Portland Takes Worthwhile Flier with Carmelo Anthony Signing

The time has come for Carmelo Anthony to again prove his place in the NBA. He will have plenty of opportunities to reshape Portland’s season, potentially beginning with an awkward homecoming at Houston on Monday.
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Carmelo Anthony’s wish has been granted. 

The last time fans saw the 10-time All-Star in an NBA jersey was 12 months ago, when he missed 10 of 11 shots and all six three-point attempts in a blowout loss to the Thunder. But even in his year off the floor, Anthony didn’t disappear. Fans still saw Anthony courtside at Madison Square Garden and on various television programs, making a simple pitch to league executives: there is a place for me on an NBA roster. 

Anthony said he needed just one chance. Portland has given him the opportunity.

The Trail Blazers fit the profile of a team that could use Anthony. They are desperate for frontcourt scoring, with injuries to Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins decimating Terry Stott’s rotation. Hassan Whiteside’s statistical output remains misleading, and Mario Hezonja is better suited as a fringe rotation player than a necessary cog. Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless’ departures have also taken a deeper toll than originally expected.

Such a flimsy frontcourt has only shifted more of the scoring burden onto Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Portland ranks last in the league in assists, and no team has a higher percentage of unassisted threes. Lillard has more than held up his end of the bargain. He entered Thursday night averaging 30.5 points per game on 38.6% shooting from beyond the arc, trailing only James Harden in offensive win shares. 

Yet for all of Lillard’s brilliance, Portland sits 4–8 through 12 games, sitting 13th in the most competitive Western Conference in recent memory. The Blazers entered Thursday night with a better defensive rating than last year’s 53-win team, but have dropped from third to 13th in offensive rating. Anthony could be a catalyst in reversing the trend.

Anthony will have plenty of opportunities to reshape Portland’s season, potentially beginning with an awkward homecoming at Houston on Monday. 

But does Anthony have enough left in the tank? The jury is out.

His abbreviated stint with the Rockets was an ugly one, with Anthony shooting just 40.5% from the field and 32.8% from three. Anthony’s statistical profile was similar in his lone season with the Thunder, and he was abysmal across the last three games of Oklahoma City’s playoff loss to the Jazz. 

Anthony was not a ball-stopper with either the Thunder or Rockets. He appeared to understand his role well, attempting to excel as an Olympic Melo catch-and-shoot specialist. But his shot did not cooperate, and his defensive issues were glaring.

Opposing teams hunted Anthony with abandon in the pick-and-roll (Donovan Mitchell was perhaps the biggest benefactor), and Anthony’s rebounding numbers have dipped for four straight seasons. His effort fluctuated by night, further exacerbating problems for Billy Donovan and Mike D’Antoni.

Anthony’s release from the Rockets last season may have been unfair in its abruptness, but his performance was objectively poor. He now gets his chance to prove his place in the NBA with the Trail Blazers. 

Anthony will still be a sieve defensively. While any delusions of a third star entering the fold should be immediately dismissed, that does not mean Anthony cannot be a useful player. Lillard (and, to a lesser degree McCollum) have enough gravity to draw help defenders and give Anthony open shots. This may be his last chance, but the ending does not have to be ugly. Anthony is well-positioned to help bring the Blazers back into the Western Conference playoff picture.