It took a long time for Carmelo Anthony to find a home. It actually spanned a full calendar year. But back in November, Anthony signed with the Portland Trail Blazers, ending his 12-month stint in NBA purgatory.
While Anthony obviously isn’t the same dynamic scorer from his days with the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks, he remains a fine offensive threat, as evidenced by the fact that he is averaging 15.3 points per game this season.
Why was Anthony unemployed for so long?
Well, there is a legitimate explanation.
First and foremost, let’s discuss the type of offensive player Carmelo Anthony is.
Yes, he is an incredibly gifted scorer. He holds a career scoring average of 23.6 points per game. He has averaged over 28 points a night three times. He won a scoring title in 2013.
Few players in NBA history have possessed the type of arsenal Anthony had in his prime. Pull-up jumpers. Post-up moves. Dribble drives. A solid perimeter shot. A reliable free-throw shooter.
We know all of that, and I don’t think even the biggest Anthony detractor would deny that. So what’s the issue?
The thing is, being a dominant offensive player goes beyond scoring. It’s also about distributing the basketball, understanding floor spacing and making your teammates better.
Anthony is average or worse in all three of those categories. He has registered just 2.9 assists per game over the course of his career, he is an iso-centric player and there is little evidence that anyone has truly benefited from playing with him.
That doesn’t mean Anthony is a negative on the offensive end. Far from it. But in a modern NBA where ball movement and spacing is key, it definitely makes it tougher for him to be effective, especially at this stage of his career when he isn’t quite as nimble and dependable as he was seven years ago.
Then, there is Melo’s defense, which leaves a whole lot to be desired.
Anthony’s lack of defensive prowess is not just a product of old age, either. Even when he entered the league as a raw 19-year-old out of Syracuse in 2003, Anthony was not known for his defensive chops.
Melo has never been all that fleet afoot, and his lack of elite athleticism has always given him trouble against the top small forwards in the game. Throw in the fact that Anthony’s instincts aren’t the best, and you can see why that he has been a below-average defender throughout his professional tenure.
The Houston Rockets gave Carmelo Anthony a shot at the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign, only for the experiment to last 10 games before the Rockets essentially exiled Anthony in November 2018 before finally trading him in January 2019.
Considering Houston already had arguably the league’s most ball-dominant scorer in James Harden, the Melo experiment was probably always destined for failure in H-Town.
It’s also no surprise, then, that Anthony’s lone season alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017-18 didn’t exactly work out.
After Anthony failed in both Oklahoma City and Houston, teams were understandably wary about bringing him aboard. Yes, he could still score the ball, but he wasn’t doing it efficiently, and the fact that he was a defensive liability didn’t ingratiate him to other clubs.
I don’t want to hear the excuse that nobody plays defense. There are plenty of terrific defenders in the NBA, and even if there are a lot of guys who aren’t stoppers on the defensive end, Anthony is in the bottom half of the league in that category. Even if you want to make this argument, it’s like saying that “no one makes their free throws” when the league average is 60 percent and the player in question is shooting just 30 percent from the line. He’s still bad in that area relative to his peers.
Let’s face it: the NBA landscape changed dramatically right underneath Anthony’s feet. The ability to pass the ball, consistently shoot from 3-land and guard multiple positions became paramount just as Melo’s career was on a tangible downturn.
Taking all of that into consideration, you can understand why contending teams would be leery about signing an iso-centric scorer who had lost a couple of steps and never possessed the ability to play even adequate defense. As for non-contending clubs, what would be the point of signing a 34-year-old contenders didn’t even want?
Let’s make this clear: Anthony didn’t deserve to go without a team for 12 months. He isn’t that cooked. However, had it not been for injuries to Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins in Portland’s frontcourt, the Blazers probably never would have even signed Melo.
Does that mean Anthony didn’t deserve a roster spot? No, but this whole contingent of people who can’t seem to comprehend why Anthony was in no-man’s land for so long aren’t looking at the facts.
Yes, Melo has shown this season that he can still be of help to a club in the right role. He even owns a plus-2.9 net rating this year. But teams understandably weren’t sure if Anthony would disrupt their offensive chemistry or if he would be filling to accept a lesser role.
Let’s remember, though, that Anthony has started all 50 games in which he has played for the Blazers this season. Would he have been as happy coming off the bench? Who knows.
Since Carmelo Anthony has shown he can still contribute, he will almost certainly be playing again at the start of the 2020-21 campaign. Whether that’s in Portland or somewhere else remains to be seen.
But the fact that he was out of a job for such a long period of time is not surprising. Not in today’s NBA climate.