Carmelo Anthony delivered on Sunday. Then, he delivered again, and for the first time since last year's playoffs, Knicks fans remembered why they traded half their roster for him last year. He had 43 points on to sink the Bulls Sunday, including a three-pointer to send it to overtime and then the game-winner with 10 seconds left in OT.
As superstar takeovers go, that's as good as it gets.
Now, everyone in New York City loves Carmelo again.
On that note, now that it's officially his team all over again, let's go back to the pre-Linsanity days, when Carmelo was Everything That's Wrong With The Knicks. From Jeremy Wagner at the New York Times back in January:
Familiarity breeds contempt.
Of course, familiarity can only develop over time.
Eventually the familiarity overwhelms the amazing plays. Familiarity with the inability to consistently take advantage of his fantastic passing skills, familiarity with the inability to turn down contested jumpers and move the ball, familiarity with the inability to sacrifice some of the energy needed on offense to apply himself more on defense. Anthony could have been a most valuable player, he could have been the foundation of a championship team, he could have been the greatest player in franchise history.
While Anthony left a frustrated fan base behind, the trade to the Knicks was a golden opportunity for him to evolve as a player. [...] Anthony has been in New York for only 44 regular-season games, yet any hope of a career metamorphosis appears to be dead.
This explains the frustration with Melo throughout his entire career: He can play the savior some nights, and slowly suck out a team's soul on others. Then, as Wagner explains, "Just when you are ready to walk away, he nails an impossible game-winner and you want to believe."
This is what happened Sunday, and that's the player worth Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and everybody else. Anything less and you're left with a good scorer who monopolizes the offense and is an average-at-best defender. That player that leaves everyone disappointed.
The spectrum's different for MVP candidates like LeBron James and Derrick Rose. They can miss the game-winner, wilt in the fourth quarter and still be two of the most valuable basketball players on earth. That's their worst-case scenario. Then, there's Melo. Given the way he monopolizes offense and lags on defense (and all the players the Knicks gave up for him), if Carmelo doesn't play the way he did on Sunday, he's the fool's gold superstar next to real MVP candidates.
And maybe that looks fair. LeBron and Rose are fighting for No. 1 seeds this week, while the Knicks are battling for the final playoff spot.
But there are two responses here. First: Landry Fields is not Dwyane Wade, Steve Novak is not Luol Deng and judging Carmelo's winning against LeBron and Rose isn't really fair. His Knicks team isn't in the same stratosphere. Obviously. Which brings us to the second point.
Carmelo needs good teammates more than just about any superstar in the league. Carrying teams all by himself isn't what he's built to do. This is the biggest mistake people make looking at Melo. As a franchise centerpiece, his shortcomings obscure what sets him apart from 98% of the NBA. Carmelo won't anchor a suffocating defense, he's too streaky to carry an offense all game and he won't get the clutch rebound to keep the game alive. But with teammates that can put him in position to just score, he's as deadly as anyone in the league.
He's less an off-brand version of the NBA's MVPs than a completely different model. If LeBron's the team bus who can carry everyone, Carmelo's a Lamborghini. If Rose is the tank that anchors every attack, Melo's the sniper who's only useful under the right circumstances.
He can either blow our minds or leave us shaking our heads, but there are no two sides to the Carmelo coin. He's as one-dimensional as any superstar in the NBA. He's not LeBron; he's Dirk Nowitzki. So on Sunday, it was kinda perfect that Carmelo's clutch game-winner on Sunday was only possible because of Tyson Chandler's clutch rebound to keep the possession alive. With pieces like Chandler, guys like Dirk and Melo become twice as valuable.
Without them, they're constant centerpieces of "Is he really a superstar?" debates.
Carmelo's obviously not perfect, and he needs to diversify his game the way Dirk did over the years. His effort's inconsistent, too. But when he's locked in, there's not a better pure scorer on the planet. He's worth firing a coach and trading half your team, because he's a luxury that sets great teams apart. When things break down late in games, or in the NBA Playoffs, it's guys like Carmelo, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Dirk who make the difference.
But those guys aren't catalysts on their own. Durant needs Russell Westbrook, Sere Ibaka and James Harden. Go look back at how the Lakers finished in the years between Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol. The Mavs lost Chandler this year, and now they're in the bottom half of the West. The biggest question going forward is whether the Knicks will ever have enough talent around him to make Carmelo's skills relevant.
For now, all we know is this: If you turn a Lamborghini into a team bus, the Lamborghini will break down. If you go into battle with a sniper as your centerpiece, the sniper won't stand a chance. But if J.R. Smith can hit jumpers to keep things close early in OT and Chandler can get a key rebound to give Carmelo the last shot, the Knicks' problem child becomes the NBA's most dangerous weapon.
Carmelo's played the year surrounded by Chandler and spare parts, and maybe that's his destiny after forcing a trade to New York last year instead of signing there in free agency this year. You get what you ask for, etc. But the morality play isn't over yet, and with just enough help Sunday, he stunned Rose on Sunday the same way Dirk took out LeBron last June.
If Melo and the Knicks aren't part of the NBA's elite, they're not as far off as you think.