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Don't mess with 'Melo The Menace'

Carmelo Anthony has been fully aware of the criticism since he joined the Knicks. He's a ball stopper. He doesn't pass the rock. He's not a good defensive player.

As Anthony said after the Knicks' 85-79 victory over the Sixers on Wednesday night, he takes all knocks as a "personal vendetta." Before Melo can speak, the stats show that since the Knicks acquired him last February, he hasn't had much of an effect on the team in terms of quality. In other words, based on record, points allowed, points scored and field goal percentage, the Knicks, so far, are basically the same team as they were prior to Anthony’s arrival, going from two games above .500 (28-26) to two games above .500 (20-18) through Jan. 11.

Presumably, one of the reasons the Knicks traded for Anthony was because they viewed him as a franchise player, a difference-maker along with Amare Stoudemire. While no one doubts Melo's scoring prowess, it’s fair to question whether he has a tangible impact on a team’s ability to win games. In fact, the Nuggets have plainly improved since shipping out their superstar, going from 32-25 with Anthony to now 24-11 without him. They are outscoring opponents by about 10 points per game since Melo left.

But could we be finally starting to see a different Melo this season? Not only is he scoring more points than last season (26.6 per game), he's averaging a career-high in assists with 4.5 per game -- who said he doesn't pass the rock? -- and a career-high in steals with 1.4 per game -- who said he's not a good defensive player? Through 10 games, Melo has already improved in different facets of his game as the team's new point-forward. And that's without a full training camp and with only two preseason contests under his belt.

After Wednesday night's win, Mike D'Antoni said the team still needs to find a better flow in the offense in the fourth quarter. They're only averaging 22.7 points and have a -0.8 average scoring margin in the period. But Melo has been carrying the guys on his back for now. He's currently averaging 8.6 points to close out games, which is tops in the league.

"Carmelo is very effective at what he does," D'Antoni said. "You've got to be careful not to talk to him too much. He's a competitor and he knows how to play. We've just gotta get things straight with the whole team and make sure we get into something. We've got to get a little movement. We're really stagnant in the last quarter. I don't know if it's just tiredness or whatever it is. But we really get stagnant and you just can't do that in this league."

Stats don't necessarily tell the whole story. Melo's energy and vocal leadership this season on both sides of the ball has initiated the team's rhythm right out of the gate. That really showed against the Sixers, when Anthony got into the head of Andre Iguodala on offense and defense immediately. In their head-to-head matchup, Melo scored nine points and had two steals, while Iggy had 0 points and three turnovers in the first quarter.

After a quiet second quarter, going scoreless, Anthony was back at it with Iguodala and showed no mercy. After they were called for technical fouls in the third quarter, and Iggy clapped and said some words to Melo during a timeout, the Knicks' leading scorer went right at the Sixers' starting small forward. Melo scored 10 points and finished the period with a pass to Josh Harrellson for the baseline corner 3-pointer. Entering the fourth quarter, the Knicks had a commanding 67-56 lead.

A similar storyline unfolded last Friday in Washington, D.C., where the Knicks beat the Wizards, 99-96. The key turning point of the game was when Wizards forward Chris Singleton, who was guarding Anthony, clapped right in front of him after a defensive breakup in the second quarter. That energized Melo and he took the rookie right to school, scoring 13 points as the Knicks won the period 28-15. That changed the tune for the Knicks, after trailing 32-18 in the first quarter. They were back in the game at that point, and went on to close it out.

The moral of the story is: Don't mess with "Melo The Menace." He's tired of hearing what he can't do. With the Knicks on a four-game winning streak, he's prepared to show you more of what he can do.

You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.