Commentary

Time for Melo to earn his money

Carmelo Anthony has confirmed his box-office appeal -- now it's showtime!

Updated: April 17, 2011, 3:24 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

In this city, this town, where the only things placed above price tags and taxes are one's dream to put all those concerns at ease, Carmelo Anthony has quickly entrenched himself into the heart of New Yorkers. In less than two months, he has validated his box-office appeal, but there is still business to attend to. Of a personal nature.

Eight NBA champions have been crowned since Anthony entered the league, and not once has it been his team. The same can be said for the number of Anthony's NBA Finals appearances, which is to say that number also sits at zero.

[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesGiven the Celtics' defensive prowess, nothing will come easy for Carmelo Anthony in the first round.

Only once has Anthony visited the conference finals. That visit came with the Denver Nuggets, courtesy of Chauncey Billups' arrival in a trade that sent Allen Iverson away. And that was three years ago, which, in some folks' mind marked the last time Anthony was considered relevant, a star beyond his name and his numbers.

In 27 games with the New York Knicks, Anthony has averaged 26.3 points on 46 percent shooting. In the Knicks' recent seven-game winning streak, those numbers jumped to 30.9 points per game on 49 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The cumulative effect didn't just put the Knicks as the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, destined for a first-round encounter with Boston. It also put a bull's-eye on Anthony -- the franchise-caliber player starved for a spot in the limelight, in a city anxious to see whether he's worth all the Knicks bargained for him.

"I'm here to do what I do," Anthony explained recently. "I know what kind of player I am, and what I want to accomplish. The playoffs are just step one."

Winning would be another.

How the Knicks win would matter, as well. If Amare Stoudemire, Billups and others are playing well while Anthony shrinks in the limelight, that won't speak well for him, nor help in his quest to have the kind of off-court opportunities he has witnessed LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant enjoy over the years.

To know Anthony, the man affectionately known as "Melo," is to know such a scenario will not sit well with him at all.

Despite the fact most basketball aficionados -- including this one -- believe the Knicks won't last more than five games in this series, nothing will diminish the reality that Melo has already established himself as the go-to player in New York.

With all due respect to Stoudemire and the debt of gratitude he is owed for resuscitating this Knicks franchise, it's Melo who brings the ball up the court half the time. Who routinely takes defenders off the dribble. Who scores off 3s, dribble penetration, post-ups and more 3s and shoots 87 percent from the free throw line whenever a foul is used to contain him.

"I'm going with the flow," Melo explained after the Knicks' loss to the Bulls on Tuesday. "As far as the system goes, the so-called D'Antoni system, I'm cool with it. I'm fine with it. I've done bought into it because we started clicking with it. But my mindset right now is definitely on the postseason."

It needs to be. Because no matter how the Knicks are accustomed to playing, there's a reason coach Mike D'Antoni's team is 0-4 this season against the Celtics.

"Boston is a great team," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, the league's likely coach of the year, who served as an assistant under Doc Rivers. "The Celtics have smart, tough players, and they've been in a lot of big games. So, that experience is invaluable to them.

"Having [Rajon] Rondo on the ball is excellent. And then you have KG, who's a great anchor and reads things so well. Plus, he's a great communicator on the back line, and there's not too many things that he hasn't seen and doesn't recognize very quickly. Add in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, both very underrated. Those guys know how to play defense. I know they hit a lull, but they'll be tough and they'll be ready."

So, Melo will need to be, as well. But in order to be ready, he won't be able to rely on conventional production.

Somehow, some way, Anthony is going to have to rely on something other than isolations, pick-and-rolls or the Knicks trying to spread the floor for him. At some point, because of Boston's defense, he'll have to figure out a way to exploit Pierce and newly acquired Jeff Green relatively quickly, before the Celtics have a chance to set their defense against him. And even when that is working, there will still be double-teams thrown at him, plus a defense that will be so locked in that it'll be difficult for Anthony to break a sweat without Boston's permission.

"When you have a player like Carmelo, you have to put a lot into your game planning," Thibodeau continued. "He commands double-teams in almost every area, whether it's in post-up, isolation, pick-and-roll, catch-and-shoot. He puts enormous pressure on you, so you have to game plan for him. You can't just rely on your principles. He's too special for that."

The Knicks are hoping that will continue to be the case. For the next several years, and then some.

"It starts now, though," Anthony deadpanned. "Everything starts now."

If he finishes, he'll have the glory to go along with his money.


Check out other playoff teams' leading men

Derrick Rose | Kobe Bryant | Paul Pierce | Carmelo Anthony | LeBron James | Dirk Nowitzki

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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