Why Carmelo Anthony May Be Team USA’s Most Important Player
- Updated: August 7, 2012
By: Kels Dayton
He’s lost in all the hype that surrounds LeBron, Durant, and Kobe, but there he was, breaking the U.S. scoring record against Nigeria–37 points in 14 minutes of play. Carmelo Anthony has not achieved enough team success in the NBA to vault himself onto the league’s Mount Rushmore, but in international competition, he might deserve his own monument.
Anthony ranks second on Team USA in scoring at 17.4 ppg heading into the quarterfinal round, and has put up 87 points in just 80 minutes of play so far in these Olympics. He’s also shooting a scalding-hot 58 percent from the floor, and has given the U.S. some size inside, banging his way to 4.8 rebounds per game.
Anthony’s game was tailor-made for international play, where quick whistles, zone defenses, and a shorter three-point line can turn spot-up-shooters into national heroes. (That was evident in his 37-point masterpiece against Nigeria, when he knocked down 10 threes). Had Coach K subjected the Nigerian defense to him for just a little while longer, Oscar Schmidt’s Olypmic record of 55 points would have been in serious jeopardy.
Since the 2006 FIBA World Championships, Carmelo has averaged 17.8 points per game in international competition. His 35 points against Italy in that year’s tournament were the U.S. World Championship record until Kevin Durant hung 38 on Lithuania in 2010.
There’s no doubt that this is LeBron’s team now; James took over down the stretch against Lithuania and has been the team’s vocal leader, and it was Kobe who vanquished Spain in the gold medal game in Beijing in 2008, knocking down shot after shot down the stretch.
But Anthony has been found money when scoring is hardest to come by. Just give him the ball and an inch of space, and you can start jogging back on defense. With Bryant mired in a shooting slump, it’s going to be especially important that Anthony continues to knock down open looks.
When the U.S. struggles, it’s because it has an off-shooting night, settles for too many jumpers and doesn’t force the issue on defense. LeBron took over late against Lithuania, but the U.S. doesn’t win that game without Anthony, who matched James with a team-high 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
Carmelo has said that he loves the physical play of the international game and enjoys playing power forward. “I think he plays better the more physical it is,” said assistant coach Nate McMillan. The Knicks have played better themselves with Anthony manning the 4 and Chandler the 5, which is why many fans would drive Amar’e Stoudemire to the airport just to get rid of him.
Anthony has often been criticized for needing to dominate the ball in order to score in the NBA, and with good reason. While he was out with a groin injury in mid-February, Jeremy Lin took New York by storm, running Mike D’Antoni’s free-flowing offense to perfection and leading the scrappy Knicks to an 8-1 record.
Anthony’s return served as a speed-bump for Linsanity, and the offense came to a screeching halt. The Knicks lost six consecutive games, and D’Antoni was fired. Even after the team appeared to right the ship under new head coach Mike Woodson, it was embarrassed by the Heat in the playoffs, losing in five games.
But any summation of Anthony’s worth as a superstar has to include his incredible performance in international play. No other country has a player with his versatility–especially coming off the bench. He has been as reliable as a heat pump, and always brings the goods.
“I don’t know why he takes a beating about his game at any time,” head coach Mike Kryzyzewski told USA Today. “Carmelo is one of the better international players. He’s one of the best players [period], but that doesn’t always translate to being that good internationally.”
Whether or not you believe Carmelo can win in the NBA, there’s no arguing his importance to Team USA as it chases the top spot on the podium for the second straight Olympiad.
He may not have yet carved his face into the NBA’s Mount Rushmore, but in the Olympics, Anthony is as good as gold.