Hot Take Marathon: Why Carmelo Anthony Will Return to Form in Houston
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Carmelo Anthony has finally inked a deal with the Houston Rockets. The 10-time All-Star will be reunited with Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, joining a team that won 65 games in the regular season last year.
True to form, the Rockets were an offensive juggernaut, simply overpowering teams on most nights. Still, despite the eye-popping assists and onslaught of 3-pointers, Houston played strong defense. This isn’t something Carmelo Anthony has ever been known for.
It doesn’t matter. Anthony is going to flourish in Houston. Here’s why.
A perfect fit
In the most negative of lights, Melo is a moody ball-stopper. He loves to isolate and take long jumpers, only to jog back on defense. He can be a poor decision maker too. The worst version of Carmelo Anthony can be a nightmare.
On the other side of the spectrum, Melo is a reliable shooter and elite scorer. He’s a decent passer and seasoned veteran. His numerous trips to the Olympics with USA basketball also underscore that Melo is a good teammate, a leader.
The bad habits and poor play we saw out of Anthony in Oklahoma City are alarming, to say the least. It’s certainly not the sort of thing you would want to add to an elite offense. Behind the numbers hides a very different story, and one that absolves Melo in many ways. Because abdicated of some of his regressions last season, Carmelo Anthony is a perfect fit for these Houston Rockets.
The Russell Westbrook effect
After several maligned seasons in New York, Melo found himself in Oklahoma City, surrounded by star talent. Unfortunately for Anthony, who has spent the bulk of his career as a number one option, he was relegated to the third or fourth option in the Thunder offense. Sure, you need to sacrifice to win, but this is different.
The Thunder offense is a simple one. Let Russell Westbrook try to score, usually by exploding his way to the rim off a Steve Adams pick. No shot there? Ok, hit Adams as he rolls. Still no good? Find Paul George. George isn’t open? We’ll jeez I hope Melo somehow found himself a shot.
Roughly 87 percent of Anthony’s made 3-pointers came off of an assist last season, a relatively high mark for his career. But anyone who’s watched a Thunder game before knows that the quality of these assists were low. Even if Westbrook doesn’t specifically stat-pad, his passes are flashy, or ill-advised, or late in the clock. Maybe the Kyle Korvers of the world can succeed in this role, but not an international superstar and an ostensible point-forward.
Carmelo has his drawbacks. His game can be uncreative, and his athleticism has certainly waned as of late. But there was little done in Oklahoma City to set him up to succeed. It’s not just that he wasn’t a featured player, but he was a victim of a lackluster offensive scheme. Houston figures to be immensely different.
Taking care of Melo
In joining the Rockets, Anthony goes from being an accessory to Russell Westbrook’s attempt at world domination to the beneficiary of an offense predicated on passing and sharing the ball. Chris Paul and James Harden are some of the best passers to ever play the game of basketball. Melo’s looks figure to be much, much cleaner than they were last season.
Despite everything, the rate at which the Rockets score assisted baskets is low. I believe it’s because Paul and Harden work to get their teammates good looks, not just net another assist.
Screens and cuts and motion - the sort of nuance notably absent in the Thunder system - will help Melo get to a spot where he can succeed. Anthony took the most corner threes in his career last season, the mark of an offensive afterthought in OKC.
Chris Paul is a major piece to this puzzle. He’s as good as they come in terms of getting players involved and keeping them happy. Anthony isn’t a headcase, but he’ll benefit greatly from being actively massaged into the fold.
Addressing the caveats
There’s good reason for pause when assuming the Melo experiment succeeds in Houston. I do wonder if these are overblown.
First, Athony will be expected to replace the defense of Trevor Ariza. This is something he cannot fully do, of course. Losing Luc Mbah a Moute doesn’t help the Rockets on the wing either. There’s no denying that Houston is taking a step back in that regard.
In reality, though, the Rockets best players only performed marginally better with Ariza on the floor across the board. In the Western Conference Finals, for example, Ariza posted a 95 offensive rating and 116 defensive rating, two very pedestrian marks. I would suggest that what Melo can offer on offense ultimately counters what Houston gives up on defense.
As Mike D’Antoni, who was unceremoniously canned in New York to focus on Melo’s needs, the script is now flipped. He’s not beholden to an organization going all in on a single star. His system seems to have the full backing of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, and so far the proof is in the pudding.
Anthony will be making just $2.4 million next season. As much as I believe Houston will work to bring out the best in him, if Melo isn’t cutting it, the team can try and move on from him.
How this all shakes out
When we revisit the above, I think there’s great reason to believe Anthony won’t be the same sad sap he was in OKC. He’s going to be better supported on offense. He has the benefit of playing with an old friend in Chris Paul. And despite the talk of not coming off the bench, he’s smart enough to know that this is an inflection point of his career.
Anthony will adapt, and though I’m not sure he’ll thrive, he won’t be the hyper-inefficient crumuggin he was last season. We’ve seen in the past that a happy Melo is a productive Melo. Houston is going to be good to him, and he’s going to be good right back.