Carmelo Anthony: Time To Step Up

Mar 5, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) reacts against the Detroit Pistons during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks defeated the Pistons 102-89. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) reacts against the Detroit Pistons during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks defeated the Pistons 102-89. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Knicks need Carmelo Anthony to step up and reclaim his elite status in 2016-17. It could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

Let me preface this by stating that I am one of Carmelo Anthony‘s biggest fans. I was actually a fan of him in Denver before he came to New York. I’ve also never jumped on the bandwagon consensus to trade him because we’re not going to win a ring with him.

I think he is a great player who could be an instrumental piece of a championship contender.

More importantly, he loves New York and chose staying here out of everywhere. Money and career, of course, did have an effect on that decision, but still, he’s a New Yorker through and through and fans should embrace him more.

Having said that, he needs to step up this year and show he’s still one of the league’s great star players. He got what he wanted in a competitive, win-now roster. He needs to lead that roster to, at minimum, a deep playoff run.

The past couple of years have largely been a struggle for not only the team, but Anthony in particular. Two years ago, he was injured and had to shut it down after the All-Star game. Last year, his scoring numbers were way down in another disappointing Knicks season.

He scored just 21.8 points per game, down measurably from his 28.7 points per game NBA scoring champion season he had in 2012-13, when the Knicks went into the second round of the playoffs.

This isn’t all bad news, though. While his scoring was down, he did stay healthy for the entire season. Also, though his scoring dropped, he managed to put up a career-high averages in assists with 4.2 and came close to his career-high in rebounds with 7.7.

This shows both that his game is evolving as he gets older and that he is making an effort to become a better team player. These are key pieces to him becoming a leader on a championship contending team.

The issue with that was while he was more willing last year, the roster wasn’t exactly capable.

Ever since the 2015 NBA Draft, when New York selected Kristaps Porzingis—and then much more to that effect once he showed his potential—the narrative has been that the roster was on completely different timelines.

New York had an aging star on a lackluster team who wanted to win now. It also had this rising young star who was going to be the center-piece for the future.

The two didn’t exactly mesh, and Anthony was obviously frustrated at times with the current state of the team. He knows his timetable, and though he needs to be given a ton of credit for the help and development of Porzingis, he still wanted to achieve more than just helping him out.

He wanted to contend now, and he didn’t shy away from letting that be known.

The two approaches could be debated, but ultimately, the approach has been laid out with offseason acquisitions Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings.

With those moves, this is now very a roster that’s set up to win now.

It would be interesting to know what led Phil Jackson to make those moves. It certainly seemed as though he was determined to build the Knicks back to contention the old-fashioned way of keeping draft picks, not taking on bad contracts and simply bringing in the “right” players to run his system and build around Porzingis.

It actually seemed to be a point of conflict between him and Anthony.

There were moments of discomfort, particularly at the exit interviews last year when Jackson seemed almost dismissive of Anthony’s requests. He insisted the Triangle was the only answer, even going as far as to host his own mini-camp for the system with long-time pal Kurt Rambis.

Something did change, though. Jackson not only decided to opt for the win-now approach, he went as far as asking for Anthony’s opinions and help on who he wanted to play with. Whether this was a zen-like moment of clarity or simply a resignation that his way wasn’t working—and a possible quick-fix to justify his salary—remains to be seen.

In any case the pressure to win is now on, and it’s on Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony was once touted as a top player in the NBA. I mentioned the scoring title and leading the Knicks to a second-round appearance. His only criticism at that point was basically that he wasn’t LeBron James.

Since that time though, his stats have declined, the Knicks have become largely irrelevant, and new stars such as Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry have emerged to knock his name almost completely out of the conversation of NBA’s top talent.

In his defense, though, the Knicks didn’t exactly put him in the best position to succeed. The roster has been a mess, there have been coaching changes, injuries, and so forth. You can’t put all of the blame on ‘Melo, and you certainly could see times where he was frustrated with the process.

He finally got what he wanted this offseason and now it’s time to show he can still be “that guy.” With a starting lineup of Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Courtney Lee, this is a roster that should easily be in the Top 5 in the East.

It’s an up-and-coming conference, and there are still holes and weaknesses, but if healthy, it’s a supporting cast that a star player could easily take into the playoffs.

Anthony needs to make that happen.

This is now his team. It’s time to show he’s more than just an elite scorer—more than an allegedly overpaid star. More than just the guy who he’s been reduced to on a struggling team the past three seasons.

He needs to show he’s a leader, a team player, and an overall great star in today’s NBA. Anthony has to be that guy.

must read: The 2016-17 starting lineup

No more excuses.