Is Melo a Top 10 Player?

There was an uproar last fall when ESPN compiled an overall ranking of every NBA player and Carmelo Anthony was listed No. 12. And it led to some heated debate.

The network polled 91 experts to rate players from 0-to-10 on various aspects of the game. The list of forwards ahead of Melo included: Pau Gasol (11), Blake Griffin (10), Kevin Durant (6), Dirk Nowitzki (5) and LeBron James (1).

Melo tweeted at the time that being left out of the top 10 was motivational, but a season later it remains an unsettled debate: Is Carmelo Anthony a top 10 player?

According to the media voting process, no, he is not.

Melo was named All-NBA third team for the 2011-12 season, which is the fifth All-NBA honor of his career and fourth third-team selection (he was a second-team choice in 2009-10). Anthony collected 154 “points” in the voting process, which was the 12th-most among all players. He was 16 points behind Griffin, who edged him out for the last forward spot on the second team.

Anthony, much like the team, had a mercurial season. He averaged 22.7 points per game, which was the lowest since his second NBA season in 2004-05, but exploded in April with 29.8 points per game — with seven 30-point games and two 40-point games — to earn Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors.

What no one questions is Carmelo’s talent, but what continues to be questioned is his interest in being a more complete player, a team-oriented player and one who is focused more on winning than personal achievement. After Mike Woodson took over as head coach, we saw that Carmelo Anthony. And one of Woodson’s main priorities next season is to motivate that Carmelo to find the potential that many see, but remain skeptical will ever be reached this late into his career.

Woodson already talked about conditioning, which has been one of the main criticisms of Anthony’s game throughout his career. Melo will have a busy summer with USA Basketball, starting in July with pre-Olympic training camp and into August for the Games in London. He will get a month off before training camp opens in October and all eyes will be on him when practice begins.

“That’s why we have offseasons, to get better,” he said at the end of the season, “to learn from the season prior to that and come back and try to do it again.”

But really, what can Melo work on individually that will improve him as a player? Perhaps this summer is tailor made for what he really needs: to play with teammates he can trust, to play in a system he can trust and to get comfortable with a role within an offense, rather than as the focal point of it. Those close to him said he came back from the 2008 Games in Beijing a different player from a maturity level, after spending so much time working with fellow all-stars on the Redeem Team.  Maybe this time around, he comes back improved yet again, with a better perspective of team-concept basketball.

But it’s a lot easier to trust swinging the ball over to LeBron James or Kevin Durant than it is to pass up a one-on-one against a player you know you can take to hit a wide-open Landry Fields. It’s up to Fields, and everyone else on the roster, to prove to Melo they can make those open shots.

And none of this can be established alone in a gym or even playing with fellow stars. This can only develop in training camp — preferably also some pre-camp workouts in September — playing with the guys who will be on this roster for 82 games next season.

Bottom line, this is an extremely important offseason for Carmelo Anthony, who turns 28 on May 29. The prime years of his career are here.

KNICKS COLLECT INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

Melo and Tyson Chandler were both named to the All-NBA third team, which was the first time in 41 years that the Knicks have had two All-NBA players in the same season.

Walt Frazier and Willis Reed were both second team All-NBA in 1970-71. It was the fifth straight All-NBA honor of Reed and the second of six straight for Frazier.

Amar’e Stoudemire was an All-NBA second team selection in 2010-11, but after putting up the lowest production since his rookie year, he did not receive a single vote this season.

The All-NBA honors complete a pretty good haul of individual awards for the 2011-12 season for a Knicks team that finished 36-30 and seventh in the East. Chandler was named Defensive Player of the Year and was named All-Defense second team (the former award was voted by media, the latter by coaches) and Iman Shumpert was named to All-Rookie first team.

While personal recognition is good because it suggests the roster has good players, which matters now is to turn these individual honors into team success.