Carmelo Anthony is on the verge of breaking into special territory—but only a championship can cement him among the legends.
New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is in the midst of his most successful NBA campaign. For the first time in his 10 pro seasons, he's the leader of a club with realistic championship hopes, and he is leading the charge as an MVP candidate.
Anthony's ultimate legacy, to this point, is still very much unwritten. As recently as this past offseason, 'Melo was regarded by some as one of the league's stars who lacked the "it" factor found in superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Thus far in 2012-13, Carmelo has done his best to silence the critics and has embraced a never-before-seen winning mentality, which has driven the Knicks to the top of the Eastern Conference and into the thick of the title race.
It's clear that Anthony's career is undergoing a much-needed rebirth, but only a banner-raising season in Gotham could ensure that 'Melo's career goes down in history alongside other NBA legends.
Here are a few ways that an NBA title could alter the way history remembers Carmelo Anthony.
He'll Be Coexisting With Other Stars
With Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler in the fold for the foreseeable future, any NBA Finals success would be contingent upon 'Melo cooperating with other Knick scoring threats.
As it rests right now, Anthony's reputation is littered with evidence suggesting he'll fail. Since the formation of the STAT-and-'Melo duo over two years ago, the Knicks have a single playoff victory to show for it. Last season was arguably Stoudemire's worst, and the Knicks were a Linsane streak of luck away from missing the playoffs altogether.
In 16 games together this season, the pair—with aid from head coach Mike Woodson—has seemingly cracked the code of success.
Anthony remains a lethal scoring option, but Stoudemire also appears to be in tip-top shape as well—he's feasting in the paint, as evidenced by his .704 field goal percentage at the rim this year.
There's been a marked spike in Anthony-to-Stoudemire connections, and they've looked fluid and flashy rather than forced and awkward like the 'Melo-to-Amar'e linkage of years past.
Chandler has assumed a designated role as well, scooping up rebound after rebound and accumulating many of his buckets off of put backs—a whopping 87 percent of Chandler's attempts have come at the rim.
For the first time ever, Anthony is thriving alongside, rather than instead of, his fellow stars. If the Knicks trio can continue their dominance, there won't be many teams capable of containing them in the postseason.
And if New York takes home the title, the "selfish" and "incompatible" labels can finally be removed from Carmelo Anthony.
A Complete Contributor
For much of his career—especially under former Knicks leader Mike D'Antoni—Anthony was widely regarded as a one-dimensional contributor. His scoring ability has never been questioned, but nearly every other aspect of his game has been in question at one point during his career.
Under Mike Woodson, Anthony's game has rounded out more than ever before. He's sacrificed his body for the sake of victories and has D'd up in crucial moments.
When defending post-ups—which account for 26 percent of his defensive plays—shooters are just 18-of-58 against him, resulting in 0.58 points per play, which ranks seventh among qualified defenders (via Synergy).
'Melo's current D-rating of 107 is the third-best mark of his career. Should his well-rounded performance continue, the Knicks will be in the hunt for a ring come the spring. Should the Knicks achieve that ring, you can be certain that 'Melo will be memorialized as an unabridged superstar by the time his playing days are over.
It Will Bring Him Up To Speed With LeBron
Since their days at Oak Hill and St. Vincent-St. Mary, respectively, Anthony and LeBron James have always been—for better or worse—pitted against each other. From draft day 2003 to their Rookie of the Year race, to their current competition for Eastern Conference supremacy, the pair has never been able to escape a spotlight fit for two.
In 2011-12, Anthony watched as his career-long counterpart led the Miami Heat to an NBA championship—James' first. The still-ringless 'Melo, who spent the ensuing summer as teammate to LeBron on Team USA in London, was undoubtedly motivated by James' long-awaited glory.
Anthony's über-motivated 2012-13 run has been his most successful to date.
On the only scoreboard that determines who is the ultimate winner—James and Anthony practically said this themselves when they forced their ways into new cities for shots at titles—LeBron has jumped to a 1-0 titles lead on his '03 draftmate. Carmelo has made it a point this season to get even in the standings.
A Knicks championship would even up the career ring count at one between two members of the league's elite. And after witnessing the King storm through his hand-picked franchise to begin the 2012 postseason, Anthony wants nothing more than to dethrone James and the Heat before he falls further behind in the race.
The Taste of Collegiate, International and Domestic Victory
An NCAA champion and two-time gold-medalist, Anthony is no stranger to the top of the mountain. The Larry O'Brien trophy, however, would round out 'Melo's trophy case and place him next to the best winners in NBA history.
It would be especially unique for Anthony in that his Olympic role so greatly differs from his duties as a Knick. The NBA is well aware of what 'Melo is responsible for in New York. But in London—while surrounded by LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and other NBA scorers—Anthony took an unfamiliar ride to gold: one in the passenger seat.
Anthony acted as Mike Krzyzewski's sixth man through much of the Games, and played perhaps his most effective basketball ever. This included an Olympic-record 37-point performance in just 14 minutes of burn against Nigeria. 'Melo drilled 10-of-12 attempts from beyond the arc that night.
Anthony's versatility as an Olympian will be a key factor behind any potential NBA title. The trust he has in his Knicks teammates directly derives from his experience as a lower member of the totem pole in London.
With an NBA title to his name, Anthony would join Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Jerry Lucas, K.C. Jones, Quinn Buckner and Clyde Lovellette as the eighth man in basketball history to reach all three basketball pinnacles.
It Would Pave The Way For More
If Anthony does bring home the ultimate prize in the near future, it's unlikely that he would stop at a single ring. 'Melo is just entering the front end of his prime at age 28, like LeBron James.
With an NBA title to his name, would Carmelo Anthony go down as one of the NBA's best all-time players?
With a championship under his belt—and a ring on his finger—Carmelo would be aware of exactly what it takes to reclimb to the top of the NBA mountain. And if he continues to improve at the rate he has this season, there's no telling how valuable Anthony may become.
With a single championship, a legacy changes forever. But with a championship comes championship expectations. And with championship expectations, legacies arrive at the ultimate crossroads.
For Carmelo, getting to that crossroads is the task at hand. Once that journey is over, he will be—at long last—a champion.
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All advanced stats were gathered from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.