Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
The sad truth about Carmelo Anthony is we’re seeing his final days in the NBA. He’s had knee surgery, he’s 34 years old, but neither age nor injury have caused his career to hit the rocks. That came into sharp focus this weekend. Just 10 games into his career as a bench player with the Rockets, Anthony was held out of back-to-back games in order to discuss his role with the team.
Translated, that means that Anthony soon will be cut by Houston, which has struggled to a 5-7 record after finishing last year with a league-best 65 wins. GM Daryl Morey labeled that speculation “unfair,” but Anthony remains away from the team. He has not been great for the Rockets, averaging 13.4 points in 29.4 minutes per game on 40.5 percent shooting and 32.8 percent 3-point shooting.
To be sure, he’s hardly been the reason Houston has struggled, and should the Rockets choose to set him free, he will have been scapegoated for the team’s bigger problems.For Melo, Houston might well have been his last chance. He was brought to the team, in part, because of his tight friendship with Chris Paul. Around the league, there won’t be teams clamoring to add him. You can only have so many pals with influence.
Anthony’s specialty is running isolation plays for midrange jumpers. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Anthony is a career 40.3 percent shooter from 10-16 feet and a 41.6 percent shooter from 16 feet out to the 3-point line.
Those are good numbers for both ranges. In fact, Anthony has had his two best seasons from 10-16 feet in the last two years, and he was excellent from 16 feet out in his final two years with the Knicks, when he made 45.5 percent of those shots.
Back in Anthony’s early days, that was remarkable shooting accuracy. You’d have to tap deep into your recesses to recall exactly what NBA basketball was like in that era. Consider the 2003 NBA Finals, in which the Spurs won by shooting 43.2 percent from the field, well ahead of the brick-happy Nets, who made 37.0 percent.
Of course, as the game progressed, the midrange jumper went from lost art to NBA pariah, banished by analytics. Players now might just as well punt the ball toward the rim from midcourt as attempt the much-scorned midrange jumper.
That’s always been Anthony’s real problem. He was designed for the mid-2000s NBA, for gobbling up the shot clock while slowly backing a defender into a turnaround midrange jumper. Analysts, media members, fans and scouts have harped on his need to change his game, to adopt an approach that would take advantage of the game’s current emphasis on shots at the basket and 3-pointers.
But Anthony never has had the physical skills — even in his youth he was not an elite athlete — to be a great finisher at the rim, and he’s never been much of a defender. Though he has put together some good 3-point shooting seasons, he’s a career 34.7 percent shooter from the arc and has finished above the league average only five times in his career.
That’s why the teams for which Anthony has played have a sum total of one conference finals appearance, one conference semifinals appearance and nine first-round exits. In a league that demands more and more commitment to attacking the rim and shooting 3s, Anthony at his best has been only mediocre at both.
Now, Anthony is far from his best. He is older and heavier in the foot. We’ve seen great players of the past arrive in their mid-30s a half-step slower but carrying a certain amount of accumulated wisdom that allows them to be effective by leaning on their brains as much as their physical talent.
But Anthony’s accumulated experience is still stuck in 2004, still reliant on his ability to back down opponents and launch low-efficiency, closely-defended midrange jumpers. Coaches don’t want those shots anymore. No matter where he goes from here, whether he stays in Houston or moves on, Anthony remains a Cadillac sedan in a Tesla league.
He has enviable scoring skill, always has. In the depths of the NBA’s mid-2000s shooting woes, there was plenty of reason to believe that Anthony would transform the game. Instead, the game transformed without him and rendered his talents practically useless.
For a player as good as Anthony, but so completely mismatched to today’s NBA, the goal must change. Anthony can’t keep trying to find a contender to which he can contribute. The time has passed.
Now, I hope he will find a way to exit with some grace and dignity.