There are few players currently plying their services in the NBA who possess more offensive talent than Carmelo Anthony. As a scorer his ability and performance is only matched by a select, elite few. However, his remarks surrounding his potential free agent status in the coming summer (2014) once again show a player failing to live up to superstar status.
Anthony’s offensive game is near unstoppable. He can shoot the ball, he can create space, he can drive to the bucket, make his free throws and possesses power and speed. He is a significant match-up problem at small forward and the versatility in his offensive game creates extra space for other talented players around him. His 28.7 points per game for the New York Knicks last season were a perfect demonstration of the sort of firepower ‘Melo’ possesses.
However, Anthony’s preseason proclamation that he is looking forward to fielding offers and being a free agent is another perfect example of why he has always struggled to truly take on the full meaning of the ‘superstar’ tag. The Knicks enter the 2013-14 season with a couple of new faces, but generally a similar roster to the one that bowed out against the Indiana Pacers. New York have questions to answer with most people doubting their ability to improve on last season’s second round performance especially with perceived improvements in Eastern conference rivals Chicago and Brooklyn.
Anthony himself still faces some questions. He averaged 28.8 points per game in 12 playoff games last spring, but there were questions surrounding his all-round offensive leadership.
Leadership is undoubtedly a major question mark once again after Anthony’s latest media comments. His team is once again heavily reliant on several veterans and there is a feeling that the window in New York for a championship run is barely still open, if even open at all. This is a critical season where this roster will probably need to play above its depth and talent level in order to meet the expectations of its fan base. The franchise does not need its star player talking about how excited he is to be hitting free agency next summer. They need him to be focused and talking about his (and the team’s intentions) for the upcoming season.
Somehow the 29-year old has never quite assumed the status that the game’s elite stars assume. He fails to sacrifice everything that is needed to win. In this case, a little early free agency buzz (of which there is sure to be plenty anyway for a player like Anthony). Melo might argue that he is just being honest and answering questions that reporters are only going to keep on answering. Still, LeBron James’ answers to similar questions are a pretty good example of how a leader of a potentially competitive team should probably behave before the final season on his contract starts.
Criticisms of Anthony cannot be purely limited to his handling of the media either. His play in the clutch during the postseason as a leader of the offense was rightly questioned during the playoffs against Indiana and his defensive game continues to be way below average. Being a strong defensive player is just as much a natural gift as being a strong offensive player, but it is still somewhat surprising that Anthony’s defensive game hasn’t improved more significantly over the past 11 seasons of NBA basketball.
Perhaps Anthony’s discussion of his free agency status should be interpreted for what it is. The Knicks and Anthony don’t really view themselves as serious contenders after an offseason that saw only the questionable additions of Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace. They still probably don’t have the size and strength to seriously compete with Indiana or a D-Rose led Chicago, and they will need to shoot their lights out if they are going to challenge Miami. Add in an improved Brooklyn and there is suddenly the very real possibility that New York won’t even have home floor advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s true that Anthony needs more help if he is going to win an NBA championship. He probably doesn’t have the necessary supporting cast with the Knicks right now. What he is likely to get in terms of support will probably heavily influence his final decision this summer. However, he has a season to play on a competitive roster that might turn out to be better than some people are suggesting. If Anthony aspires to be a true NBA superstar, he might want to focus a little more on the present and a little less on his next contract.