Although the New York Knicks had their most disappointing season since Carmelo Anthony came to town back in 2010-11, it was a terrific, under-the-radar kind of year for Anthony as an individual. He’s garnered such a poor reputation over the years that fans and media alike tend to overlook him when talking about the best players in the league.
It’s unfair, but Anthony is always compared to guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom are better players than Anthony as a whole — or are they? Is that just a bias that we’ve all accepted at this point? Let’s ask this question — if we put Anthony in either of the other’s places, would the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder still be as good? Yeah, they would.
Let’s look at the top five MVP candidates from a year ago, with Anthony’s numbers next to them:
There’s no question that as far as numbers are concerned, Anthony belongs. What’s amazing is that Anthony finished 15th in MVP voting a year ago, with just four third-place votes. Then again, the heart and soul of a 48-win Phoenix Suns team (Goran Dragic) received only three third-place votes, so yeah.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN FOR ANTHONY TO WIN MVP
The past is the past at this point. What will Anthony have to do in the 2014-15 season if he’s going to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award?
First off, he’s going to have to make the playoffs. The NBA doesn’t hand out the league MVP to teams who finish with a 37-45 record. He’d literally have to average a triple-double or 37 points per game in order to win the MVP with that kind of record.
The Knicks have improved their roster to an extent, but the main problem is that there isn’t a serviceable scorer opposite Anthony. Last season, only J.R. Smith put up more than half the points that Anthony did (Smith 1071, Melo 2112). That’s just not going to work. Other players will need to step up to give Anthony some help.
Tim Hardaway Jr. looked like he was making strides late last season and if Jose Calderon can put Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani in position to succeed, we could see a much improved Knicks squad (at least offensively).
One thing that Anthony has on his side is the fact that in the top 12 of MVP voting last season, there are three teammate combinations (LeBron James/Kevin Love, Blake Griffin/Chris Paul, Tim Duncan/Tony Parker).
Consider that a healthy Russell Westbrook will steal votes from Durant and a healthy Derrick Rose will take votes from Noah. Now, we’re looking at Harden, Stephen Curry, Al Jefferson, Paul George (out), LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki in front of Melo.
As long as the Knicks improve and make the playoffs, I don’t see a non-injury reason why Melo won’t leapfrog that pack to put himself in position to win his first NBA MVP. The closest he’s ever come was the 2012-13 season, when he finished third. In that season, he understandably finished behind James and Durant.
THE KEY TO WINNING
At the end of the day, there’s one thing that Melo will have to do in order to win the MVP award (aside from his team winning) and that’s pass. Yes, pass. Anthony’s career high in assists per game is 3.8, set back in 2006-07 with the Denver Nuggets. He averages 3.1 for his career and was right on that mark during the 2013-14 season.
The last MVP winner to average under 3.1 assists per game was David Robinson, back in 1994-95. He happened to average 27.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 3.2 blocks that year. Before that, it was 1982-83, when Moses Malone averaged 24.5 points, 15.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.0 blocks.
Over the last 11 seasons, only Dirk Nowitzki’s 2006-07 campaign (3.4 assists) saw the winner dip below five assists per game.
The issue, of course, is that Melo has to have teammates around him who can put the ball in the basket. He hasn’t had that superstar sidekick like many of the other MVP winners have had. If one of his teammates rises to the occasion and has a career year, this could be Melo’s best MVP shot to date.