Carmelo Anthony was the NBA's leading scorer and led the New York Knicks to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Yet, the All-Star forward is not at the forefront of the MVP discussion. LeBron James is expected to win the award for the fourth time, with Kevin Durant finishing a distant second.
James is the biggest impediment to Anthony winning the MVP. LeBron shot 57 percent from the field, 41 percent from three, finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and produced the seventh-highest player efficiency rating (31.59) in NBA history (via Basketball-Reference.com).
Anthony's exclusion from the MVP discussion is also based in large part on the perception that he is a one-dimensional player. That characterization is not completely accurate.
'Melo grabbed 6.9 rebounds per game, and his low assist numbers (2.6 per game) were misleading. It usually takes at least two passes to find the open man against sophisticated defenses, and Carmelo often initiated the Knicks' ball movement by passing out of double-teams.
However, it is impossible to ignore that Durant and James topped Anthony in every major statistical category other than scoring (via Basketball-Reference.com).
Chris Paul, who will likely finish in the top five in MVP voting, led the league in steals (2.41) and finished second in assists (9.7), in addition to scoring 16.9 points per game.
The scoring numbers do not even necessarily work in Anthony's favor. James and Durant averaged a comparable number of points, with much greater efficiency. Anthony's field-goal and three-point percentages (45 and 38, respectively) were well below those of James (57 and 41 percent, respectively) and Durant (51 and 42 percent, respectively) (via Basketball-Reference.com).
The biggest difference between the three forwards was on defense. According to Synergy Sports, Anthony held opponents to .62 points per possession on post-up plays, which ranked 12th in the league. However, he struggled to stay with his man on isolation plays or when forced to run around screens, and his poor help defense left the Knicks vulnerable at times along the back line.
James is a defensive stopper, capable of guarding all five positions, and Durant's freakish wingspan disrupts shooters and takes away passing lanes. Both compete harder than Anthony, who has a tendency to jog back on defense and take defensive possessions off.
The Knicks' record also does not work in Carmelo's favor. New York won 54 games, seventh most in the league.
The MVP trophy is generally awarded to the best player on one of the elite teams, and James' Miami Heat won a league-high 66 games. Anthony's inferior supporting cast helps his case, but is ultimately outweighed by the size of the gap between the Heat and Knicks (12 wins) and Miami's historic 27-game winning streak.
Durant also had more talent around him than Anthony, notably a second superstar in Russell Westbrook. The Oklahoma City Thunder only won six more games than the Knicks (60), though voters will note that they did so in the superior Western Conference.
James and Durant had a greater impact on their teams' success because they were in the lineup more frequently than Anthony. The Knicks star missed 15 games (18 percent of the season) with an assortment of injuries.
Durant missed just one game, and LeBron six, though they were all after the Heat had wrapped up the No. 1 seed. Chris Paul, like Anthony, dropped out of the MVP running due to an injury. The Los Angeles Clippers point guard was sidelined for 12 games in January and February with a sore knee.
Voters are only supposed to consider the 2012-13 regular season, but players' reputations inevitably creep into the decision-making process. Carmelo rubbed many people the wrong way when he forced his way out of Denver and his reputation has been diminished by a lack of playoff success.
There is also a lag effect to awards such as the MVP, All-NBA honors and All-Star teams. Players typically play at an elite level for a few years before they are recognized for their achievements. Anthony has not performed at an MVP level for multiple seasons like Durant and James.
Carmelo had an excellent season and he should finish among the top five in the MVP voting. But his game pales in comparison to LeBron's and so does his candidacy.