New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is in the midst of his best season since he entered the league nine seasons ago. He's the leader of a team that currently rests second in the Eastern Conference standings.
His never-before-seen leadership and passion on both ends of the floor have earned him consideration for the league's highest individual honor. But to ultimately take home the MVP trophy in 2013, 'Melo will have to check one more item off his bucket list: coexisting with fellow star Amar'e Stoudemire.
It's something that's eluded Anthony since the duo first united in February 2011. In almost a full season's worth of games together, the Knicks are 34-44 when STAT and 'Melo are on the floor together fighting for touches.
Head coach Mike Woodson seems to have cracked the code a bit better than his predecessor Mike D'Antoni ever could—Woodson's Knicks are 11-5 when both stars are on the hardwood—but the fluidity that we see in the league's top twosomes is still absent.
Conquering the task that, to this point, has been his dramatic flaw, will be the final accolade 'Melo needs to be crowned king of the Association.
He's already garnered league-wide consideration for the honor thanks to several key factors—some quantified in statistics and some left solely for the naked eye to judge.
First, let's go over the ones we can put a number to.
He's second in the league in scoring at 29.3 PPG—a career high. He's turning the ball over only 2.5 times per contest, which is the lowest mark of his career. His 42-percent clip from beyond the arc is almost five points higher than any he's put up in his 10 seasons, and he's shooting nearly double the attempts from downtown as he did in 2011-12—his previous high-water mark.
The X-factor for 'Melo this season, though, is what can't be expressed numerically.
He's made a conscious effort on defense under Mike Woodson, which is something he's never been known for. He's given up his body various times throughout the season, leading to more inspired play by other Knicks. He has also demonstrated tremendous trust in his teammates, thanks to a gold-medal experience last summer in London.
Now all of this would be for naught if the reborn superstar fails to establish a successful dynamic between Stoudemire and himself.
In their six games together this season, Anthony is averaging 32 points. Stoudemire's statistics aren't the most reliable, because he's slowly getting acclimated to the Knicks system while on a minutes restriction. He's averaging 16 points on 44-percent shooting per 36 minutes.
Stoudemire is, at least for now, a member of the second team, and rightly so. Anthony has produced much better this season out of the power forward spot—Stoudemire's position. Leaving the first team in the hands of 'Melo and the second in STAT's possession seems like a novel idea and should play out fine once Amar'e regains his sea legs.
But there will inevitably be times where the two must gel, and those times will likely be the most crucial. With the game tied and two minutes left on the clock, Mike Woodson will need both of his top options on the floor. This is where Anthony will need to show his biggest stride ever as an NBA player.
Woodson has drawn up some nice sets to include both players in the offense—something D'Antoni was never capable of. In order to ultimately receive the NBA's highest praise, 'Melo will need to share some of the spotlight with Stoudemire and sacrifice a number of post-ups and isolations in favor of the offensively dominant Stoudemire.
After all, in 2010-11—Stoudemire's last season of full health—he compiled an offensive rating of 112 in clutch situations with a true shooting percentage of 58, according to NBA.com Advanced Stats. Anthony's O-rating in clutch situations this year is an outrageous 123.4, which would rank him fourth league-wide if it was his mark for the season.
The bottom line is that everyone watching 'Melo play is fully aware that he can dominate on his own. The key for his progression into the league's best player, however, is that he must be able to use the weapons around him to better the team on the whole.
With a weapon as lethal as Stoudemire on the offensive end, and considering his top-rate all-around knowledge of the game, one would surmise that Carmelo would have no problem with making this whole thing work.
To this point—as critics never shy away from pointing out—it hasn't.
Anthony has more than a half-season in front of him with Stoudemire by his side. If the two can join forces and pull out Ws in cooperative fashion, it will mark 'Melo's evolution into the league's most prized individual, and expect him to be rewarded as such come season's end.
You can follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
All stats used are accurate as of games played entering Jan. 17.