Melo-Drama: Analysing the enigma that is Carmelo Anthony
The 2003 NBA Draft class can be heralded as one of the best draft classes if not the best draft class in the history of the league. The draft featured four future first-ballot Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, the first three combined their talents at Miami and managed to win two titles.
Meanwhile Carmelo, despite being one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the game, struggled in his quest to chase that all elusive ring that would have cemented his legacy. It was in bit part due to not being surrounded with the right pieces at his peak and partly because of his own inefficiency to adapt his game to the "Moneyball Era" which is driven by analytics.
Times change and so do conversations. "Could Carmelo finally win a ring?" changed to "Can Carmelo still play in the league?" and for one of the league's top 20 all-time scorers who is 34 and still healthy it is indeed disheartening to hear such conversations.
Most Carmelo fans think that these conversations are too harsh and that Melo could still contribute to teams like the Lakers looking to contend for a championship. On the flipside, most analytics believe that he is washed up and should retire. We seek to analyze both sets of viewpoints from Melo's time at OKC and Houston.
Melo's first superteam
Oklahoma City Thunder traded Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott along with a 2018 second round pick to the New York Knicks in exchange for disgruntled superstar Carmelo Anthony during the 2017 off-season.
The trade was set to propel a Thunder team to post-season success, with them being led by Russell Westbrook coming off an MVP season and finally surrounded by two genuine stars in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to release some of the offensive burden on the All-Star Point Guard.
The Thunder reached the post-season after finishing fourth in a loaded Western Conference with a record of 48-34 on the back of yet another triple-double season by Russell Westbrook who was ably assisted by Paul George. Carmelo, on the other hand, proved to be a disaster as he failed to provide them with the offensive output that they expected while his lacklustre defence proved to be a burden for a Thunder team who were a top-10 team in the league in terms of defence.
Carmelo made up for his lack of defensive awareness with explosive athletic ability during his time with the Nuggets and Knicks but his age and the number of minutes he has played throughout his career has curtailed him on the defensive end. This was one of the most significant drawbacks for the Thunder as they were a team who switched a lot and Melo's lack of speed hurt their ability to switch causing mismatches all over the floor.
James Harden exposed Melo's speed when the Rockets hosted OKC as he flew by the former All-Star with relative ease to a point where Melo lost his temper at teammate Steven Adams for not helping him during a play.
In an era driven by analytics, 3 and D wings thrive more than traditional bigs due to their ability to switch and lock down shooters on the perimeter even if they are smaller guards who are traditionally quicker. Melo would have thrived during the 'hand-check' era as his defensive frailties would have been covered due to his superior strength and size. Sometimes defence is not only about ability and awareness but also effort, and this has been one of the critical areas affecting the 10-time All-star.
What he lacked in defence he more than made up for it with his knack for scoring before his stint in OKC. Melo has always been an excellent isolation scorer and had an innate ability to knock down tough contested jumpers but, that was not the case at OKC. Despite averaging close to 16 points a game, his style of play clashed with that of Westbrook's as he was used to getting all the touches and being the primary ball handler in New York and Denver.
Being used to an offence running through you and relegating yourself to being the third option on a team can be a tough pill to swallow with someone having the accolades and ego that Melo has. On the other hand, Paul George seamlessly translated his game to support Westbrook's helping form one of the most deadly tandems in the league.
Anthony's reluctance to spread the floor by sharing the ball rather than taking tough contest mid-range jumpers sometimes alienated his teammates. The most prominent example of Melo's inefficiency to change his game to suit the Thunder's style came during the playoffs when OKC crashed out after going down 4-2 to the Jazz. Utah's rookie shooting guard Donovan Mitchell eviscerated Melo which prompted Coach Billy Donovan to take him off for Jerami Grant who then went on to provide Thunder with the necessary boost that they needed.
Melo was recruited by OKC to provide the ability to catch and shoot along with spacing the floor for the explosive Westbrook but turned out to be more of the isolation scorer we saw during New York. Melo's inability to adapt forced the Thunder to trade him to the Atlanta Hawks who would then go on to release him.
Rockets and fellow Banana Boat mate Chris Paul provide Melo with an escape route
The Houston Rockets picked up Melo on a one-year, $2.4 million veteran's minimum contract and paired him with one of the league's deadliest backcourts in Chris Paul and James Harden. GM Daryl Morey proved himself to be one of the most successful general managers in league with analytics-driven basketball helping him surround James Harden with the right pieces.
Carmelo on a vet minimum contract seemed like a steal on paper as the Rocket's believed that Chris Paul and James Harden could do with more shooters around them as they lost Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza in free agency.
Carmelo's woes during his time at OKC seemed to have followed him to Houston as his persistent need to take long contest mid-range jumpers as opposed to open three-pointers led to him having chemistry issues with a Rockets team that depends on the three ball more than most teams in the NBA.
Rockets being the most analytics-driven team made life harder for Carmelo as the shots he usually takes were viewed as horrible shots with the front office. He did not fit in coach Mike D'Antoni's system which uses James Harden as the focal point of the offence while surrounding him with capable 3 and D players like Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker.
The secondary ball-handling duties fell to Chris Paul and hence had Melo lamenting the lack of touches. The fact that Carmelo had D'Antoni fired during their stint together in New York after having a fallout made matters worse despite both denying the speculation surrounding their equation.
The Rockets wasted no time in cutting bait as they traded Carmelo after a mere 10-game period which saw Anthony's defensive frailties along with his constant need to take mid-range jumpers outweigh his few positives.
A trip to LA LA Land or a homecoming: The next best solutions for Melo
Good or bad, Carmelo Anthony defined the post-Patrick Ewing New York Knicks as he battled hard both on and off the court for a franchise whose fans still adore him till date. Maybe a homecoming is exactly what Carmelo needs to effectively contribute to a team even if his best days are behind him.
The Knicks will not only have one of their most beloved players back but they will also possess another recruiting tool as Melo, who despite his on-field troubles is still regarded highly by his peers. He might have a chance in creating a super team in New York as the Knicks have cap space and a shot at landing the number one draft pick. A potential team of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Melo, Zion Williamson and Mitchell Robinson sounds formidable on paper and is a possibility.
Another option could be going to the Lakers and joining one of his best friends, LeBron James who desperately requires shooters around him. LeBron was one among the many players to be irked by the Rockets using Melo as a scapegoat for their form during the start of the 2018-19 season.
Melo will have to adapt his game to be a catch and shoot type player to help the Lakers as he can potentially be a dead-eye shooter with his vast experience. This off-season should be crucial for Melo as he has enough time to train and adapt for the upcoming season along with choosing his next destination which might end or prolong one of the NBA's most illustrious careers.