Carmelo Anthony, one of the greatest basketball players in Syracuse history, passed Michael Jordan on Team USA’s Olympic scoring leaderboard on Monday. Anthony dropped 14 points against Venezuela and became the third-highest-scoring American man.
Melo’s tally now sits at 262 points, and he needs just 12 more to pass LeBron James as the USA’s all-time leading Olympic scorer. James stands atop the list with 273 points, while David Robinson is second at 270 (you can win a bar bet with that statistical nugget).
Barring injury, Anthony should cruise to the top of the leaderboard this summer, solidifying the forward as one of the greatest international players of all time. It would be another notch in his Olympic belt; he’s already the first American to play hoops in four separate Olympics, and is seeking to become the only basketball player with three gold medals.
Melo also owns the US record for most points scored in a single game — he set that mark when he poured in 37 points against Nigeria in 2012. He drained 13 of his 16 field goal attempts in that game, and did it in just 14 minutes. And it wasn’t like Anthony narrowly eked it out; the previous record was a lowly 31 points, set by Stephon Marbury in 2004 (there’s another bar bet winner).
Some pundits see it as a criticism of Melo to say the Knicks star is better in international play than in NBA action — perhaps because that can be interpreted as “a team can’t win with Anthony as its best player” — but I don’t agree with that viewpoint. Anthony is clearly more efficient in a Team USA uniform, though that’s not a knock on the nine-time All-Star; his performance in Olympic play simply proves that Melo performs at a higher level when he shares the floor with good players.
While he’s one of the NBA’s preeminent go-to scorers, parts of his skillset are unlocked when he plays alongside solid teammates. Melo is tremendously efficient as an offense’s second or third option, a role that allows him to spot up and launch wide-open catch-and-shoot three-pointers, the best field goal attempt he can find. On the Olympic stage, he receives dimes from lethal passers such as LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Jason Kidd, while the opposing defense is occupied by transcendent scorers like Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade.
Opposing teams, overwhelmed by the Americans’ unmatched skill and athleticism, often employ a zone defense against Team USA. Against the scheme Jim Boeheim uses at Syracuse, Melo is even more lethal than he normally is, because defenders must scramble to close out when he catches a pass on the perimeter. International opponents are both shorter and slower than the 6-foot-8 marksman, so he can either shoot over enemies who don’t get a hand up in time, or dribble around foes who over-pursue. Plus, the FIBA arc, which is used in international play, is 19 inches shorter than the NBA’s line — a shift that might sound negligible, but makes a world of difference on the floor.
Anthony clearly relishes the opportunity to represent his country, perhaps more than any player in US history. Melo is the only member of what he calls “our brotherhood” (also known as the “banana boat crew”) — the quartet of Anthony, LeBron, Wade, and Paul — to play in Rio. At 32, the Syracuse product is the 2016 team’s oldest player, and he has embraced the leadership role.
Melo might not have a ring, but he’s got a pair of gold medals, and is on the verge of his third. This summer, Carmelo has established himself as one of the greatest Olympians in US history.