Melo revels in Team USA atmosphere

LONDON -- He's a Brooklyn-born New York Knick with a skill set tailor-made for international basketball.

The shorter 3-point line is right in his sweet spot as shooter. The opposing power forwards aren't nearly quick enough to keep up with his killer first step. And his unique combination of athleticism and brute strength makes him a hellish offensive rebounder who can also masquerade as a 6-foot-8 center when he has to.

"You won't see me playing the 5 in New York," Carmelo Anthony says with a laugh.

The truth is that you might never see Melo happier or more effective than when he's wearing a Team USA jersey. In the FIBA universe, he's a souped-up answer to Argentina's havoc-wreaking Luis Scola, blessed with longer range and more tools to punish the defense than Scola has at his disposal.

"To have the shooting and scoring ability that he has along with the physicality of his game ... He can play defense on a power forward, but a power forward has a difficult time playing defense on him because he can lose you in transition," said Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, one of Anthony's biggest backers.

"He takes you," Coach K says, "into untraditional places for that position."

The flip side, of course, is that Anthony's brilliance for the national team -- coming now in his new role as sixth man a la Dwyane Wade in Beijing -- inevitably gets people asking why we've seen precious little of this Melo since he joined the Knicks.

Some of that, obviously, is the company Melo keeps when he's playing for his country, with all that big-name help setting Melo up to focus almost exclusively on punishing the opposition with his offensive gifts. Some of it, though, has to fall on Anthony, who didn't exactly look like he was in Kobe Bryant shape last season and still hasn't chauffeured a team beyond the first round of the playoffs apart from Denver's trip to the Western Conference finals in 2009.

Melo himself was quick to point out Tuesday night after riddling Spain with 27 points in Team USA's 100-78 rout that his best-ever season in Denver just happened to follow his gold-medal run as a starter in Beijing in 2008. Those Nuggets, though, began the season with the early swap of Allen Iverson for veteran sage Chauncey Billups to point the way for Anthony and the rest of a previously hard-to-harness cast of talented but volatile youngsters. The Knicks will be hoping Jason Kidd can provide that sort of guidance in Gotham now, but Mike Woodson could certainly use more of this uberfocused, offensively patient and defensively plugged-in Melo when No. 15 leaves London and returns to Madison Square Garden in October for his 10th NBA season.

"This whole experience, every time I come back from playing USA Basketball, my mindset is a lot different," Anthony said late Tuesday night after the Americans' surprisingly comfortable win at the Palau Sant Jordi. "The team-oriented atmosphere I bring back to my team, the focus that I have, my conditioning and carrying that into the regular season, it’s like I’m getting an early start. In ’08 coming off a gold medal going into the 2009 season, that was one of my best seasons. My body felt great; my mind felt great. That’s something I keep in the back of my mind coming off USA Basketball."

Said Krzyzewski: He’s been with me since I started [with Team USA in 2005], and he’s been as good as anybody we’ve had in that time period."