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The case for loving Melo heading into the 2017-18 season

A beginner’s guide to loving the Knicks’ incumbent superstar

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I enjoy comic books and comic book movies. Even though I’m more of a Marvel kinda guy, there’s a character in the DC Universe that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as it pertains to a certain Knicks superstar—Harvey Dent, also known as Batman villain Two-Face.

Harvey was a great guy who grew up in Gotham City and became the city’s youngest ever District Attorney at age 26, the public face for the war on crime that Gotham needed in a time when the city was struggling. As the DA, Dent was a beacon for justice, working with Batman and Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon to try to clean up the teflon stain that the criminal underworld had left on the once-great city.

But, try as he did to eradicate crime and restore Gotham to its former glory, Dent was eventually broken by crime boss Sal Maroni, who threw acid on his face during a trial, scarring Dent physically, but more importantly, causing a psychotic break that turned him into the villainous Two-Face.

Two-Face then goes on to become one of the more sympathetic Batman villains—there’s no mistaking that he’s a bad guy, but you know that he started off with noble intentions and was eventually broken by Gotham because he knew that he wouldn’t be able to accomplish his mission of bringing a championship to… er, I mean, cleaning up the streets of Gotham.

Before you get all worked up, no, I’m not saying that Carmelo Anthony is a super villain. But there’s no denying that, among some circles of fans and media personalities, he has become persona non grata. Whether that’s fair or not is another story—I, for one, think that the criticisms against Carmelo are about 70/30 as far as unfair vs. deserved go. But you can certainly make a strong case for him as a sympathetic villain, if he is even a villain at all.

So much like Two-Face’s lucky coin, I’d like to break down why you should love Harvey Dent Carmelo, and why you should hate Two-Face Carmelo.

Let’s lead with love:

There’s evidence that Melo can be a good leader of young’uns

Look no further than two seasons ago (Is that all the time it’s been? Feels like 42 years ago), the famed “Dad Melo” season, if you want to see what Carmelo Anthony can do on a team with little in the way of (realistic) expectations and a cast of young players.

In Kristaps Porzingis’ rookie year of 2015-16, when Phil Jackson and Melo were seemingly still simpatico and things felt less tense at the Garden, Anthony managed to surprise all of us, averaging a career-high in assists (4.2) and second-best total in rebounds (7.7) while reeling in his scoring to a modest (for him) 21.8 points per game. Advanced stats favored Melo as well, as he posted his highest win shares per 48 of the past three seasons (.121) and notched a 20.3 player efficiency rating in 72 games played.

Now, with a more tenable situation in the front office and a team that desperately needs a veteran leader, Melo could embrace a Dad role once again if the rumored Rockets trade does not come to fruition. Clearly he’s ready to move on, but perhaps the best move for Melo and the Knicks would be for Melo to appear accepting of the situation — that could potentially push Daryl Morey to give up the package that the Knicks want, and also get Melo where he wants to be.

Melo shouldn’t have the Olympic fatigue of a year ago

In the past, the Olympics were something of a tune-up for Melo, getting him prepared to play basketball at a high level upon returning to the NBA.

In 2008, after helping lead the “Redeem Team” to gold in Beijing, Carmelo returned to the Denver Nuggets and, while his regular-season numbers were nothing too crazy, he averaged 27.1 points per game in the playoffs while leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals.

Then, in 2012, after competing for his second straight gold in London, Melo returned to post easily his best season as a Knick with the now-fabled 54-win 2012-13 Knicks, scoring a career-best 28.7 points per game along with a then-career-best .379 3-point percentage.

Last year, however, did not bear similar fruit. Melo won gold with a bunch of younger dudes in Rio, but unlike previous post-Olympic seasons, his play in the NBA season suffered, and so too did the Knicks. This offseason, Carmelo’s been playing high-profile pickup games and training until all hours of the night, but presumably has kept his workload at a more sustainable level for a 33-year-old. That should — hopefully — lead to some better results on the floor, particularly at the defensive end, where he was woeful a year ago.

No more Phil Jackson could mean a happy Melo

I feel like this doesn’t need a ton of ’splainin’. There was a pretty clear correlation (to me) of when Melo no longer had any fucks to give last season — it started with the comments from Phil Jackson in December (when the Knicks were actually playing alright!) and culminated after the team’s losing skid in January. Without the Zen Master and his Trump-ian Twitter fingers, and plus new GM Scott Perry, maybe Melo can find some peace in staying a Knick this year. Unlikely, but, y’know, Jim Hopper.

Hoodie Melo, we barely knew ye

This summer in the NBA has been memorable, to say the least — Kyrie Irving was traded, Gordon Hayward took the hardest road, LeBron finally gave in to male pattern baldness and Kevin Durant further proved that he does, contrary to what he wants you to think, care very much about what people think of him. And that’s only a small sample! But even with such stiff competition, the budding legend of Hoodie Melo — playing pickup games with All-Stars on a seemingly daily basis — was the talk of the NBA town this offseason.

To miss out on the first season of Hoodie Melo would be like waiting in line for a delicious cronut, only to walk away with a half-eaten whole wheat bagel (you didn’t eat the first half, in case you’re wondering). It just wouldn’t be very satisfying. Even if Melo winds up traded to the Rockets, it could be neat to see his Western Conference tune-up on the Knicks!

Carmelo is a pretty good guy

I can’t yell from the rooftops enough how much I like what Carmelo does as a humanitarian, and just how much he’s grown in that area since he joined the Knicks. This summer saw Melo bring The Basketball Tournament to his hometown of Baltimore, and he received a medal from the mayor for his service to that community.

Extramarital activities aside (seriously, that’s none of our business), Melo’s been arguably the most influential player in the NBA off the court in his time in orange and blue. In that regard, it’s pretty easy to root for him to succeed here.

And that, my friends, is why you should root for Carmelo Anthony this year. Stay tuned for part two, where I’ll break down the other side of the coin.