So the New York Post had a piece a few days ago I thought was worth addressing, because how Carmelo Anthony is ultimately viewed will have a great deal to do with LeBron James.
James, in case you’ve missed it, is having the kind of year that makes him one of the best players ever. This isn’t in dispute by anyone without a vested interest in seeing his legacy challenged.
And lately, he’s been even better. Over his past six games, he’s scoring 32.4 per game, shooting 70 percent from the field, along with the James stat-sheet filling we’ve gotten used to: 7.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks. I mean, come on! That’s insane.
Overall this season, James has a Player Efficiency Rating of 31.4. Only six individual seasons in NBA history have been better, and only three players are responsible for them: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and James himself.
In fact, here’s the list of names who have put up the top 11 PER seasons in league history: Wilt, Wilt, LeBron, Michael, Wilt, Michael, LeBron, Michael, LeBron, Michael, LeBron.
So for those keeping score at home: Of the top 11 seasons, James has four, Jordan has for, Chamberlain has three. We are in the midst of a generational great.
Which brings us to a guy who is having an excellent season: Carmelo Anthony. But he’s a contemporary of James, just as Patrick Ewing, a Hall of Famer, was a contemporary of Jordan.
Anthony needed to raise his game this season to make the Knicks title contenders. And he has, with a career PER of 20.6, and a personal-best 23.8 this season. That’s good for seventh-best in the league.
It just sounds puny next to the season LeBron James is putting up.
Still, Anthony isn’t ready to concede the MVP.
“It’s early,” Anthony told the Post. “It’s All-Star break right now. He’s definitely playing like a Most Valuable Player so we’ll see what happens.”
But here’s the good news, fair or unfair to James: Anthony will also be judged on the number of titles he wins. I believe this is an unfair way to judge players, Patrick Ewing for example, for a litany of reasons (he simply couldn’t get the ball, he needed to be fed, his surrounding teammates were never title-worthy, etc.). And it is far from certain that even with LeBron James, that the Heat are guaranteed to win the title every year now.
James’ best season came for the 2008-09 Cavaliers, who lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. He’s managed to win one NBA title so far. I think the smart money is on him winning many more, but even the very best players didn’t win every single year. Just two of those top 11 PER seasons came on NBA champions: LeBron’s 2011-12, and Jordan’s 1990-91.
And lest you forget, even seasons when Michael Jordan ultimately bested the Knicks were far from easy victories. (We will never forget you, Charles Smith Game.)
The Knicks are four games behind the Heat at the break, but they’ve already beaten the Heat twice this year. The Knicks have flaws; the Heat have flaws. The Heat are likely to be favorites against the Knicks; the Knicks stand a good chance of being favorites against everyone else in the Eastern Conference.
If Anthony manages to lead the Knicks to an NBA title, it will be a bit of a surprise, because of the presence of LeBron James. But a Hall of Famer leading his team to a title the same season an all-time great has an all-time great year is hardly unprecedented. And there is no shame in it, either.
It doesn’t mean Anthony is better than James. But no one around here will care much if despite that, the Knicks end the season besting the Heat.