I'm a simple guy, in some respects. I want my MVP to be the league's best player. The "Most Valuable" plaudit is a notoriously fraught distinction, so I like to simplify it. The appeal of choosing some guy whose team exceeded expectations is lost on me.
That is how many MVP awards get handed out, though. Media members often like to reward the best story over the best player. Think back to 2011, when Derrick Rose won the award over LeBron James and Dwight Howard, in large part because the Bulls (and their ramped up defense) won far more than any media member expected.
Happiness is reality divided by expectations, and the award winners trend toward guys we're pleasantly surprised by and therefore happy with. This is how Karl Malone wins an MVP over Michael Jordan, who's brilliance had become drearily predictable.
With that in mind, I don't see how Carmelo Anthony is an MVP candidate at the moment. Has he been great? Certainly, and he deserves a lot of credit for the supercharging of this Knicks offense. New York is second in offensive efficiency, thanks in large part to their spread pick-and-roll attack.
That means four shooters, and Tyson Chandler running up near the three-point line to set screens. It's just too much space for a defense to cover, and the added room is making guys like Jason Kidd look like Ray Allen on many nights.
The extra space is also helping Anthony. The Knicks' scoring star was often frustratingly inefficient as a small forward. As a power forward in the spread offense, he's been a monster, tallying 28 points on 20.2 shots per game en route to a 26.3 PER. Last year, he managed 23.9 points on 19.7 shots. It's safe to say that the new system has been helpful to Anthony's production, much in the way the spread pick-and-roll fomented some of Steve Nash's best years.
This isn't to say that we should declare Anthony a product of a system. He's absolutely essential to what New York is trying to do. Melo's ability to beat slow power forwards and weak small forwards in space has led to many a drive-and-kick three-pointer. My argument is simply that, even with an offense that slightly gooses Anthony's numbers, he's still not at the level of some other players.
Anthony is the lesser player in comparison with LeBron James, but let us use Kevin Durant as an example, as the two are quite similar stars in approach. Durant gets 27.7 points on 17.1 shots per game, a larger shots-to-points gap than Anthony's 28 on 20.2 margin. Durant's PER is 28.1 to Anthony's 26.3.
It doesn't just stop there. Durant rebounds 12.7 percent of his team's shots to Carmelo Anthony's 10.2 percent. Durant gets 4.2 assists to Anthony's 1.9 per contest. If we're citing wins, the Thunder have the best record in the league, and they're doing it in the tougher Western Conference. If we're citing surrounding talent, the Thunder just traded a Team USA member and did not miss a beat.
Again, Anthony has been fantastic. It's just that Durant has been even better than fantastic. It's not a slight to Melo, but it's hard to find something he's good in that Kevin Durant isn't even better at. It's a long season and that could change. But for now, Durant's MVP credentials are pretty unassailable in comparison to Anthony's.