Three seasons ago, Carmelo Anthony left the New York Knicks. He was coming off of his sixteenth straight season scoring 20+ points per game and looking to contribute to a championship formula.
Anthony knew that his career could not last forever and desperately wanted out of New York, where he scored obscene amounts of mostly meaningless points for five different coaches over seven seasons. He preferred to go to the Houston Rockets but waived his no-trade clause for his most realistic chance at a championship to date. Melo was headed to Oklahoma City.
Joining forces with Paul George and Russell Westbrook was an opportunity for Anthony to play with two other mega-talents and contend with the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. The idea is that he would be free of the toxic dysfunction of the Knicks and his wizardry on offense would mesh well as the third option on a contender.
What happened instead was a lack of identity on offense between the three-ball dominant superstars which left the older, less explosive Anthony as more of a secondary option than a third alpha. Since then, we have seen Melo shipped to multiple other destinations and eventually out of the league after 10 games with the Houston Rockets.
There is zero doubt that Carmelo Anthony deserves more on his way out of the league. He is one of basketball’s most meaningful contributors over the last two decades and has a resume to match. A legendary college player and national champion that went on to win three Olympic gold medals and ten NBA All-Star Appearances. Carmelo Anthony is a blue-chip talent. So is he being blackballed?
"How is [LeBron] letting his banana boat buddy wait out there in the wings? And they go sign Jared Dudley and not Carmelo."
–Royce White on why he thinks Melo is being blackballed. (via Fanatics View/YouTube) pic.twitter.com/rjq5WQ2XdV
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) August 20, 2019
There are 450 slots in the NBA. Carmelo Anthony is undoubtedly one of the best 450 basketball players in the world. When it comes to getting a bucket there are few guys in the league’s history who could get to the look they wanted out of a phone booth like Melo. His highlights from that last Knicks season are a montage of facials from a style of game that teams have simply gone away from.
We are past the discussion about if Melo is willing to come off the bench and play a support role or not. He stated on First Take that he was willing to play a play whatever minutes are required to help the team win. This is an about-face from his attitude prior to his Thunder debut two seasons ago. He is now showing the maturity and humility required of aging players that want to extend their careers.
The Jared Dudley/Carmelo Anthony conversation is not about talent but more about fit. There is no need to compare Dudley to Melo as an overall player. That is a lazy argument to a more nuanced question. Does Carmelo Anthony have the skills necessary to contribute to today’s game?
No matter what level a player is at during their prime, being able to age and stay in the league is about having skills that will remain valuable as a player gets into their 30s. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan were both able to maintain incredible midrange efficiency late into their careers. LeBron James added the three-point shot as a dimension and his passing will help his game to age gracefully. Melo’s game has not aged well and his dwindling shooting accuracy does not mesh well as the league trends towards quicker decision making and more ball movement offensively.
Even during his 10-game stretch in Houston Anthony showed he could still score at an elite level. He had 3 20+ point games as a Rocket including a 28 point performance (ending a four-game losing streak) eight days before being listed as inactive and being cut from the team. As a role player, the franchise is not looking for you to score 28 points. Role players need to be specialists. Vince Carter is a career 37% 3-point shooter and shot 38.9% in a veteran/mentor role for the Atlanta Hawks this season. Carmelo only shot 32% through 10 games and is a pedestrian 34% for his career. Though he is one of the greatest scorers ever a catch and shoot sniper’s role does not suit him nor does he give a team value on the boards or on the defensive end of the floor.
A successful fit for Anthony will hinge on his ability to provide a team with something, anything, besides volume scoring. His best bet is to increase his offensive efficiency when he has limited time with the basketball. Off the catch, there is no more time for constant jab-steps and contested long-range twos. Melo will have to be a catch-and-decide player that can attack pass or shoot in a motion offense. He possesses the raw ability to deliver in each category. The Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers both lack strong offense in their second units. The Los Angeles Lakers just lost their wild-card in Demarcus Cousins. I don’t think it should be out of the question to open up a roster spot for Anthony who could make an instant scoring difference on a hot night that 9 out of 10 reserves couldn’t.
The NBA season is getting closer by the day and something new has happened every week. My bet is that Melo will be on the roster by season’s end as injuries pile up and teams address needs heading into the postseason chase. When his number is called he must be ready to flip the script and adapt to today’s game.