By fitting his prodigious abilities within a team concept, Carmelo Anthony is finally playing MVP-caliber basketball.
Melo has long been considered a legitimate superstar and one of the most talented players in the NBA. He's one of the most skilled scorers the game has ever seen, with a remarkable blend of strength and agility. Nine times out of 10, the only guy on the floor who could beat Carmelo Anthony was Anthony himself.
However, he oftentimes did just that. Between the difficult forced shots and the apathetic approach to defense and passing, Melo was one of the best one-dimensional players of all time, but he was one-dimensional nonetheless.
That has changed in 2012-13.
We've witnessed an evolved form of Anthony this season, who has played a more efficient and more well-rounded game. That has vaulted the New York Knicks into the ranks of the contenders, and it has put Melo right in the thick of the MVP race.
A Fortuitous Move
Even with a new and improved Anthony, the discussion starts with his offensive output.
Amar'e Stoudemire's knee surgery was a red flag for the Knicks' season, but it came with a considerable silver lining: It forced Anthony's move to power forward.
Through limitation comes creativity, and putting an athlete like Melo in the post was an inspired move by Mike Woodson.
In the clip above, it's clear just how much of a matchup nightmare Anthony is.
Thaddeus Young is another wing playing power forward. At 235 pounds, he has the bulk to compete in the post, though Melo is still strong enough to bull him to the basket.
That's what Young expects, but that's not what happens. With one quick dribble, Melo gets Young to break left. Melo then spins back right and gets an open layup at the rim. If he can beat another small forward with his agility alone, true big men don't stand a chance to guard him.
A Smarter Approach
Positioning any volume scorer closer to the basket should increase his efficiency. Per Hoopdata, not only is Anthony's 29.3 points per game a personal best, but he is also putting up a career-high 58.5 true shooting percentage.
A large part of that improvement comes from Melo's newfound long-range prowess. He's hitting on about 43 percent of his three-point attempts, the product of technically-sound jump-shooting.
In the past, when Melo was shooting more off the dribble, he had a tendency to shoot off-balance and when tightly covered. His performance against the Lakers features him either spotting up or pulling up for long jumpers. In either case, he is going straight up with his shots, decreasing the degree of difficulty of the attempts and increasing his effectiveness.
That's how Anthony has boosted his points production this season—by taking better shots and scoring more efficiently than he ever has.
A Commitment to Hustle
Once decried as a lazy and selfish player, Melo has ramped up his effort at both ends of the court.
No one ever accused Anthony of lacking energy. He displayed it in spades on offense, whether it was taking on multiple defenders to get his shot off or shouting and gesticulating to get his teammates to pass him the ball.
Pure hustle plays such as this one against the Sixers are a new development.
Melo couldn't be counted on in the past to run downcourt to get the backside block on a fast break, let alone dive three rows into the stands to save the ball from going out of bounds.
From the very beginning of the season, Anthony has improbably set the tone for the Knicks on the defensive end.
Per Michael Wallace of ESPNNewYork.com:
"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."
Long getting by almost exclusively on talent, Melo has never been the guy to make a major impact with his hustle. That new element in his game has allowed him to be more of a two-way threat in 2012-13.
A Team Mentality
This season, Anthony has given the Knicks just what they need in every facet of the game.
Is Carmelo Anthony a legitimate MVP candidate?
It certainly makes Melo more comfortable that New York has a dearth of guys who can create their own shots. Fans might see a ball hog out there, but his newly efficient scoring has been crucial to the Knicks' success. He has also been showing a great willingness to make the extra pass.
Between that offensive performance and his defensive impact, Anthony has been the cornerstone of the Knicks' remarkable resurgence this season.
After going through last season as a talented yet dysfunctional mess, New York has surged to the top of the Eastern Conference. Though injuries have hurt the team, Melo has been a constant source of productivity for the Knicks.
MVP voters will look kindly upon those winning ways. With both the Knicks playing their best basketball in years and Melo playing his best basketball ever, he has to be a part of the MVP conversation.