After a summer of change, things are starting to look bright for the New York Knicks, as they've gotten off to a hot start in the 2012-13 season.
Central to the Knicks' early success has been Carmelo Anthony, who has quite simply been dominant so far this year.
With Anthony scoring at a high level for New York, and also showing some significant improvements elsewhere, some have even mentioned him as an early contender for the MVP award.
Throughout his career, Melo has been an All-Star-level player and has always been considered one of the best at his position, but it would certainly come as a shock for him to jump to the next level and challenge for the title of the league's best.
That said, with Melo producing as well as he is right now, and his team continuing to have success, it may not be such an outrageous thought for him to make a serious push at winning the award.
The first thing that Anthony needs to do is quite simple: he needs to continue to make good on the promises he made back on media day.
After being criticised for much of his career as a selfish player, Anthony decided it was time for a change, telling the following to the New York Daily News:
"I'm done trying to score 30, 35, 40 points for us to win a basketball game. I don't want that role anymore. It's what I do best. But in order for this team to be successful with the guys that we have, we need a more well-rounded team. So if I have to sacrifice on the offensive end, I'm willing to do it."
So far, Anthony has done just that, making much more of an effort to get his teammates involved. As a result, the Knicks now have themselves the most efficient offense in the NBA.
Though his assist numbers aren't too impressive, Melo's increased willingness to pass out of the double-team is clear, leading to a lot of "hockey assists" if nothing else.
Defensively, Anthony needs to continue being a difference-maker, rather than simply not being a liability. To this point, he has defended well in the post, but he can't afford to let old habits reappear if he seriously wants to contend for this award.
As one of the league's most talented scorers, though, the offensive numbers do still need to be there, even with an increased emphasis on teamwork and defense. Scoring is his bread and butter, and to have any shot at the MVP, he will need to remain amongst the league's top five scorers, which he has done so far this year.
For the most part early this season, there has been little to criticise from Anthony, but one thing he needs to watch out for is technical fouls.
Admittedly, Melo has had some bad luck as far as refereeing calls go, but his team can't afford for him to continue giving away technicals at this rate. Anthony currently leads the league with five techs this year, and he risks hurting his team if he hits the 14 mark and gets suspended for a game.
Anthony's biggest challenge this season will probably come when teammate Amar'e Stoudemire—the man that recruited him to New York—returns to action.
A lot has been made of the pairing's supposed chemistry issues, but if Melo can help shake these, it will go a long way to improving his image.
For a long while now, people have called Anthony a bad teammate, but building a rapport with another offensive star like Stoudemire will be the ultimate way to prove his critics wrong.
The success of the team as a whole will also be a big contributor to Anthony's campaign. If the Knicks can't get homecourt advantage in the first round after the start they've had, Melo can pretty much wave his chances goodbye.
Conversely, if Melo can lead the Knicks beyond expectations as one of the elite teams in the East, it will create a great storyline to help him win the award.
The narrative of a player's season is huge in deciding whether or not they are MVP-worthy. Last year, the storyline was about LeBron silencing his critics to dominate the league, whilst in 2011 it was about Chicago's homegrown Derrick Rose leading the team to their best season since the days of Michael Jordan.
For Melo to win it, the narrative will be about him truly taking hold of the mecca of basketball, as he tries to lead the Knicks to a high playoff seed for the first time since Patrick Ewing.
No matter what Anthony does, he will face stiff competition, mainly in the form of LeBron, the reigning MVP.
If LeBron continues to play like LeBron, he's always going to be a leading candidate for the award, so Melo will need to hope that voters are open to giving other players a reasonable chance.
At the end of the day, the talent has always been there for Melo, but we're finally seeing the attitude to match it. So far, this has been a lethal combination, and if he can keep this level of play up he'll have a chance.
There are surely going to be bigger challenges that Anthony will have to overcome down the line, but with a media market like New York behind him, he has the opportunity to shock the world.
Only one Knick in history has ever won the award, and Melo is shaping up to be the franchise's biggest MVP contender in years.
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