Pass Shows Melo’s Evolution Into Full-Fledged MVP Candidate

**Hit play above for video from Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson.

BROOKLYN — For the better part of his first year and change with the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony was known by many as an iso-loving, ball-stopping, dream-killer.

But that was the Old Melo.

The man who had amassed a season-high 45 points yet still opted to pass the basketball to J.R. Smith with the game against the rival Nets tied in the final seconds was not that same Old Melo.

Smith dished to Raymond Felton, who eventually found a wide-open Jason Kidd, who drained what became the game-winning 3-pointer from 26 feet against his former team in a dramatic come-from-behind 100-97 victory at Barclays Center.

“He’s playing at a high level on both ends,” Kidd, who missed the free throw after getting fouled on the 3-pointer, said of Anthony in the corner of the Knicks’ celebratory locker room. “I think he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves when he makes the right plays, and he’s been doing that all season for us. Again, 45 points, he had every right to hold the ball and take the last shot.”

The Old Melo might well have gone on a foray to the basket in the final seconds. Heck, the New Melo had brought the Knicks back from 17 points down by basically putting them on his back, with the help of Smith (16 points) and Kidd, who, at 39, put up a line of 18 points, six rebounds, six assists and no turnovers to go with the game-winner.

But Melo had said on the first day of training camp that he planned to sacrifice more this season, planned to trust his teammates more because of his experience winning the gold medal with his Team USA mates in London.

Here we are 21 games into the season and the Knicks own the best record in the Eastern Conference at 16-5. They are a perfect 8-0 at home. And they lead the Philadelphia 76ers by 4 games and Brooklyn and the Boston Celtics by 4 1/2 games in the Atlantic Division.

Melo is reason No. 1 why this is so, and Kidd may well be reason 1A.

“Hey, he’s MVP guy,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “He’s playing at such a high level, man. And I know he got double-teamed and they sacrificed the ball when that happened, and to me that says a lot because he’s gotta do that. And I think guys around him, he trusts those guys to make shots. That ball floated around and then it ended up in Kidd’s hand and he makes the big shot. But what can you say?”

On a night when Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton combined for just 13 points, Anthony put the team on his back down the stretch — and was efficient doing so at 15-of-24 from the field.

But with the game on the line he passed.

Would the Old Melo have done that?

“I can’t speak for years past,” Woodson said. “I gotta speak for the time he’s been with me and he’s done everything that’s been asked of him. I think sometimes he’s misread, man, because this young man wants to win in the worst way and he’s playing just like that.”

Said Chandler: “It shows his growth and maturity as a leader right now. He’s playing at an unbelievable level. He has to be the front-runner for MVP right now.”

Kidd said earlier in the season he wanted to help Anthony get his elusive championship the way he helped Dirk Nowitzki get his in Dallas.

Nowitzki didn’t win the MVP in that 2010-11 season but he did lead Dallas to a championship.

After failing to get past the first round in eight of his nine NBA seasons, Anthony appears intent on making a run at New York’s first championship in 40 years.

“Games like this, this is the games we gotta win,” Anthony said. “We claim to be a great team, a good team. And good teams win basketball games like this. On the road, tough atmosphere. And Jason Kidd came up big for us.”

A Brooklyn native, Anthony had come up short in his first game here, missing a potential game-winning jumper in the final seconds of a 96-89 OT loss on Nov. 26.

But now the Brooklyn native was back as the New Melo and he didn’t let this one get away.

“It feels great to win back over here in Brooklyn,” he said. “I mean, I can’t lie.”

Winners of seven of eight, the Knicks now play six consecutive home games, beginning with Thursday’s tilt against the rapidly imploding Los Angeles Lakers (9-13), who are 2-7 on the road and are run by former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, the man whose conflict with Anthony ultimately led to his resignation last March.

Also on this homestand will be games against Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets and these same Brooklyn Nets.

“We want to try to win that basketball game [against the Lakers],” Anthony said. “So we have a great opportunity to do something special here over these next couple weeks having a homestand and we want to take advantage of that.”

Meet the New Melo, not the same as the Old Melo.

Photo: Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency

Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter

And like ZAGS on Facebook