Tonight in Denver, NBA's Most Versatile Duel: Carmelo Anthony vs. Kevin Durant

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IDecember 15, 2009

Six years ago, when Carmelo Anthony came into the league, I hoped he would one day become as dominant a player as Tracy McGrady. T-Mac was the best small forward in the league at the time, averaging 32 points 6.5 rebounds and a deadly 39 percent three-point shooting percentage and his size (6’8”) is almost identical to Anthony’s.

And sure, it was wishful thinking to expect Melo to evolve into the explosive player McGrady was—but now it seems that Anthony may be even better than T-Mac ever was.

Carmelo Anthony has led the NBA in scoring (30.3) for almost the entire season to this point and his versatility allows the young superstar fill up the basket in a variety of ways.

First and foremost, Melo’s jumper is the smoothest in the game and he can shoot over any defender at will. Whether it be from the baseline, the elbow or for a deep three-pointer—when Anthony’s shot is on, it spells trouble for opponents.

Next, Carmelo’s quickness means he can take bigger opponents off the dribble and to the hole. Sure, Melo can’t fly like LeBron, but he is the best finger-roller that the NBA’s seen since George “Iceman” Gervin.

And even though he gets less respect than LeBron, Kobe or D-Wade, Anthony still gets to the free throw line 9.6 times per game, scoring over eight points per from the charity stripe. Melo’s made a point to take advantage of free points from the free throw line, increasing from 78 to 87 percent from the line over his career.

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When Carmelo isn’t scoring; he’s passing, rebounding and playing defense—all skill sets he’s improved upon the last few years. Melo’s found a new tactic, backing down an opponent in the block and when a double team comes, pass quickly to a big man for a dunk. And when it comes to crashing the boards and playing D, Anthony has realized it’s all about giving effort—something he’s up to task for now.

And now that Carmelo Anthony is undoubtedly the best small forward in the NBA, it’s not a stretch to believe that Thunder youngster Kevin Durant emulates Melo.

Durant, the 6’9,” 230 pound forward, is continuously improving his all-around game. His 28.3 points per game are third in the NBA and his 7.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists are all career highs. Durant can score almost as effortlessly as Melo, as his length allows him to shoot over people, and he’s extremely quick for being so tall.

His perimeter and transition game is deadly and Durant’s got one of the prettiest looking jumpers in the game.

Nuggets head coach George Karl gave the young star much props today saying, “He’s one of those difficult covers at 6’9”. You cover him with big, he’s got quickness, and you cover him with small, he’s got size.”  

Really, that’s where the two players’ versatility comes into play—their size.

Melo and Durant are as big as power forwards, but are as quick off the dribble and can out-shoot shooting guards. Both are among the toughest covers in the game because of their height, but also their killer instinct.

Either of the two can make the big shot, and both want to take it as time winds down.

Early in 2009, Durant hit a three-pointer with three seconds remaining to take the lead for the Thunder against the Nuggets with seconds remaining. But the game wasn’t over and Melo struck back with his own three as time expired and Denver won the game. A month later, Anthony drove the ball into three Thunder players for the game winning layup (Durant missed the last shot of the game).

Durant remembers the shots, and he wants one of his own. And as he emerges into his own star, Melo has finally arrived as a superstar—leading his legitimate team as a contender for an NBA title.

As they get ready to face off at the Pepsi Center in Denver, one has to believe there will be lots of fireworks between the two stars tonight.

So fans, “getcha’ popcorn ready,” grab a cold drink, and sit back and enjoy the show.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. MT and will be on Altitude HD, Comcast channel 664 in Denver and the Front Range.

Post-game update: Kevin Durant led all scorers with 32 points and added 10 rebounds. Carmelo Anthony was right behind with 31 and five. The two guarded each other for a few minutes during the third quarter and Melo scored easily twice on Durant. The Nuggets won the game 102-93 and improve to 18-7, 11-1 at home.


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