By Sean Hartnett
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Opinions among Knicks fans on star forward Carmelo Anthony have been divided since the Brooklyn-born NBA icon pulled on the storied blue and orange jersey in Feb. 2011.
There was plenty of pomp and circumstance when Melo made his Madison Square Garden debut. The MSG videoboard flashed quotes from Anthony about his love of the city of New York and his appreciation of Knicks history, including “I wanted to be Bernard King” while the chorus of “I’m Coming Home” sung by Skylar Grey — which became the unofficial soundtrack for Anthony’s return — was pumped from the speakers.
Initially, Knicks fans welcomed Melo with open arms as the franchise had been wading through years of mediocrity since Patrick Ewing left town for Seattle in 2000. The franchise player Knicks fans craved had finally arrived — or had he?
Throughout his 10-year NBA career, Melo has been maligned as often as he’s been celebrated. Anthony has been hailed as one of the league’s most gifted offensive players and best clutch situation performers, but has received equal amounts of criticism for a perceived laid-back attitude and an overall lack of intensity on the defensive end.
Former Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl famously labeled Anthony as a “ball-stopper” who slows down the offense with his need for isolation plays. He was branded as a “coach-killer” by sympathizers of former Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni, who conveniently forgot Melo and D’Antoni enjoyed a positive relationship since the two worked together on Team USA during the 2006 FIBA World Championships. Some Knicks fans went as far as pointing the finger at Melo for halting the progress of Jeremy Lin.
Forget The Past
Today, No. 17 Knicks jerseys at your local Modell’s are hanging in the clearance aisle and haven’t moved since Lin was introduced as a Houston Rocket. D’Antoni isn’t finding work as an NBA head coach any time soon. Karl and his cronies in the Nuggets organization can moan all they want about the Denver-era Melo.
Forget about all this. It’s all in the past now. The grand welcome back, the D’Antoni run-and-gun failures, the madness of “Linsanity” and Amar’e Stoudemire recklessly punching his hand through glass in Miami — these things have nothing to do with the 2012-13 Knicks.
The New, Intense Melo Has Arrived
Since Mike Woodson took over for D’Antoni in March, he has instilled a level of accountability in the Knicks that wasn’t seen under D’Antoni. Woodson has constantly been in Melo’s ear. Anthony not only listened, but has made a concerted effort to become a complete player.
Melo came into camp with Team USA 12 pounds lighter and recaptured his intensity en route to winning Gold in London. He looks in even better shape two games into the 2012-13 NBA season.
There’s a new kind of energy he’s showing on the court. He’s prepared to do everything it takes to win games. This is “The New Melo” — jumping into the first row to save a loose ball, making hard fouls to deny opponents easy buckets, supporting his teammates with help defense, hand-checking and playing tight ‘D.’
Some Knicks fans might be wondering: Who the heck is this guy?
If Anthony’s season debut where he torched the defending champion Miami Heat for 30 points and hauled-in 10 rebounds wasn’t enough, his performance against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday was further proof of Melo’s commitment to team basketball.
Melo played a more efficient game on Sunday as he went 10-for-18 from the field, scoring 55 percent of his baskets. He didn’t need to take 30-plus shots to score 27 points. He shared the ball and did all the selfless things needed to support his teammates and dominate the Sixers. He’ll do it again tonight when the Knicks play the second game of a home-and-home in Philly.
So much for the “ball-stopper” and “coach-killer.” The New Melo is here to stay. Count on it.
Will Melo keep up this intensity over the course of the season and set the tone for the hungry Knicks? Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.