The emergence of the New York Knicks (18-5) as a potential championship contender has not only revived the city of New York in ways many felt weren’t possible unless Eli Manning was involved but it has also now led many to ponder about Carmelo Anthony’s place amongst his peers in the game today.

Granted, the topic of discussion clearly has a prisoner of the moment feel to it, but the subject is nonetheless a propos considering that the Syracuse product is playing the best basketball of his career.

During this past summer, ran for the second year in a row the #NBARank project that asked bloggers and writers to rank all of the players in the NBA. Anthony clocked in at 17th and it seemed to be relatively on point considering his play during the regular season as well as his showing in the playoffs.

A lot has changed since then.

Melo has embraced the role of power forward and consequently has seen an increase in his statistical production. His usage rate (percentage of a team’s possessions) is at a career high and leads the league, but this isn’t necessarily synonymous with a player being a ball hog.

If anything, Melo has gotten the ball closer to the hoop and has been much more decisive with it this season in terms of making a quick move to get himself into scoring position and simply accepting the added attention and making the pass that leads to an assist for another player.

Add it all together and Melo is the second leading scorer in the league with 27.9 points per game on 47.3 percent field goal shooting.

But now the juicy stuff: is Anthony the best small forward in the league at the moment?

Securing that label is undoubtedly the toughest task in the NBA given that involves eclipsing both LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

The narrative at the moment is that Carmelo’s team first approach combined with his more efficient play have made him one of the most unstoppable forces in the Association and those points are not without merit. Indeed, performing at a high level in the media capital of the world is going to get you noticed, and such is the case for Anthony, but is it fair to say that he’s surpassed his peers yet?

Not quite.

For all the talk about how better Anthony has been this year, he still trails Kevin Durant in player efficiency rating.

The Oklahoma City (19-4) superstar is not scoring as much as his counterpart, but he outpaces him in rebounding and true shooting percentage (all shooting figures combined) by virtue of converting a higher percentage of his field goal and free throw attempts. In addition, Durant is doing a better job on the boards this year and has improved as a playmaker to better complement his teammates this season as evidenced by the spike in his assist numbers.

Even more impressive, Durant has done all this by reducing his usage rate as well as his turnovers.

And just for good measure, KD has slowly started to become more of a post up option to take advantage of the defenders that are being asked to guard him but that clearly do not have the size to bother him on his shot attempts. MySynergySports tells us that 12.7 percent of the three-time scoring champ’s field goal attempts have originated directly from the low block and he’s converted 54.7 percent of those shot attempts.

Hence, Carmelo is unquestionably playing the best ball of his life, but it’s still a small notch below the level of production of the Texas product.

Can he tug on James’ cape though?

Considering that Anthony is approaching Durant’s class but isn’t his equal as a player, it would be difficult to remove LeBron from his throne without the benefit of a political coup or a defiant act of treason from the King. Seriously, that’s what it would take for Melo to appropriate himself the title of best forward in the league.

James is not only leading the league in PER — he’s leading Kevin Durant by a small margin — but he has also reduced his turnovers, improved his rebounding figures and cut down his usage rate from last season, all the while converting a career high 42.4 percent of his shots from 3-point range.

His back to the basket game has seen some refinement but it’s still a work in progress so to speak. James spends a lot of times on the block probing the defense, looking to set up teammates and after taking a few hard dribbles, he usually ends up firing a tough fade away jumper. This explains why he is only shooting 41.4 percent from the field in post up situations per Synergy.

In the same breath though, James is a much better catch shoot player this year, as evidenced by his scorching 61.8 percent field goal shooting in spot up situations, as tracked by Synergy.

With that said, the most impressive and yet perturbing aspect of James’ play so far this season has been his occasional disengagement; especially when playing against inferior competition. The three-time MVP has spent a couple of quarters per game coasting and then turning it on late with the game hanging in the balance. The end result is that Miami has been in more tight contests than anticipated, but the Heat have managed to eek out wins nonetheless.

And that’s where LeBron’s brilliant gifts shine their brightest: in the clutch.

The reigning league MVP is mixing things up this year and attacking defenses at their weakest points to find the play with the highest percentage of success to take down opponents.

According to’s advanced stats tool, Kevin Durant is tied with Stephen Curry for the league lead in total points scored in the clutch (clutch is defined as the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin within five points) with 52, while James is relatively far away with 37 points.

This is where things get interesting.

James has been at his best in crunch time actually because he is a threat to score, but not because he is exclusively looking to do so. Have a look at the production of Anthony, Durant and James in the clutch when projected over 40 minutes:





















With that data obtained from’s advanced stats tool, it’s quite amazing to see the production of all three players in the clutch when projected over 40 minutes (I picked 40 minutes because it’s the amount of minutes superstars generally play in the postseason).

Anthony’s scoring is on par with his regular numbers, but his rebounding climbs up dramatically while his assists are non-existent. By no means does this suggest that Melo has been a chucker in the clutch — although his shooting figures might lead one to believe that — considering that he has made passes to open teammates that then shared the ball with a more open player. The one knock on Melo in the clutch — and it’s a fairly big one — so far this season ahs been his inability to connect with any consistency form the field. It’s worth noting that’s he played the least amount of clutch minutes out of the three superstars, by virtue of the Knicks taking care of business on most nights, but it’s still an area requiring improvement.

As it pertains to Durant, his rebounding figures take a huge dip, while his assists remain decent but his scoring coupled with his field goal percentage make him the NBA’s premier crunch time scorer. Heck, in the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin within five points, Durant has an absurd 75 percent true shooting percentage. 75 percent!

Give him the ball and get out of the way folks.

James on the other hand simply morphs into a more athletic and superior version (gulp!) of the 1987 edition of Magic Johnson when crunch time surfaces. Between the scoring, rebounding and playmaking, as well as his superb individual and team defense, James is in a class all his own at the moment.

Some would argue that LeBron obtains these outlandish stat lines by virtue of dominating the ball in crunch time, but tells us that his clutch usage rate of 29.7 is vastly inferior to both Durant (36.0) and Anthony (35.6).

Carmelo Anthony is playing some spectacular basketball this season, but he’s not quite yet on the same playing field as the Durantula and the King. That’s a knock on Melo, but rather a testament to just how great the Kevin Durant and LeBron James are.

Statistical support provided by

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