The Underappreciated Melo Era in New York, Vol. 1: Gold Rush


A common theme of debate in the NBA world is a player’s value within the context of the league’s current state, or all of its history. Everyone can have a different opinion about a player or team, and those discussions generate interest and intrigue to the sport– civil or not. That’s what is so fun about having opinions.

That’s all fine and dandy, sure. But sometimes having such ardent opinions can cloud our judgment about how some players fit in the grand scheme of the league and basketball. We assign terminologies to compare and contrast players, like over/underrated, under appreciated or overhyped. Based on this broad spectrum, let us discuss the career of a player who has accumulated all of these labels throughout his career: Carmelo Anthony.

A living legend of Orangemen lore, Anthony took the NBA by storm when he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets. Alongside him on the draft stage were the other juggernauts of that historic 2003 class. Anthony has always had the flare, the style, and has irrefutably impacted basketball culture. Yet, his play on the court has been heavily scrutinized, and the value of his accolades is the basis of questioning in regard to his Knicks and NBA legacy. Still, he has undoubtedly cemented himself as an icon of the contemporary basketball era.

So why do people hate on Melo? I am going to further evaluate Melo’s career, primarily his stint in New York, and document how his perception in the basketball community has fluctuated throughout his career.

Legacy in Denver

Carmelo Anthony was a savior for the Nuggets. Before he arrived in Denver, the team’s last playoff appearance came in the 1994-95 season. After the San Antonio Spurs swept them, they were sent hurdling toward irrelevance. That is, of course, until 2003. The season preceding the 2003 draft, the Nuggets won 17 games. Thanks to the Detroit Pistons drafting Darko Milicic, Melo fell to the Nuggets, and led them to 43 wins in his rookie campaign.

It seems like there are mixed feelings in the Mile High City regarding the impact Carmelo Anthony had on the Nuggets organization. He revitalized a downtrodden franchise that had not shown any signs of legitimacy for close to a decade. Carmelo, along with those beautifully cursed, silky, powder blue uniforms, blessed the NBA with his prolific scoring and classic cornrows and headband combo. The Nuggets made the playoffs every year Carmelo was on the roster.

Nonetheless, his tenure in Denver deserves criticism as much as it is deserves praise. Here is where the value of accolades and success are weighed differently. Yes, the Nuggets made the playoffs every year with Melo at the helm, but they only made it past the first round once in those eight years. We know now how turbulent Anthony and head coach George Karl’s relationship became.

Ultimately, there is really no other way to put it — Carmelo wanted out of Denver. The current state of the NBA has seen players exercise their autonomy more than ever as the importance of loyalty has been shifted over the last several years. The peculiar events leading to Anthony’s departure marked the first time his label and been changed. In NBA Twitter terms, he went from underrated to overhyped.

Change of Scenery

Now, I am not going to dwell too deep on Carmelo’s time in Denver because it really was not until he came to New York that his game and reputation in the league became more consistently crucified. Eventually, after years of not being able to get over the hump, the Nuggets were leaning toward a rebuilding process. J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and potentially Chauncey Billups had the opportunity to leave in free agency following the 2010-11 season.

Carmelo had no plans of letting his prime suffocate on a team that was deciding to reshuffle the deck. There was a lot of speculation about the motives behind Carmelo’s trade demand; some thought he was influenced by his wife, and others thought he was prying himself out of Denver. Anthony commented on the matter, saying: “Everybody’s contract was up. They had plans of going younger. People from the outside looking in didn’t really get it.”

It is important to remember Carmelo’s selflessness and ability to play with others at the time of these criticisms. Regardless, in February 2011, the Knicks acquired Anthony and Billups from the Nuggets for Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and what feels like a dozen other players. The Brooklyn kid finally got what he desired. He could play in his hometown under the bright lights in front of a star-studded demographic. The Knicks fell in the first round to the Boston Celtics with no help from the injured Billups and Amar’e Stoudemire, but it did not really seem to matter. The stars had realigned for Anthony. This was a new opportunity for him to prove that he was one of the premier players in the NBA. He could finally show that he could perform on the world’s biggest stage.

Time To Spend

Around the time the Knicks acquired Anthony was when I started seriously following basketball. Before Carmelo arrived in New York, the Knicks were not good. The team’s most dynamic player was David Lee, and though Nate Robinson brought a great tenacity every night, they weren’t winning much.

Anthony immediately changed the atmosphere of New York basketball. He torched the Milwaukee Bucks for 27 points in his first game and I instantly fell for him. It was like watching The Dark Knight for the first time — pure electricity. Ticket and merchandise sales skyrocketed as the Knicks got more media attention than they had in a long time.

Carmelo led the franchise to its first playoff appearance since the 2003-04 season. In his first 27 games with the Knicks, Melo averaged 26 points and almost seven rebounds while shooting 46% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc, per Basketball Reference. The Knicks finally had a superstar caliber player to revive the franchise and catapult the team to new heights.

Before the 2011-12 season, the Knicks wasted no time bringing in new talent to surround Carmelo and Stoudemire. They signed Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Baron Davis and drafted Iman Shumpert. Not to mention, this was the year that Linsanity cascaded the NBA landscape, generating positive publicity for the organization. Business was absolutely booming in New York even though the season was shortened due to the 2011 lockout.

Although that season ended in disappointing fashion at the hands of the powerhouse Miami Heat, the expectations weren’t astronomical yet. The team had a bright future and a core that would be able to compete with the league for the next 5-10 years. New York put Carmelo on a pedestal, but like lots of things, narratives can change like the seasons.

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About Jack Minello

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