The Trail Blazers have harnessed production in an unlikely place: the output of 35-year-old forward Carmelo Anthony. Nine outings into his return to the NBA, Melo is averaging 16.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. More importantly, the Blazers have secured four necessary victories since Melo’s debut.
SB Nation’s Mike Prada provided prospective on Melo’s place with the Blazers earlier this week and highlighted the established narratives that the former NBA All-Star carries with him.
The more dispassionate perspective is we’re getting too swept up in the narrative. Melo’s efficiency numbers are decent, but hardly spectacular. His shot diet hasn’t changed much, and his defense is about the same despite more visible effort. The Blazers are winning more with him, but six of their eight opponents have sub-.500 records, and they’ve lost the only two against good teams. Those breakout moments are merely hot shooting nights against terrible defenses, blown up to the masses because of Anthony’s name recognition. In this view, the only thing Melo has really done is not be Mario Hezonja or Anthony Tolliver.
Grounded critiques aside, Prada went on to highlight the value that Melo adds to the Blazers. Prada outlined how opposing teams pay attention to Melo on the perimeter, translating to favorable opportunities for the rest of Portland’s contributors.
Melo has a shadow impact that goes beyond his individual performance, one that’s fueled by name recognition and the ubiquity of his redemption story. Because of this, Anthony has actually become quite valuable to the Blazers.
The numbers prove it, at least so far. Portland has scored 116.5 points per 100 possessions with Anthony in the game and just 104.7 points with him on the bench. The new starting lineup of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Rodney Hood, Anthony, and Hassan Whiteside is blitzing teams by more than 10 points per 100 possessions, largely because they’re scoring at a ridiculous rate. The Blazers get similar shots when Anthony plays as they did before he signed, but they’ve made more of them while turning the ball over significantly less often. The sample size is small and opponents have been weak, but these numbers aren’t happening by accident.
In the aftermath of Hood’s injury, Melo’s role with the Blazers is poised to become even more crucial. The Blazers return to action on Sunday to face the Thunder.
You can read Prada’s full story at SB Nation.