How seriously do we take this Denver team? As I alluded to a couple of weeks ago when I was in New York, we need to take them very seriously. They have the ingredients needed for the championship recipe, and they’re ready to be cooked up now. The Lakers have the ingredients, but they’re still waiting for the carrots to be washed and chopped, the parsley is a little stale, the water hasn’t boiled yet, and the beef is a little too fatty. As this analogy clearly shows, Phil Jackson has a lot more work to do in the kitchen than George Karl does, and if the cook-off was to occur today, on mutual territory, Denver would serve up a much more impressive, much tastier dish. As it is however, the cook-off will take place in Phil Jackson’s kitchen, and he knows where all the knives and pots and pans are. This is a serious advantage in a cook off. If I hadn’t seen Phil Jackson out-perform so many chefs in his kitchen I would put money on Karl, but as it is, I expect Phil to overcome any ingredient shortcomings he may have and turn in another masterful cook up. What I am quite sure of, however, is that George Karl’s dish will still be pretty tasty, and if there’s any losing dish I’d want to eat right now, it’s George Karl’s.

I heard Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith say on the TNT broadcast today, that Carmelo Anthony was the best scorer in the game. Not the best player – Charles gave that title to Lebron – but the best scorer. I imagine most people would have a serious problem with this – certainly Kobe fans, probably Lebron fans after watching him drop 50 three times this season (that’s three more times than Melo) and probably Dwyane Wade fans too after he captured the scoring title this year. My problem with Charles and Kenny calling Melo the league’s best scorer is only a slight one – ever since Melo came into this league I’ve been calling him one of the most complete scorers in the league, and there is no doubt in my mind he will win a scoring title (or two) before his career is over. When he is feeling it, it’s true – there isn’t a better scorer in the league because Melo’s offensive game is a combination of Lebron’s power and explosiveness with Kobe’s polish. Melo’s jump-shot is gorgeous, from anywhere on the court, and he is far more effective in the post than either Lebron or Kobe. He has also proven to be incredibly reliable in the clutch, and rarely takes bad shots down the stretch of close games. I use the disclaimer “when he is feeling it” because Melo typically doesn’t impose his will upon games as often as Kobe and Lebron do. He hasn’t had to.

Carmelo Anthony has never played on a bad team. He’s been in the playoffs every season of his career. He’s never been called upon to carry a bunch of talentless misfits and become the first, second and third options on offense. Every big time scorer in NBA history ultimately goes through this phase. Jordan certainly did before his first championship, Kobe did between 2004 and 2007, Lebron did and to some extent is still doing it, and Wade will be playing that role for a few years to come you’d think. Melo on the other hand has been lucky. He’s been allowed – some would say forced – to keep his offensive genius on a leash, only letting it loose every once in a while. This has gifted him with a patience and discipline that has now become a hallmark of his game, and also leads to occasional slip ups by his opponents – “Shit.. we forgot that guy over there is kinda unstoppable”.

Proof of this came from a little demonstration by Kenny Smith during the TNT broadcast. Today during the segment where Kenny stands in front of that giant touch-screen TV and tries to sound smart, he showed us a play where JR smith held the ball at the top of the key and the Nuggets were running an isolation for him. Kenny was trying to show that the Nuggets run a “pick your poison” offense with the threat of a brilliant one-on-one player like JR in the iso, but the floor spaced with talented shooters and scorers. Melo was waiting on the wings, JR drove, and dished to Melo who nailed the trey. Here’s the thing: you won’t ever see the Lakers/Cavs/Heat run a play like that for Kobe/Lebron/Wade. For a couple of reasons: 1) Those teams best one-on-one players is their star player, they do not have the luxury of a JR Smith. 2) You will never EVER see Kobe/Lebron/Wade open on the perimeter waiting for the dish to jack up a three. NEVER. Those players are the very focus of the opposition’s defense – it doesn’t matter who is at the top of the key in an iso, you stay right on Kobe/Lebron/Wade – I don’t care if they’re trying to post you up or waiting on the wings. When was the last time you saw Odom drive the lane and dish to Kobe for an open three? When was the last time someone left Lebron open on the outside because Delonte was taking it to the hole? It doesn’t happen.

Which brings us back to Melo’s fortunate position – the luxury of having other dangerous options on offense (the Nuggets are loaded with more potential 20+ppg scorers than anyone), and more importantly, the lowered perceived threat of his attack because the dude never spent a season dropping 40 every week and raining terror on every single opposition team and coach throughout the league. I don’t think enough teams have been burned by Carmelo Anthony, and up till this point, he has been an acceptable risk. But not any more. Because you have a team that is collectively playing so well, so in tune and so focused, you know, all that ‘sum of their parts’ bullshit. But one of those parts is perhaps the deadliest one-on-one player in the game. He’s hiding there somewhere. Waiting to attack. When his team lets him.

Day 26 votes
3 votes – Carmelo Anthony. Enough said.
2 votes – Chauncey Billups. 28, 12 and 7 will do it.
1 vote – Dirk Nowitzki. Didn’t go out without a fight. Just too many good Dirk-defenders on that Denver team.

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