Last week, I noted in the Reputations Index of our BDL playoff previews that Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony could parlay a great performance or two against the Celtics into new respect and trust from the Knicks fanbase. As Dan Devine noted earlier Monday, Melo did pretty much the opposite of that, taking bad shots and turning the ball over in big spots. It was not his night, and he'll need to follow it up with improved play in Game 2 to win back some honor.
Of course, even with a terrible game Sunday night, it's arguable that Anthony's reputation took an even larger hit from an epic Game 1 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets. Common NBA wisdom dictates that a team can never get value for a superstar back in a trade, but the Nuggets have somehow improved. If you watched them Sunday night, you saw a team with a free-flowing offense, several interchangeable parts, and a balanced attack that has proven extremely tough to defend. They play with energy, confidence and enough quality to make them look like one of the best teams in the West.
They're so good, in fact, that a series loss to the Thunder wouldn't necessarily make them look that bad. Depending on who you ask, the Thunder are arguably the second-most-likely team to win the West and only seeded fourth because Kendrick Perkins didn't join the team until February. Losing to them is no sin, especially when, if Sunday night is any indication, every game in this series should be extremely competitive.
Denver's success brings up the obvious question of whether or not it would be playing this well if the Melo trade had never happened. The answer is pretty obviously a negative -- the Nuggets have seized on a fresh calculus since the deal that's invigorated every player in the rotation. On the surface, this speaks poorly of Melo -- his stardom may have held back several other Nuggets from realizing their full potential. They weren't as much of a team with Anthony as the clear star, and his need for the ball may have hurt the team in the long run.
This isn't exactly fair. As Bethlehem Shoals wrote on GQ.com Monday morning, these Nuggets aren't without Melo so much as they're an entirely new team. The nine players they played Sunday night are all quality rotation players, with at least six standing as likely starters on more than half the league. (This list does not count Arron Afflalo, currently sitting out with injury.) Three of those players came over in the Melo trade, which, if anything, proves that Anthony is held in enough regard to require an impressive bounty in trade. His absence hasn't helped the Nuggets so much as his trade brought in enough good players to give the Nuggets a rotation without any serious holes. He created this new Denver roster more than he held back anyone on it.
Still, public opinion on single players is rarely focused on these kinds of facts; instead, it's about results. If the Nuggets continue to look like a team that drew a bad matchup in the first round -- or, heck, win the series -- it's likely that Melo will see his star fall, regardless of what he does against Boston. Scorers who can't win playoff series usually become the league's most criticized stars, and things can only get worse when their former teams improve.