The Denver Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals in 2009. Carmelo Anthony was the star and leading scorer on that team, but if you asked me which player I most associate with that run, it is Colorado native Chauncey Billups.
The trade for Billups saved the Nuggets season and George Karl’s coaching career. As the stink of the Allen Iverson era slowly lifted, the Nuggets played better as a team, defended well, and skyrocketed to the top of the NBA conversation. Billups was the unquestioned leader as he brought a veteran calm, was a leader on the floor, and coached the younger players on the sidelines. Fans swelled with mile high pride as they watched him succeed in his return to Colorado, complete with the #7 on his jersey in honor of John Elway.
Carmelo was the star but that was not his team. He adapted and made it work when Billups arrived. Certainly there were still moments and stretches in games where he was a black hole on offense, but I never once got the impression he was threatened or concerned about his ego.
George Karl wanted the team to get to the free throw line more. Billups set the example and Anthony followed, as his free throw attempts skyrocketed that season. That team wanted to get out and run for baskets in transition. ‘Melo consistently ran the floor. There were even moments, namely against Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, where ‘Melo took pride in his defense and helped the rest of the team by guarding those players 1-on-1. The make-up of his team changed, and Carmelo Anthony made it work in the interest of winning basketball games.
He will do the same with Jeremy Lin and company.
People are quick to point out ‘Melo’s tendencies to hog the ball and slack on defense as they express concerns about him tainting Linsanity. I understand and have written at length about the shortcomings in Carmelo’s game. He is an incredible scorer but he is definitely not a well rounded player. Only under specific circumstances does he show an interest in other areas of the game besides shooting the ball, but people should not confuse that problem with an inability to make concessions. It is not exactly glowing praise to say that Carmelo only shows a willingness to adapt in certain situations, but it is still a lot better than the accusations people have hurled at him in the last week or so.
He has shown in the past that he has the basketball IQ and the abilities to make his game work in the right situation. The Nuggets had the right situation in 2008-09. With an emerging phenom at point guard, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler defending the paint, the New York Knicks might have the right situation for him to make it work again this season and beyond. I believe he will.