The definitive ranking of the NBA's best players for 2015-16.
This feature was originally published for SLAM Online for their 2015 SLAM Top 50 series on October 8, 2015. You can find my original version here.
NBA Media Day—and the ensuring positivity in the early days of training camp—is the most optimistic time of the season. Every team in the league is (allegedly) in love with itself, every player (reportedly) loves his coach, there are 30 potential NBA champions, dozens of MVP aspirers, #MuscleWatch is at an All Time high, and the future (apparently) holds nothing but smiles and joy.
Then the season begins. The optimism deflates. The best laid plans of mice, men, and Melo are disrupted, and Father Time chugs along with cold ruthlessness.
Seasons change and the NBA season ends. We get a year older, slower, and closer to the end.
New season. Healthy legs, weight loss, jumper touching nothing but net, team chemistry high, buying into a new system, great coach, great owners, great teammates, all smiles, happy times.
It’s near the end of 2015, and eight All Star, a half dozen All NBA teams, a scoring title, and 12 full years as an NBA professional later, just how good is 31-year-old Carmelo Anthony?
Or is he the living embodiment of talent unfulfilled, a one-dimensional gunner whose style belongs in a bygone era of the league, a player who could never learn to turn individual gifts into collective success?
In many ways, Carmelo Kyam Anthony is the most confounding player in the NBA. Every NBA player—particularly a player with otherworldly talents beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals—enters the league with questions. With a path in front of them, and with the ability to carve out their own journeys and their own legacies. For most superstar talents of Melo’s past, present, and future, those questions have either already been answered or their potential make it clear for us to project the answers in their trajectory.
From the fabled 2003 draft class, LeBron’s a two-time champ, four-time MVP, and the greatest player of our generation. Darko Milicic is out of the league, kickboxing in Eastern Europe and shining his 2004 championship ring. Dwyane Wade has three rings of his own and has etched his name as the All-Time face of the Miami Heat franchise. Chris Bosh found his place alongside LeBron and Wade in the Heatles as a champion and an All Star of his own right.
As time passed, the superstars of the past (Kobe, Duncan, Garnett, Pierce) solidified their Hall of Fame status, new faces (Durant, Westbrook, Curry, Harden, Griffin) challenged the old ones, and the future (Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins) time-travelled at light-speed to merge with the present.
And then there is Carmelo Anthony, who at 31 after a dozen years in the league, remains in unfulfilled enigma. Gifted, but not well-rounded enough. A superstar, but no MVP. A winner, but not a champion. Good, but not quiet great. Almost perfect, but not quite.
Despite his talents, Melo has remained in a Kafkaesque repetitive rut through the course of his NBA career, from Denver to New York to Team USA. Every year, he shows his ability to stand among the greatest in the game and match them—offensively, at least—on any given night. When he wears the USA jersey, he fits in like butter on toast, disregarding all other responsibilities to master the most dangerous weapon in his arsenal: scoring points. He enjoys stretches of dominance, does well enough to become an All Star, and (almost) always makes the playoffs.
But at the start of every new season, the smile would return to his face. The optimism. The preparation. The determination to finally break through again. To finally be better than good, to be great.
So, two years after being the NBA’s leading scorer, robbing a First MVP vote off LeBron James, and leading his Knicks to second-place in the East, just how good is Carmelo Anthony?
In many ways, 2015-16 could finally be the season where the book on Melo’s career reaches its tipping point. The next chapter could forever decide his legacy: as a player who deserves to be named among the finest in his generation, or be labelled a constant underachiever forever.
Unfortunately for Melo, the Knicks’ prime isn’t aligned with his own. While he hopes to squeeze out every last bit of juice of his finest basketball players to win now, his team rebuilds in a hope to win later. No matter how good he performs this season, it seems to be destined that the 2016 summer will end more or less in the same way as every summer before for the last 12 years: disappointment, discontent, frustration, and distress.
And then there will be another new season. Healthy legs, weight loss, jumper touching nothing but net, team chemistry high, buying into a new system, great coach, great owners, great teammates, all smiles, happy times.