To say Carmelo Anthony had an off year would be an understatement. Just from the simple eye test, it was clear that 2013 MVP candidate Melo was never coming back. Look at the stats and it would lead you to ask the question that many OKC fans asked last season: Is Carmelo Anthony still a good basketball player?
In his 15th NBA season (1st with the Oklahoma City Thunder), Melo put up career lows in a multitude of stats. To save time, we’ll focus on the key scoring stats of points per game (16.2), field goal percentage (40%), and free throw attempts per game (2.5). Advanced stats didn’t do much to mask the stench of Melo’s season either, with career lows in value over replacement player (-1.1), usage rate (23.2%), and most importantly, player efficiency rating (12.7). Factor in the former all-star’s atrocity of a contract and expected defensive liabilities, and OKC’s decision to get rid of him looks like a no-brainer. Now that his worst season is behind him and he has a fresh start with a much more reasonable contract on the Houston Rockets, Melo couldn’t possibly be any worse right…right?
The Rockets are the perfect landing spot for old man Melo.
The Rockets are the perfect fit for an aging Melo. As he has gotten older, Carmelo Anthony has become less and less of a threat on the drive and relied on the 3-point line more than ever before last season (6.8 attempts/36 mins). As game 7 of the western conference finals against the Golden State Warriors showed, the Rockets live and die by the three to the utmost extent.
Sure the superstar/coach pairing of Carmelo Anthony and Mike D’antoni didn’t work out on the Knicks, but that was six years ago and things have changed. In 2012, Carmelo’s isolations used to give D’antoni headaches. In his two seasons as Rockets head coach, D’antoni has learned to be flexible as a coach, letting James Harden and Chris Paul run isolations on weak links all series long against Golden State. Melo will likely get the occasional isolation off pick and roll switches against overwhelmed point guards, and for the rest of his time, he’ll be free to launch from three any time the ball touches his hands when he’s behind the arc.
At this stage in his career, if Carmelo Anthony wants to win he needs to be lead by two superstars. While pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George didn’t work out, there isn’t a reason to believe Melo won’t be able to feed off of James Harden and Chris Paul. Last season, Melo posted career lows in efficiency rating and usage rate. When playing alongside two superstars, it’s expected that usage rate will decrease (especially when one superstar is Russell Westbrook), but in theory, efficiency should go up (less forced shots, more easy ones). Maybe the slide in efficiency is solely Melo’s fault for missing shots…or maybe it’s the superstars he was playing with. Westbrook and George have never been labeled as players that make those around them better. Yes, Westbrook averaged over 10 assists a game, but his assists come in the same way my 2K myplayer gets his stats (dump the ball off to the big man until you have enough assists to play selfish again). George and Westbrook don’t look to keep their teammates happy and active, but instead, they look to lead by example. Chris Paul and James Harden under Mike D’antoni averaged a combined 18 assists/36 minutes. Expect shots to come even easier for Melo; he just has to hit them.
Isn’t Melo a downgrade from Trevor Ariza?
To say Melo is a flat out downgrade is disrespectful to a former scoring champ, all-star, and Olympic gold medalist. Obviously, Melo can’t play defense like Ariza. He got eviscerated by the Utah Jazz in the 2018 playoffs, but did we forget how Ariza went out against the Warriors? Sure he aided in guarding Kevin Durant, but in the final three games of the series, he shot 7-36. It probably would’ve been nice to have one more scorer aside Harden once Chris Paul went out.
This isn’t an even swap out either. Melo won’t be expected to carry the defensive burden Ariza faced; he probably won’t even get the same minutes. With PJ Tucker in the lineup and the signing of James Ennis, a relatively unknown wing who played for the Pistons last season, Melo won’t have to be Ariza; he’ll just need to be an effective scorer whether that’s starting or off the bench.
Melo has to buy in and pull off his best old man Paul Pierce impression.
If Carmelo Anthony really wants his ring, he has to get out of his selfish ways. He got over $25 million from the Hawks, but the Rockets are paying him a vet minimum. He’s no longer a superstar and he needs to embrace that. No more of this “they’re telling me I have to come off the bench” shit; just do what the team needs.
One of my favorite moments from the 2015 playoffs was Paul Pierce on the Wizards in his 17th season. The Paul Pierce of old was gone, no longer able to lead a team, but it didn’t matter because he was an effective bucket getter at power forward for his team. Remember “I called game?”
As a lifelong Lakers fan, I refused to root for Pierce on the Celtics, but it was impossible not to root for him in his years on the Nets and Wizards. He gave everything he had to those teams and didn’t care that he was no longer the star he once was. Same goes for Ray Allen on the Miami Heat. Remember when he made the biggest shot in finals history?
A great season for Carmelo Anthony at age 33 doesn’t mean a return to his prime in Denver and New York; that man is long gone. A great season for Melo doesn’t even mean 80 percent of what he once was. A great season for Melo would be him giving whatever he has left to the Rockets and hopefully providing some meaningful playoff moments. I’m all in for old man Melo, hopefully he can prove me right.
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