the most dangerous scorers in the world.

    Unfortunately, Anthony has only allowed glimpses of a well-rounded game in his nine years in the NBA. He has rebounded well for a small forward, but his defensive play has been heavily dependent on his mood. His decision-making with the ball has also been questioned, and Melo has been labeled selfish for his insistence on taking contested jumpers rather than looking for an open man.

    So far this season, Anthony's numbers look very similar to his career averages, but the way he is compiling them has changed slightly. Let's take a look at how this is a new Melo capable of greater things, including some that don't show up so clearly on a stat sheet.

Playing Where He Belongs

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    Though no one is happy that Amar'e Stoudemire is hurt, Melo's chance to play power forward is a blessing for player and team alike.

    Consider LeBron James. He won multiple MVPs at small forward, but it took a move inside for LeBron to unleash his otherworldly performance during the 2012 playoffs. Working from the post, James got closer shots, more rebounds and better positioning to pass out to perimeter shooters.

    It was the perfect way to use a guy with LeBron's physical skills and sense for the game, and he excelled even by his standards. Anthony can succeed in much the same way.

    Few players can score as effectively from the paint and the elbow as Anthony, and that threat means great things for his teammates, too. Putting him inside allows Mike Woodson to give more minutes to the Knicks' shooters. Given how Steve Novak, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith and Ronnie Brewer are stroking it from beyond the arc so far, some credit must go to Melo for anchoring this effectively balanced offense.

Improving Shot Selection

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    A knock on Carmelo Anthony throughout his career is that he is too enamored with the midrange game. How do we know he's beginning to kick it? Let's do some quick math.

    Melo has averaged 19.3 shots per game in his career. This year, he's up to 21.2, and he's just a tick below his .456 career shooting percentage. We know he's playing closer to the hoop now, so that means most of his jumpers are coming from 12 feet as opposed to 20 by virtue of circumstance.

    But the real reason for the attempt uptick is his three-point shooting. His career rate is only 2.6 trey attempts per game, but he's taking 5.4 so far this season.

    This means two things. First, Anthony is gravitating toward the most valuable scoring locations on the floor: at the basket and beyond the arc. Second, his willingness to shoot from long range means adds yet another three-point threat to the Knicks' potent arsenal, allowing them to play as many as four shooters at once.

    That's nearly impossible to stop for a defense, and it's Melo's increasingly versatile game that makes it happen.

Commitment on the Defensive End

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    Michael Wallace of ESPNNewYork.com credited the Knicks' inspired defense for their fast start to the season. That's business as usual for a Mike Woodson-coached team, but it's a revelation for a Carmelo Anthony-led unit.

    "He's been talking, and you could see in the fourth quarter," guard Jason Kidd said of Anthony's assertiveness. "He kept telling everybody we need to get another stop. 'Get another stop.' He's our leader. He's been great. He's been off the charts playing both sides of the ball."

    Given his physical prowess, the difference between Melo being a defensive force or a liability has always been a matter of investment. So far this season, the effort has been there.

    Nine years into his professional career, Anthony seems to have learned that being an elite scorer does not preclude him from playing defense. As long as he is barking out assignments and diving for loose balls, he will continue to make a more complete impact on the game.

He's in Better Shape

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    When the Miami Heat ousted the Knicks from the playoffs last May, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported that Mike Woodson gave Anthony a mandate to improve his fitness in the offseason. Melo seems to have taken those words to heart.

    Fast-Forward to the preseason, when a well-conditioned Melo came into camp ready to build upon his golden performance with Team USA.

    From NorthJersey.com:

    "I’ve felt that I’ve been in great shape before," Anthony said Monday. "But coming into this camp this year, I feel extremely different, a lot different coming into this camp. Having the full camp, being healthy, being in the best shape that I could be in, it makes things a lot more easier when I’m able to do that.

    That work in the summer has translated to the fall. The slightly slimmer Melo is currently logging 37.0 minutes per game, and he has the same vigor in the fourth that he does in the first.

    There's still a long season ahead for Anthony. With his current level of conditioning, he's well-equipped to sustain his production through April and into the postseason.

He's Comfortable with His Team

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    A lot of ink has been spilled, both figuratively and literally, over Melo's alleged locker room subterfuge.

    When Mike D'Antoni resigned as head coach, The New York Times brought up the rumors that Anthony had forced him out to do away with the run-and-gun offense. In the aftermath of Jeremy Lin's departure, ESPN's Tim Keown skewered Melo for his role in both controversies.

    Whatever hard feelings may or may not exist, neither incident is at issue in the 2012-13 season. All that matters now is how Melo feels about the group he is with currently.

    All indications seem to be good. He's playing hard for Woodson. He's communicating with his teammates. He knows and trusts the system he's playing in. It looks like Melo is no longer content simply being the most talented player on the floor; he wants to lead this team.

    Back when chemistry concerns were running high at the peak of Linsanity, the notion of Carmelo Anthony being a leader seemed ridiculous. However, even when Amar'e returns to play, Melo is the clear alpha in New York. There is no longer a threat to his status.

    How we got here may be murky, but for better or for worse, this is the situation in which Melo can thrive most.