Carmelo Anthony: The Best Player in The NBA Not Named LeBron?

Ronald ManbaumCorrespondent IMay 12, 2009

DENVER - MAY 03:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets drives past Josh Howard #5 of the Dallas Mavericks in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center on May 3, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Mavericks 109-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The short answer to that question is a resounding NO, but that may be changing.

The draft of 2003 will be remembered for many things.  First and foremost though may be Joe Dumars descent into madness when he skipped over Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh to select Darko Milicic. At the time it seemed like the risk was not going to be worth the reward, and six years later that has proven to be undeniably true.

While LeBron James has clearly been at the head of that class, and the NBA in general, Dwayne Wade, along with Kobe, are often right with LeBron in the discussion of the NBA's elite superstars.  Which begs the question, where does Carmelo fit in?

Imagine the possibilities if Carmelo had matured with Chauncey Billups at point starting in his rookie season, imagine if instead of having a leadership role thrust upon him, and all the pressures that go with it (especially in the far superior Western Conference), he had Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace to share the spotlight with.  Dwayne Wade had Shaq starting in his second year, and Carmelo had, well, Marcus Camby and still has made the playoffs in Denver year after year.

That's not a knock on Camby by the way, who is a great player in his own right, but developing your talent with Shaq sitting on the block drawing double and triple-teams is an easier proposition than taking over a team from Day 1.

The point here is not to disparage Wade, but while Wade has clearly been elevated to the NBA elite you still hear the familiar "overrated" tag being thrown around when the discussion turns to Carmelo Anthony.  Although the Nuggets playoff run seems to be quieting some of that criticism, even now you hear the argument that it is Chauncey Billups arrival in Denver, and not the great play of Anthony, that has somehow made the Nuggets turn the corner.

Oddly, you rarely hear the criticism heaped upon Wade that his assent to the NBA elite was hastened by the addition of Shaq to the Heat.

Even this year, a year where Carmelo was suffering through injuries his numbers compare favorably to Wade's.  Wade shoots a lower percentage than Carmelo from three, yet a higher percentage of his shots come from behind the arc than Carmelo who has often been labeled a "gunner."   Almost 16% of Wade's shot come from behind the arc, yet he only shot 31% (a career high) from deep.

Fourteen percent of Melo's shots come from behind the 3 point line, while shooting a substantially better 37%.   Wade shot forty-nine percent from the field overall, the second highest number of his career, and better than Carmelo's forty-four percent, but Carmelo did shoot forty-nine percent the year before. 

Wade easily outpaces Carmelo on assists, but Wade has the ball in his hands much more often with the opportunity to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.  That certainly is not a knock on Wade, he is a far superior ball handler, but nevertheless Carmelo has shown an ability to create when he has the ball heading to the basket.  Anyone watching the Denver series against Dallas, or even New Orleans, can attest to the fact that Carmelo has shown the ability to create for teammates off the dribble. 

On the other hand, you could argue that Carmelo gets more rebounds and that slightly offsets the fact that Wade has more assists.  However, that can be attributed to the fact that Melo is more often in a position to grab a rebound because of his position underneath the basket.

Defensively, Carmelo has never shown the committment that Wade and LeBron have thus far in their careers, but this year there has been a greater degree of dedication on that side of the ball.  Carmelo's new found enthusiasm for defense (with admittedly the more than just occasional lapse that plagues almost all NBA players) has helped the Nuggets reach the second round for the first time in fifteen years.

In the end, Wade's play-making ability and defense does make him a better player overall, but the gap isn't as mammoth as many would lead you to believe.  Now that Carmelo has a secondary player in Billups, the way Wade had in Shaq, we may be seeing the maturation of Carmelo as a complete player.  And, that may be the reason that sooner or later when someone asks you, "Who is best player in the NBA not named LeBron?", your answer will be Carmelo Anthony.