Carmelo Anthony (left) is in the midst of an elite year in his third season with the Knicks.
Melo is currently having perhaps the best season of his already strong career. Making the most of his Olympic offseason and a move up to power forward, he has come out of the gate as a fitter player and a stronger leader.
For the Knicks, that resulted in a torrid start that strengthened their case as title contenders. As for Melo, he's played as well as just about anyone league.
In the scope of Anthony's career and the NBA this season, let's take a look at what has transpired to make Melo an MVP contender now.
Everyone knows Carmelo Anthony is a superb scorer, but he's really stepping up and proving it this season.
Just in terms of points per game, Melo's 26.3 puts him second in the league behind only Kobe Bryant. That number stands up when you switch to points per 48 minutes, where he is also second with 34.8. Incidentally, Bryant leads by that metric as well. Anthony's 7.1 rebounds per game helps him keep pace with Kobe when you look beyond scoring, though.
But before you anoint Anthony for his gaudy point totals, consider just how often he shoots. He's responsible for a larger portion of his team's shots than any player in the league, leading everyone with a 30.2 usage rate (ESPN Insider required).
Unless Melo were putting up his points with an otherworldly field-goal percentage, he wouldn't be MVP-worthy on scoring alone. However, ranking that highly in the NBA in scoring deserves its due, and it's the foundation of his MVP campaign.
Melo's shooting percentages are up across the board this season, though he's still not a particularly efficient player. Surprisingly, though, the Knicks have emerged as a juggernaut in that regard.
Last season, the volume-scoring Knicks were just 19th in the league in offensive efficiency, averaging a paltry 101.4 points per 100 possessions. It's a completely different story in 2012-13, as New York's 110.3 points put them in a tie with the Miami Heat for the most efficient offense in the NBA.
The Knicks are generally a better shooting bunch from top to bottom, but Melo deserves some credit for this leap for two reasons.
First, his sustained success at the power forward position allows the Knicks to put another one of their stellar three-point shooters on the floor. When you're on a top-five team in percentage from beyond the arc, that is a substantial contribution.
Second, he has been an active participant in New York's ball movement on the perimeter. Though his 2.0 assists per game are actually more than a full assist below his career average, the eyeball test shows that Melo has been picking up a good amount of "hockey assists." It may not show up in the box score, but Anthony has been instrumental in terms of the Knicks' ability at finding the open man.
Not only is he scoring on his own, but the team stats show that Melo is doing his part to make his teammates better. When that improvement translates into victory, it bodes well for his MVP case.
So far, LeBron James has not quite run away with this one.
His 25.2 points, 6.5 assists and 8.8 rebounds per game make for a loaded stat line, and he has to be considered the front-runner right now. Kevin Durant's 25.9 points and 9.2 rebounds are also very impressive, and we've already mentioned Kobe Bryant.
Carmelo's numbers are roughly on par with Kobe's and just behind LeBron's and Durant's. However, he does have his teammates to bridge the gap.
As well as Tyson Chandler and Co. are playing, Melo doesn't have a Chris Bosh or a Russell Westbrook, each of whom is averaging over 20 points per game. When Melo leaves the game, the Knicks crumble offensively; that reality ups his value.
If everyone maintains their current level of play, Melo would not be able to beat out his peers for the MVP on merit alone. Fortunately for him, the MVP award is a voter-based award often swayed by arbitrary reasons. Though the stats certainly carry the most weight, we must take the circumstances into account too.
Melo's MVP chances are directly tied to the Knicks' standing in the Eastern Conference.
If his numbers hold up, but the Knicks taper off and become something like the fifth seed in the East, Melo's campaign will slow to a halt.
Anthony's stats mean less than nothing if guys on more successful teams are empirically contributing more than he is. Even if he and LeBron had identical stats, James would beat him out for his fourth career MVP award if the Miami Heat had 10 more wins.
On the other hand, if New York can keep up with the Heat, maybe even beat them again, people are going to hear about it. They'll talk because the NBA's balance of power would be upset, and it would happen in New York, with all eyes and cameras in the sports world on it. Everyone would hear the MVP chants for Melo echoing through Madison Square Garden. They would start to think it too.
For better or for worse (probably for worse), that's how MVP votes work. They'll always be at least partially popularity contests. For the best player on one of the NBA's marquee franchises in the largest media market in the world, that frivolous facet is a distinct advantage.
After 14 games, it seems like the Knicks might have a chance at a championship. If that outcome is still a real possibility after 82 games, then Carmelo Anthony will have brought winning basketball back to New York City.
Don't doubt the possibility of a good story capturing the hearts and minds of the voters; it's been known to happen.
Derrick Rose's 25.0 points and 7.7 assists per game helped him win the 2010-11 MVP, but returning the Chicago Bulls to NBA prominence pushed him past a vilified LeBron James. That boost is clearer for Steve Nash, whose two MVPs came less from his own performance and more from spearheading Mike D'Antoni's offense for the Phoenix Suns.
What we've learned is this: While 15.5 points and 11.5 assists are good for your MVP case, revolutionizing the way an NBA offense is run is great.
Don't forget to factor in the possibility of voter fatigue toward James (which benefited Rose as well). This could be a year in which it simply seems to be Durant's time or Melo's time; it's too soon to tell, but it's possible.
If all three guys keep up their production and the Knicks remain title contenders, it may not matter that Carmelo Anthony isn't the best on paper. The MVP could still be his so long as the narrative reads right.