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George Karl has noticed the maturity in Carmelo Anthony’s game

Dec 10, 2012, 10:50 AM EDT

Denver Nuggets v New York Knicks Getty Images

Carmelo Anthony used to frustrate George Karl, and it wasn’t just a fondness for 20-foot contested jumpers.

Karl needed Anthony to be a true leader on both ends of the floor. He needed Anthony’s focus on offense to translate to defense. He needed Anthony to do the little things that leaders do to push their team to the next level.

Say, like being willing to risk injury diving for a loose ball out of bounds. Like he did the other day. Anthony returned from that finger injury to beat Karl and his Nuggets and Karl told the New York Times he has seen the change in Anthony’s game.

“I’ve said I feel that Carmelo is going to win a championship someday,” Karl said. “He’s going to figure out that the numbers and the stats sheets aren’t important. It’s the scoreboard and the intangibles that make winners champions.”

Anthony is scoring 26.8 points per game, which is close to his career high, and he is hitting a career high from three of 43 percent. But it’s the little things that have driven his PER up to a career high of 24.

Anthony came back from the Olympics this summer with a more mature outlook and game, something he got after hanging around with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and other guys with rings on Team USA at the London Olympics. But Kobe and LeBron both had a learning curve to become true leaders, and Karl said that and what Anthony has done is the norm. Players are not born to lead right out of the gate.

“I can say that about everybody I’ve coached, except Chauncey Billups or Nate McMillan, in my career,” Karl said. “I can say that about Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp and a lot of great young guys.”

At this point of the season, about a quarter of the way in, is when you can start to tell if the mirages we saw early in the season are reality or not. The change in Anthony doesn’t seem to be a mirage. There are tests still ahead for the Knicks (hello Amare Stoudemire) but now we get to see how far the new Anthony can take the Knicks.

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