Carmelo Anthony has the MVP trophy in his sights.
You may not have heard, but Carmelo Anthony is chasing the NBA MVP award.
The basketball community prepared to strip Anthony of his star status after a subpar 2011-12 season, but he has turned it around with drastically better play in 2012-13.
A year after recording his most inefficient scoring numbers, Anthony is averaging a career-high 29.2 points per game. After critics questioned his commitment to defense, he has buckled down and given a concerted effort on both sides of the floor.
While Knicks fans declare their support for his MVP candidacy every time he steps up to the free-throw line, they unfortunately do not have a say in the matter.
He is certainly a valuable player, but does that mean he has flourished enough to pass the game's elite? Is he now a genuine MVP, or is everyone desperate for New York to finally possess a top superstar?
Let's take a look at Anthony's credentials.
Anthony is shooting 45.6 percent from the floor.
There is no questioning Anthony's offensive prowess.
His average of 29.2 points per game is tied with Kobe Bryant for second in the association behind Kevin Durant. And it's coming efficiently.
Not only is Anthony shooting 45.6 percent from the floor, but he's draining threes with aplomb. Hitting a career-best 42.0 percent of his shots from downtown has propelled him to a 57.5 true shooting percentage, the highest mark of his 10-year NBA stint.
With Anthony on the floor, the Knicks are an offensive dynamo, averaging 114 points per 100 possessions.
While efficiency fueled his rise up the MVP ladder, he has been forced to shoot more with Raymond Felton out of the lineup.
In eight games without the starting point guard, Anthony has scored 31.1 points per game, but he has shot 41.7 percent while attempting 25.5 shots per game.
It is hard to blame him for taking charge, but one of the more unselfish squads in basketball now consists of four players standing around and waiting for Anthony or J.R. Smith to make a play.
The team's recent style of play could help Anthony land a scoring title, but he stands a much better chance at winning the MVP award if he's playing effectively on a winning club.
Anthony is showing more tenacity on the defensive end.
Most of the praise lavished on Anthony surrounds his improved effort on the defensive end.
A lot of this admiration stems from intangibles. He now dives for loose balls more frequently and looks dedicated rather than disinterested on the defensive side.
But looking at the numbers, he hasn't performed all that much better.
In fact, metrics calculating defensive worth show that he might have played better defense last season. According to 82games.com, Anthony has recorded a 1.07 defensive rating, up from 1.03 in 2011-12. So the Knicks have allowed four more points per 100 possessions with Anthony on the court this year.
Part of that spike can be attributed to Anthony shifting over to power forward. Playing small creates space offensively but often generates a size mismatch on the other end.
Individually, Anthony's competition is shooting at a comparable level. In 2011, opposing small forwards generated a 47.2 effective field goal percentage (via 82games.com), while power forwards produced a 50.7 rate. This year, those numbers are similar at 46.8 and 51.1.
Since the Knicks are winning more games, and Anthony is thriving on offense, while playing more aggressively on defense, the widespread perception of Anthony's defense has altered dramatically.
He is far from a liability defensively, but he's also not going to make a push for Defensive Player of the Year any time soon.
Losing ground in the Eastern Conference could cost Anthony some MVP votes.
Whether it is fair or not to factor in team play when deciphering the league's top individual player, it will undoubtedly happen.
This boded well for Anthony throughout the early stages of the year, but it could now end up sinking his chances.
New York still stands as the East's No. 2 seed at 25-14, but the team has dropped six of its last 10 games. The Brooklyn Nets lurk closely behind, trailing New York by one game.
A few more losses could force the Knicks to address the possibility of starting the postseason's first round away from Madison Square Garden.
A common calling card among Anthony's MVP supporters is that he's carrying the team on his shoulders. Nobody is questioning that he's the clear star, but he's not doing it alone.
New York doesn't boast a second superstar, but they have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Shooting 67.4 percent and grabbing 11 rebounds a night, Tyson Chandler is a worthy All-Star.
The past few games have also displayed Felton's importance to the club. A once blossoming offense now looks out of sync without its floor general.
For Anthony to figure prominently into the MVP race, the Knicks will have to finish near or at the top of the East, especially since a couple other players hold an edge on him statistically.
Beating out LeBron James and Kevin Durant will be a tall task for Anthony.
So this probably puts a damper on Anthony's MVP hunt, but LeBron James and Kevin Durant are really good at basketball.
Mere mortals aren't supposed to shoot 55 percent while reeling in 8.1 boards and 7.0 assists. James is yet again tallying mind-boggling numbers with dazzling efficiency, but everyone's bored of him already.
He has already captured three MVPs and won his championship ring, so voters are looking for every reason not to give James another trophy.
That makes Durant, who has yet to secure an MVP or title, such an appealing option. The 24-year-old is leading the pack en route to his fourth-straight scoring title, and he's only getting better.
In the midst of a rare 50-40-90 campaign, Durant is shooting 51.9 percent from the floor, 41.7 percent from long distance and 91.0 percent at the charity stripe.
The only starter with a higher true shooting percentage than Durant's 65.5 mark is Chandler, but Anthony's teammate scores almost exclusively on dunks, while 79 percent of Durant's shots are jumpers.
And there is still Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. Bryant is posting similar offensive numbers (trading some rebounds for assists), but his chances are bleak stuck in the center of the Los Angeles Lakers' catastrophic letdown.
Paul is leading the resurgent Clippers to a phenomenal season, but it might not help his cause that they won three games with Eric Bledsoe filling in as the starting point guard.
Durant will probably be happier than Anthony about the MVP results.
We can stay here all day and discuss ad nauseam what Anthony has done right to deserve the MVP, but it means nothing if someone else deserves it more.
Anthony's great, but Durant and James are greater. He'll need a tremendous second half to gain ground on those two stars.
While Anthony sports an impressive 25.30 PER, James and Durant both rank ahead of him at 30.31 and 29.15, respectively.
Both have also broken away from the pack in Estimated Wins Added (EWA). The Thunder star has accrued 15.5 victories for his team, while the Heat's leader has generated a 14.4 EWA.
Let's acknowledge the terrific basketball Anthony has played, while keeping it in perspective. He's evolved from operating as a top-five scorer to making a case as a top-five player overall who a championship contender can build around.
In terms of his quest for the MVP—which is really more of our desire to add a different name to the usual suspects—Anthony is closer to competing with Paul for third place.
But a lot can change with half of the season still remaining.