Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony backs down Kelly Oubre in the post. The Moda Center fans cheer louder with every bump of the bodies. The shot clock winds down and Anthony spins into a heavily contested turnaround fadeaway along the baseline. His jumper falls for Portland’s first points of the game, and the crowd loves it.
After that, it’s all downhill.
Following his first attempt, Anthony shot 3/15 from the field against the Phoenix Suns on Monday night. Yet the Blazers offense still went to him in the post during the final minutes of the game when the franchise cornerstone – Damian Lillard – had the hot hand. Portland struggled to get a stop defensively, and Phoenix recovered from a 19-point first quarter deficit to win 122-116.
The loss doesn’t solely fall on Anthony’s back because he posted up too much in the fourth quarter. But Monday wasn’t the first time Portland’s offense played stagnant, old-fashioned basketball to its own demise. This isn’t 2013, the year Anthony led the league in scoring. He’s 35 years old and a different player now. The Blazers shouldn’t rely on him in the post time and again. He’s still an effective scorer, just not through the post and in the midrange like before.
Anthony posts up five times per game, 10th most in the league. He’s scoring just 0.83 points per possession there, which is in the 36th percentile. Because the Blazers don’t try to find him in the block against mismatches enough, a lot of Anthony’s attempts are contested and outside the paint. That’s a difficult shot for any player, even an experienced one who thrives in contact and with a hand in his face.
Less frequent than post ups, but equally as inefficient, are Anthony’s isolations. He’s scoring 0.82 points per isolation possession, which is in the 40th percentile league wide.
Those two play types – post ups and isolations – share two things for Anthony: lots of dribbling and shot attempts in no man’s land. The extra dribbles generally don’t lead to a better look at the rim, so he settles for a midrange jumper. Both cause a decline in his field goal percentage.
Having Anthony screen for the ball handler can force the defense to switch a smaller defender onto the forward. The undersized opponent can’t guard his turnaround jumper nearly as well, nor can they keep him out of paint for a better look. Defenses might also throw a double team at Anthony when he has a mismatch, leaving a teammate open somewhere on the perimeter for a rare catch-and-shoot opportunity.
Portland’s reliance on Anthony’s inefficient post ups have worsened during his brief tenure. In November, just under 30% of his shots were three-pointers and only one-quarter of his attempts had a defender within four feet. He converted 46.2% from the field and scored 17.7 points per game despite still adjusting to the rigors of professional basketball after a year away.
In December, 24.5% of his shots were threes and more than half his attempts had a defender within four feet. He made 38% of his field goals and scored 14.8 points per game in 13 games that month.
Spot up three-pointers avoid the inefficiencies of post up and isolation possessions: the ball stays out of Anthony’s hands until the shot goes up and defenders aren’t usually close by. He’s scoring 1.15 points per possession on spot ups, which places him in the 79th percentile. 41.5% of his catch-and-shoot triples are falling, but they account for barely one-quarter of his shot attempts.
Pick and pops can increase Anthony’s outside attempts and simultaneously decrease his post ups. Right now, he tends to slip the screen and fade into the midrange. Sometimes the ball handler finds him open for a routine 16-foot jumper, and other times the defender gets back in time, encouraging Anthony to slide into a post up.
If he pops out beyond the arc, the routine jumpers count for three points instead of two. And if the defender recovers, he doesn’t resort to posting up and keeps the ball moving.
If Anthony sets the screen instead of slipping and the defenders switch, then he should slide into the post and take advantage of the mismatch.
Fans love to see vintage Melo backing a guy down in the post and hitting a difficult fadeaway jumper. And the Blazers are happy to have a shot creator outside the guard positions. But the abuse of Anthony in the post, especially in late-game scenarios, is hurting Portland’s offense.
Transferring some of his excess post ups to catch-and-shoot three-pointers can improve his scoring efficiency. And hopefully it can inspire some ball movement in a stagnant offense that must compensate for the struggling defense.