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LeBron James-Carmelo Anthony Debate Has Never Been More Lopsided Than It Is Now

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterFebruary 9, 2017

Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Perhaps you think it's unfair to compare Carmelo Anthony to the fire-breathing predecessors who flourished under Phil Jackson (Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant), as we did in this space earlier in the week.

Maybe it is more appropriate to compare Anthony to his closest peerhis high school rival, the guy with whom he entered the NBA, his fellow small-forward superstar in the Eastern Conference most of the past decade?

That, however, may be just as unfair a comparison, as LeBron James is better than Anthony…just as Jordan and Bryant were.

But let's dig a little deeper to understand why—and try not to miss how that same difference has dictated the stark contrast between their current seasons, too.

James is doing everything he possibly can to win again in Cleveland this season—at a time when everyone would understand if he eased up.

He's almost leading the league in minutes per game (Kyle Lowry's 37.7 to James' 37.6) after six consecutive NBA Finals runs. He's pushing his general manager to ensure every option for adding talent is explored. And he's pulling crazy shots and passes out of his hat every night.

Even-handed or heavy-handed, James is trying whatever he can to get the best out of his team, with full awareness that repeat championships are rare; it's human nature for some slippage to come with complacency.

It appears James is finally taking a day off Thursday night in Oklahoma City in the Cavaliers' third game in four nights. Too bad for the fans, as it's a national TV game, but it would be only the fourth game all season he has missed.

We thought he'd take it pretty easy this season. Instead, we have more evidence as to how James has gotten better at filling whatever void his team has—while also implementing various ways to lead.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 6: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the tie-winning shot during the game against the Washington Wizards on February 6, 2017 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agre
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Remember when he used to be just the supportive guy, not the I'll-make-waves guy? Remember when he was criticized for not being aggressive enough on offense late in games, which feels like a lifetime ago even though he's passing this season more than ever? Remember when his jumper was clunky or he wasn't comfortable posting up?

This is the stuff we're talking about when a superstar wants to win badly. He will try whatever it takes to get where he wants to go, mentally and physically. He will learn more and more, and the result in this case is going to be crystal clear:

James will be remembered for greatness, not the moments when he manipulated every contract situation for leverage, irked people with his team grievances or even overstepped his bounds in personnel matters in the latter part of his career. The Cavaliers' late-season comeback after losing to the visiting Golden State Warriors by 34 points in January 2016 happened only because of all the little things James did to pull his team both up and together—and then came that 3-1 NBA Finals rally with James as series MVP, which he probably would have won even if he'd lost.

He can still win with physical dominance, yet now he can also win with strategy.

James has advanced his game in every way, even while growing his global brand and dabbling in acting and producing.

Has Anthony?

He's still a great scorer.

And…what else?

If we look at it strictly from the perspective of what Anthony does to help his team win basketball games, it's pretty much the same as it ever was.

WASHINGTON, DC -  JANUARY 31: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks shoots the ball against the Washington Wizards on January 31, 2017 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

It's just not enough.

Amid all his flaws as a newbie NBA executive, Jackson is at least the one pushing and stirring and demanding, while Anthony wants to camp out at the mid-post and hold the ball, the same way he wants to be comfortable living his life in New York City.

David Locke @Lockedonsports

Of 50 players in NBA with 3 elbow touches a game only Carmelo Anthony (35%) passes less than Anthony Davis. (39%). Only 4 under 50% of time

Anthony's defense has been consistently egregious (ranking 403rd in the NBA in defensive real plus-minus), although it looked briefly last season as if Anthony was seeing the light regarding team ball. That part makes this season even more disheartening.

Trying harder to get teammates involved, Anthony finished last season with 10 points per game created off his assists, according to NBA.com. This season, he has dropped way off to 6.9, which ranks 88th in the league and is even worse than Anthony's 7.3 in 2014-15. And this year, Anthony has had the benefit of working with an upgraded roster of offensive talent in Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee and a more seasoned Kristaps Porzingis. (James is averaging 22.3 points created by assist, fifth behind point guards James Harden, John Wall, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul.)

It's not about James having more all-around skills than Anthony from the get-go. It's that there is just too much proof at this point that James is driven like the greats to improve his craft, while Anthony is not.

That has proven true even this season, their 14th in the NBA.

Further emboldened, and rightly so, by Cleveland's run to close last season, James has been pressuring his management to raise its standards even higher. James has pushed general manager David Griffin to search out more talent even with owner Dan Gilbert's checkbook open wider than anyone in the NBA. (Newcomer Kyle Korver delivered 29 points in a victory Wednesday night, but James has made clear to his local beat writers that he wants even more.) You know James will ramp up the pressure on his teammates after the All-Star break, too—same as a year ago.

Meanwhile, Anthony has complained about the stress of the various pressures his management has put on him. About Jackson, Anthony told reporters late Wednesday night after another Knicks loss that he is "beyond the point of it bothering me."

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Some fans are cool with their guy putting the ball in the basket neatly and staying mellow. That's fine. That's why it's every fan's prerogative what kind of superstar they want to admire.

But there truly is a gulf of a difference, make no mistake, in how much some of these stars want to win.

And as long as James' career continues, his willingness to work for every extra edge will stand as a stark reminder of what Anthony is missing.

                                          

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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