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Hard To Imagine Carmelo Anthony Helping Rockets Take Next Step

After a down season in OKC, It's hard to think Anthony makes the Rockets better

August 08, 2018 - 2:35 am
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Maybe it was just a down year. Maybe it was just a bad situation. Maybe he didn’t play with teammates that could bring out his best. Maybe he will show up revitalized. Maybe he’ll show up with something to prove. Maybe with a new set of teammates, he will buy into everything the Rockets want him to do. Maybe Carmelo Anthony turns back into one of the most lethal offensive players in the NBA. Maybe it could happen. Maybe, but I’m not holding my breath.

After years of chasing him, the Rockets finally announced the signing of Carmelo Anthony Monday to a one year deal for the veteran's minimum. The signing doesn’t carry the same weight it would have seven years ago, four years ago, or even 10 months ago, but the 10-time all star, and 3-time Olympic gold medalist joins a team that came within one half of basketball of dethroning one of the best teams in the history of the NBA. It’s a move that comes with fanfare, but the question is should it?

Let’s be honest: Carmelo Anthony was bad last season. You can blame the shortcomings of Russell Westbrook and Billy Donovan all you want, but Anthony’s major failures were the fault of Anthony. In his only season with Oklahoma City, his numbers were down across the board, some of them way down. Some of this can be blamed on having to share the ball with Westbrook and Paul George, but when Anthony did shoot the ball rarely went through the net.

In his first 14 NBA seasons, all of which came as the number one option on the Denver Nuggets or New York Knicks, Anthony shot over 45 percent from the field. Last season, with opponents dividing attention between him, Westbrook, and George, Anthony's shooting fell to 40 percent. To make matters worse, his free throw attempts were cut in half, and defensively, Anthony was a disaster, which was evident in the way the Utah Jazz relentlessly attacked him in the first round of the playoffs. You couldn't watch that series and not think the Thunder would be better off with Anthony on the bench as evidenced by their game five comeback.

When the Thunder rallied from 25-points down to stave off elimination, Anthony watched from the bench. He left the game following a timeout with 7:19 left in the third quarter and the Thunder trailing by 18. By the time he re-entered the game close to 12 minutes later, his team led by a point. He scored seven points on six shots that night, and 48 hours later when the Thunder were eliminated in Salt Lake City he scored seven points once again and OKC was -19 in his 26 minutes on the floor. They lost the game by five points.

It’s unfair to pin all of that on one guy, so I’m willing to look past that, and as Chris Herring wrote for FiveThirtyEight, the Rockets are a great fit for Anthony. In James Harden and Chris Paul, he’ll be playing with the two best passers he’s ever played with, he’ll pose a unique threat in the pick and roll game, and while he and Mike D’Antoni clashed in New York, D’Antoni’s offense has evolved to better suit Anthony’s ball-stopping game, but even if he returns to being Olympic Melo or Hoodie Melo or Syracuse Melo or New York Melo there’s still that other pesky end of the floor.

Every move the Rockets have made over the last 14 months has been geared towards one thing: beating the Warriors, and there’s no reason to think signing this version or any other version of Carmelo Anthony gets you there. Remember the way Golden State attacked Ryan Anderson in the third quarter of game seven? Anthony is going to have that same bull’s-eye on him. That’s what the Jazz did to him in April and the Rockets did to him back in March. Then there’s what role is he willing to take. When he joined the Thunder there was some thought that he’d come off the bench and lead a bench unit that fell apart with Westbrook off the floor. That idea got shot down before he ever practiced with the Thunder.

He didn’t soften on that idea once the season ended, telling reporters in Oklahoma City, “I’m not sacrificing no bench role, so that’s out of the question.”

Two months later he doubled down on that telling Jemele Hill: "I know how to play this game of basketball. I've been playing it for a long time. When I feel like I'm ready to take that role, then I'll take that role. Only I know when it's best for me to take that role. I'm not going to do that in a situation where I still know my capabilities and what I can do. And at the end of the day, the people who really matter know my capabilities and what I can still do. You start getting to the media and debates, it's going to always be kind of back-and-forth."

Maybe playing alongside Paul and Harden softens his stance. Maybe D’Antoni can show him how Eric Gordon has thrived coming off the bench in his two seasons with the Rockets. Maybe Daryl Morey has concocted some sort of equation that proves that he would be more effective against opposing second units, or maybe Carmelo Anthony shows up to camp next month pissed off ready to make the world pay for writing him off. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe all this happens, but I doubt it.