It's been almost a month since the first report came out that the Portland Trail Blazers were going to sign Carmelo Anthony to a non-guaranteed, one-year deal.
The Blazers were off to an underwhelming start to the season after falling in the Western Conference Finals a few months prior. In need of a boost on the floor and in the locker room, Portland took a chance on the 35-year-old forward to see if he still has anything left in the tank.
On the day of the report, it had been 371 days since the last time Anthony stepped on an NBA court. No team was willing to give the 16-year veteran a chance.
He was only given a 10-game stint with the Houston Rockets last season before the team dismissed him. He was then denied the opportunity to play for USA Basketball at the FIBA Basketball World Cup this summer. As an unrestricted free agent this offseason, no team rolled the dice on adding the once-great scorer to their roster.
"I was ready to walk away," Anthony told ESPN's Rachel Nichols in a sit-down interview. "... I had prepared myself to kinda just walk away from the game - if the right situation didn't come about."
Anthony did what he could to stay ready. We all watched him knock down countless jumpers on Instagram. All the pick-up runs. All the individual workouts. The 10-time All-Star was just waiting for a team to call and finally, the Trail Blazers came knocking at his door.
Fast forward through his first six games and Anthony was awarded with Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 22.3 points and 7.7 rebounds, helping Portland win three straight - its best stretch of the season thus far.
Four days later, the Trail Blazers fully-guaranteed Anthony's contract for the rest of the season.
It only took eight games for Portland to feel like Anthony could be an asset moving forward this season. But if you compare his 10-game stats to the 10 games he played in Houston last season, it's not all that different.
|Trail Blazers (2019-20)||15.9||14.7||3.9||40.8||35.9||86.2||5.8||1.5||2.1|
One of these stat lines got him traded. The other got him a guaranteed contract. It just goes to show that situation - and narrative - is everything.
In both scenarios, each team went 4-6 in Anthony's first 10 games. For the Blazers, that was an improvement upon their 5-10 record to start the season. For the Rockets, it was an under-achievement coming off of a season in which they fell one game short of reaching the NBA Finals.
Houston didn't need help on the offensive end with a prolific scorer like James Harden. Its defence was what had fallen off from the previous season. When Anthony couldn't bring anything to that end of the floor, the Rockets decided to part ways with him.
Portland was desperately in need of another threat on the offensive end to take some pressure off of its dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and Anthony has provided them with exactly that.
Anthony has had some big games, as well as some not-so-big games, but all-in-all, he's doing what Portland needed him to do.
These two plays with Lillard and McCollum serve as an example of how Anthony gives them another valve on offence:
All eyes are focused on the All-NBA guard. Skal Labissiere sets a ball-screen, which immediately causes every defender to drop down and get ready to help. Lillard realizes how much attention is on him and sees Anthony standing wide open in the corner.
It helps that the player on the receiving end of that pass is someone that can actually make the defence pay for sagging off.
Same goes for this play with McCollum:
The entire Milwaukee Bucks defence collapses on the drive. That leaves Anthony all alone on the 3-point line again, giving the Blazers guard an outlet to a player who can make the defence pay.
The same goes for these two pick-and-rolls with Lillard:
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman elects to hedge hard and essentially trap Lillard off of Anthony's ball-screen. Before signing Melo, the player setting the screen wasn't typically someone teams would panic about when they roll to the rim. As long as they trapped Lillard, there wasn't much to worry about. Now, Lillard knows he can dump the ball off to his roll-man to get a bucket.
Again, Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen makes the same mistake in letting Anthony roll free. Lillard drops it off immediately as the midrange marksmen knocks down one of his signature shots.
In both cases, it makes for a harder decision to trap Lillard on ball screens. He's a pick-and-roll maestro, so you don't want to let him use the screen to get to the rim or to take a comfortable jumper. But if you double him, he has someone you have to worry about as a scorer rolling to the basket or popping out to the perimeter.
According to NBA.com, the Blazers have an offensive rating of 107.3 when Anthony is on the bench. When he's on the floor, that number increases to 111.9, which would rank sixth-best in the league. While it's no surprise that he makes them a better team offensively, it is a surprise that Portland also has a lower defensive rating when Anthony is on the floor.
The Blazers allow 111.4 points per 100 possessions when Melo is on the bench compared to 108.6 when he's on the court. While that defensive rating still isn't great - ranking just underneath the top-half of the league - it is better than their current ranking of 21st in the league.
Even if he has struggled over his last couple games, Anthony's +3.3 net rating is the best on the team if you exclude the injured Zach Collins, who only played in three games this season.
All in all, Anthony has given the Blazers another option offensively and his effort has helped him make up for what he lacks on the defensive end. Although the Blazers are just 5-6 since the addition, they're 5-4 in games that they've had both Anthony and Lillard.
With his contract now fully guaranteed, we'll see if the future Hall of Famer has enough in store to help Portland turn things around and get back into the playoff picture.
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