NEW YORK — It’s amazing how history repeats itself. Once again, Carmelo Anthony was unable to deliver a victory to a passionate and raucous Madison Square Garden in a decisive Game 3 of an NBA playoff series. Last year it was the Celtics, and this year, it’s the Heat.
Both times, Anthony failed to deliver.
Now, as ‘Melo stares at the prospect of being swept in the first round for the third time in his career and second time as a Knick, we know the truth:
Anthony is overvalued.
That’s somewhat different from being overrated, though.
And being overrated is probably worse. Essentially, being overrated means that people believe that you’re better than you really are, and I don’t think that’s true of Anthony. At least not amongst the general basketball population.
For the most part, we all know exactly who ‘Melo is. He’s a prolific scorer who will have an advantage over an opposing defender nine times out of 10.
He’s a dangerous offensive weapon who’s most effective when he has the ball in his hands and space on the floor. What we’ve just recently found out, though, is that he’s not someone who is capable of raising the play of eight other guys and leading them to victory over a more talented team on a night when they struggle to find their mojo.
If you thought Anthony was that kind of player, you’ve overrated him. And the proof is in the numbers:
This season, Anthony’s $18.5 million salary makes him the ninth-highest paid player in the NBA. Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, and, yes, both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, all make less.
And after Thursday night’s 70-87 loss, Anthony’s career playoff record is 16-36 (.307). He’s lost all seven of his playoff games as a member of the Knicks and is partially responsible for their NBA record 13 consecutive playoff losses.
Obviously, there are excuses in the form of injuries, roster turnover, and chemistry issues, but it gets more difficult to accept them with each loss. And it’s nearly impossible to accept them when you consider that back in 2006, Kobe Bryant and his seventh seed Lakers held a 3-1 lead over the second seed Phoenix Suns. Bryant’s Lakers squandered the series, but that he brought the likes of Kwame Brown, Smush Parker, and Luke Walton within one game of a major upset is at least commendable.
Similarly, in 2008, it took the San Antonio Spurs seven games to knock Chris Paul’s New Orleans Hornets out in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Paul raised the play of Peja Stojakovic, David West, and Tyson Chandler during their 57-win season.
So here’s a suggestion: Let’s hold off on proclaiming Anthony to be anywhere near the top class of NBA players until he does something equally improbable.
In fact, let’s lower the bar and wait for him to win a meaningful playoff game as a member of the Knicks. For that, we’ll probably have to wait until next April. Because even if the Knicks win Game 4 on Sunday, it’ll be delaying the inevitable, and thus is not sufficiently meaningful.
The Knicks sacrificed it all for Anthony, and in return, he’s given them nothing but a few great regular season games and one great playoff performance versus the Celtics last season. Thus far, the Knicks have gotten very little in return.
On Thursday, Anthony lost a game he had to win on a night he had to own. And it’s just the latest chapter in his Knicks book that—already—has been full of disappointments. And last night, what was more troubling than his poor shooting performance was his lack of effort, bad body language, and dearth of hustle plays.
The Heat are great because James and Wade play both ends of the court and only coast when games are in hand.
You can’t outsource will and desire. Your best player sets the tone and that’s where Anthony has failed.
The one time Anthony managed to escape the first round of the playoffs was in 2009. That postseason, Chauncey Billups—who was hurt that the Pistons traded him for Allen Iverson—scored 20.6 points, grabbed 3.8 rebounds, and dished 6.8 assists in 16 playoff games. In those games, the Nuggets went 10-6. Billups also shot 47 percent from behind the arc.
Sure, Anthony led that Nuggets team in scoring, but he didn’t lead them on the floor. That was Billups. And a leader on the floor, more than anything else, is what the Knicks are sorely lacking.
Prior to landing in Denver, Billups’ six seasons in Detroit led to six straight conference finals appearances, two Eastern Conference championships, and one NBA championship. In those six years, Billups was 69-47 (.605) in playoff games.
Anthony wasn’t able to advance out of the first round before Billups, and hasn’t been able to win a playoff game without him.
What are we to make of that?
What I make of it is that you can’t quantify difference making and leadership. And Anthony, for all that he is, isn’t a difference maker by himself. Without the right pieces and system, his gifts as a scorer will be overshadowed by his deficiencies as a player. He’s an offensive weapon who can score in a one-on-one situation on most frontcourt players in the NBA.
And sadly, if you ever thought he was more, you were wrong.
Whether it be in the first round or the conference finals, Anthony’s path to an NBA Championship will run through Miami and/or Chicago. To succeed against either of them, he’ll need solid defenders around him, guards who can dribble-penetrate, and at least one big who commands a double team when he gets the ball in the post.
No, Melo can’t galvanize a team and get them to raise their play. Some players can, and he just isn’t one of them. He might score you 50 points and singlehandedly win a game, but that’s different.
Whenever Melo runs into opposing players who can effectively guard him in one-on-one situations, his team will struggle. The sad truth is that the Heat and the Bulls will be around for a while, and so will both James and Luol Deng. It is against them that Anthony’s contributions and legacy will be measured.
Over the course of their nine-year careers, we’ve seen both James and Wade make the most with the least. James has led two different teams to the NBA Finals and has won 66 games with a Cleveland Cavaliers team that, sans him, would have struggled to make the playoffs.
Wade is a former Finals MVP who has a championship ring and elevates his game in the postseason. He missed almost the entire 2007-2008 NBA season and without him, the Heat won 15 games. The next season, Wade and the fifth-seeded Heat lost a hard-fought seventh game to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs.
‘Melo, on the other hand, is a guy who can score the ball pretty well.
But he is not their equal, and he is not their peer.
In him, the Knicks merely have an overvalued scorer who needs other key cogs to truly compete for the NBA crown.
The hourglass for this season is nearly empty of sand. We have seen the truth: Anthony simply can’t compete with James or Wade.
Sadly, he’s just not in their class.
And it’s about time that we all stop pretending and believing that he is.
Moke Hamilton covers the New York Knicks for SheridanHoops.com and is the Deputy Editor for CHARGED.fm. For the latest on the New York Knicks and all things NBA, follow him on Twitter.