Carmelo Anthony is undoubtedly a star in the NBA. His critics cite his one-dimensional play and apparent me-first attitude on the court as the impediments to the progress of his teams and his legacy. His fans point to his obvious talent when they try to make a case for his superstardom. His current franchise, the New York Knicks, see him as a superstar already. But he lacks a certain trait that will bring him to unquestionable superstar status.
No, it’s not a willingness to pass. His assist numbers are low, but it’s not for lack of trying. Melo averages 42.7 passes per game in 39.4 minutes (1.08 passes per minute). Players lauded for their passing ability and unselfish play like Kevin Durant average fewer passes per minute (0.98 passes per minute). What Melo lacks is not necessarily a trait that will show in the box score.
Simply put, Melo lacks leadership. Despite his stellar play on the court this season, his team has been consistently sub-par. He’s currently on pace to average 27 points per game and nine rebounds per game. That hasn’t been done since Shaq in 2003. But his team is near the basement of a tanking Eastern Conference. He isn’t making his struggling teammates better and is holding an entire franchise back by not taking responsibility for his squad.
When you think of great leaders in the NBA, you think of guys who demanded greatness from their teammates even when their teammates weren’t great. A leader wouldn’t let Raymond Felton enter the season out of shape after getting outplayed by George Hill in the playoffs last year. A leader wouldn’t allow J.R. Smith to lose focus during a season ripe with opportunity for a deep playoff run in a weakened Eastern Conference. But all these things have happened on Melo’s watch. He’s a captain on a team that lacks leadership and that is a direct indictment on him.
Melo’s lack of leadership affects the Knicks off the court too. His non-committal status with the Knicks has left the entire organization in a state of flux. A leader would let the organization know what his intentions are regarding his impending free agency and work with the organization to facilitate the next stage of his career. If he wants to leave New York, he should let the Knicks know privately so that they could definitively begin the post-Melo era without letting him walk for nothing. If he wants to stay, he should inform management of his intentions and work with them to retool a roster better suited to accomplishing their mutual goals. As far as we know, he has done neither of these things and has refused the responsibility that comes with leadership.
You can’t blame Melo for the horrid mess that is the 2013-2014 New York Knicks so far. But the way forward for both he and the organization is up to him. This is the price of superstardom. You must be willing to sacrifice something. Sometimes, that something is money, other times it’s shots, and other times it’s the ability to keep your hands clean of the mess around you. For Carmelo, it may be all three. But for now, he is still a superstar talent that is lacking a superstar’s personality and mentality.