by Cub Buenning

Carmelo Anthony is largely to blame for me having any kind of job at SLAM. Six years ago, when the Denver Nuggets were taking the 19-year-old out of Syracuse University with the NBA Draft’s third pick, I was simply a Denver-area middle school teacher and coach, having just finished my seveCarmelo Anthonynth year in the classroom. Yes, I had started (on a whim) covering high school sports that previous fall for the local weekly papers in the western Denver suburbs, but I was in no way, a writer.

Carmelo Anthony made me one. For the past half-dozen years, I have been able to see the youngster grow from a precocious teenager, to a misunderstood burgeoning star, to now finally a seasoned veteran and a devoted father. He has, once again, made basketball in Denver relevant and with last year’s addition of local hero, Chauncey Billups, Anthony might finally have arrived as one of the world’s most complete basketball players.

No longer just content to put the ball in the basket, Melo has gone from a myopic scoring machine to an all-around contributor on both sides of the court. From a shot-chucking triggerman to someone that will rebound, defend; distribute all while still getting his requisite 20-plus a night, usually in a win. (Although, amongst all this “team-first” mumbo-jumbo, Melo tied the NBA record last December for points in a quarter when he poured in 33 in the third quarter of a win over Minnesota. Just so you know.)

Last year’s trip to the Western Conference Finals proved that “team above self” will bear the most fruit, even in a star-centric, isolation-dominate game. Anthony gave up several points in the box score in favor for playing deep into the postseason. He may be one of the few players to not make an All-Star team in the same season that he was named to an All-NBA team. (Oddly enough, a feat he also “accomplished” in 2006.)

That summer of 2003, Melo graced our magazine’s cover for the first time. His face was soft and his ‘rows were in full bloom. His words were young and naïve but focused on basic things.

“Eighty-two games, that’s a long time. It’s gonna be a long season, man.” Melo told our Khalid Salaam. “I don’t know, people talk about hitting the rookie wall. I’m gonna try and do my best and pace myself.”

Four years later, the now veteran of both professional and international play was finally back glaring at us off the newsstand. This time his words sounded different, like he had moved into a different realm of focus.

“I think I can get a lot better, it’s more mental,” Anthony told our Ryan Jones. “It’s my fourth year in the League and I see what the NBA is about, what the game is about.”

And now this summer, leading into what will be his seventh season, we have been granted the Baltimore-native’s fourth cover (there was also the smiling combo cover with Allen Iverson in between). He has seen it all: from the grind of staying healthy through the regular season to prolonged first-round postseason failures to being just seconds away from advancing the professional promise-land.

“I think it gets easier each year, because your confidence builds, you get smarter, you get that experience,” Melo mentioned while speaking with Lang Whitaker. “Me, being able to do what I did in the playoffs and building off that, going up against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, smelling it, being just two games away from the NBA Finals. We want it now. We want it.”

And although this is truly my first ever Melo-specific assingnment and now seem to spend most of my time these days pontificating about the college game and the draft, the past six hoop seasons have all culminated with the chance to cover the NBA Playoffs and watch the best of the best, or at least in this case, the seventh of the best.

Thanks, Carmelo.

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive