Carmelo “Melo” Anthony has had a long and prolific NBA career, including six All-NBA selections, 10 All-Star selections and a scoring title throughout his 16 years in the league. After being traded to the Knicks in 2010, Melo became the face of one of the biggest sports organizations in the world. In his first full season with the team, he led them (alongside reigning DPOY Tyson Chandler and future 6MOTY J.R. Smith) to an impressive 54-28 record and their third consecutive playoff appearance. But a second-round exit at the hands of the Pacers would be as far as the Knicks would get, and the steady decline of the team and Melo began.
After the next three years of below average play that saw them finish under .500, the Knicks and Melo decided to part ways via trade, sending the 10-time All-Star to OKC for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick. But with the Thunder, the duo of Westbrook and Melo had yet another disappointing season. After playing 78 games and putting up the lowest point total of his career, Melo was on the move again, this time to the Rockets to pair up with Chris Paul and reigning MVP James Harden to form a deadly offensive trio.
Unfortunately, Melo’s decline as a player and likeable person continued in Houston, where he only played 10 games before being released for refusing to come off the bench. His ego became too big for what he was bringing on the court (13 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes per game), and he was knocked out of the league. Now we are all caught up, and over a year later Melo has made his return to the NBA, signing a one-year contract with the struggling Portland Trailblazers last week in what will likely be his last shot at an NBA return.
At 35 years old, Melo is past his prime, and while he carries a lot of individual accolades, he has little to show for his performance on a team. But the Blazers, who currently sit at 5-10, have given him the perfect opportunity to prove he can still make it in the league by providing that same offensive spark that led him to his scoring title in 2013, now it’s just whether or not he still has it.
Prior to Melo joining the Blazers, they were running a starting five of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Rodney Hood, Hassan Whiteside at center and then a mix of Kent Bazemore, Afernee Simons and Mario Hezonja at the four – none of whom are big enough to play power forward. This left some major holes for the team on both sides of the floor, resulting in a statistical decline in points, field goal percentage, rebounds and assists per game compared to last season. But that’s to be expected when the only two people on your team that are making an impact are your two guards.
Yes, Dame and C.J. are having great years, but as seen by Melo in his days with the Knicks, individual accolades do not translate to team success. More players will need to step up as the year continues if the Blazers hope to turn around what has been an abysmal start to the year. And that is where Carmelo Anthony steps in.
From 2005-2015, Melo finished in the top-10 of the league in points per game, averaging 26 points, seven rebounds and three assists in that span. I am by no means saying that Melo is going to put up those All-Star numbers of 10 years ago, but even if he were to perform at a fraction of that level, it still gives the Blazers some much needed help on offense, and even more significantly, pressure taken off of Dame and C.J.
Melo has and always will be a scorer. His speed with his signature jab step as well as his strength driving to the basket were staples of his game early on in his career and made even the best defenses scared. But as time progressed and Melo aged, his shooting became a much larger factor than earlier in his career. He has transitioned well, now able to knockdown threes at a fine clip while maintaining his top-tier midrange game. Although his numbers may not seem great, he is another body that teams have to pay attention to instead of focusing on the Blazers backcourt. But not only should the Blazers improve with Melo, the vet should also improve because of the Blazers.
Throughout all of Melo’s career, he has never had a star point guard leading the way, beginning his career with his best teammate Andre Miller. From then on, he was paired with Anthony Carter, an aging Chauncey Billups and Ty Lawson in Denver. This was before having the likes of Linsanity, a withered Mike Bibby, and then a mix of Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni and Jose Calderon (whose mean age is around 200) in New York. Westbrook is not a “point guard” in my book despite his assist numbers, and Melo only played with CP3 for a few games, meaning he has not played significant time with an established point guard since 2006.
Enter Lillard, who is currently averaging a career-high 7.1 assists per game and is one of the scariest shooters in the NBA. Opposing defenses will have to respect Dame and C.J. so much with their offensive artillery, that Melo should be given plenty of open or even lightly contested chances along the perimeter. From there he has offensive liberty to pull up or drive and give some vintage Melo finishes at the rim, something he has never had the freedom to do in the past.
If Melo can’t make it work in Portland, a team that offers everything he needs and can hope for besides a winning record, there may not be a place for him in this league anymore. Fingers crossed he finds his rhythm again after his long stint without being in the league and helps rejuvenate this Blazers team along the way, proving he still belongs.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)