Carmelo Anthony has done a better job filling the Portland Trail Blazers’ void at power forward than any other available player could have at that point in the season. That being said, the team’s composition has changed since then due to trade, and it will continue to change in the next month as players return from injury. Such changes require Anthony’s role in the offense to accommodate.
Put plainly, Anthony is shooting a lot. His 13.9 shot attempts per game might pass as acceptable right now because Portland’s injury-ridden roster lacks reliable scorers outside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. But the recent offensive improvement of Hassan Whiteside, emergence of Gary Trent Jr., and return of Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic will make those extra field goal attempts a detriment.
With the star backcourt always handling the ball and looking to score, it’s important for the other players on the floor to know their specific role: set screens, space the floor, make available cuts. Anthony hasn’t proven capable of being a one-dimensional spot-up guy, which is what Lillard and McCollum need from their forwards.
Collins and Trevor Ariza are better suited to join the backcourt – plus one of Whiteside or Nurkic – in the starting lineup. Neither need to shoot to make a positive impact as long as they provide solid defense to compensate for the backcourt’s shortcomings.
So, once the frontcourt gets healthy, Anthony should move to the bench. Maybe even before then if his current cold spell keeps up. The Blazers’ coaching staff already understands that his play style benefits the reserves more and have therefore staggered his minutes to predominantly accompany the second unit. But there should be zero doubt in this move once Collins returns.
This lineup shift would ideally create a bench grouping of Anfernee Simons, Trent Jr., Nassir Little, Anthony and one of Whiteside or Nurkic. Despite not having McCollum or Lillard on the floor, this unit has enough scorers and plenty of basketball IQ to keep the ball moving without a point guard facilitating.
But if Anthony continues to spend too much time with his back to the basket, that ball movement won’t happen, and the offense will stagnate. He’s averaging the third-most post ups per game in the league and ranks in the 54th percentile for points per possession in those possessions (0.92). Portland endured a run of too much “vintage Melo” when McCollum missed three games in the middle of January; the bench offense resorted to posting Anthony up time and time again, which is not a good offensive option when he doesn’t have a mismatch.
In addition to not assuming a spot-up shooter role, Anthony’s complacency in the midrange leads him to miss a lot of chances to cut and get a shot at the rim. The other reserves, namely Little, are young and active players. If Anthony clogs half of the half court by loitering in the midrange, he stymies Little’s offensive impact and provides an easy help defender for Portland’s big man when in the paint.
Even though the second unit benefits from Anthony creating his own offense against a mismatch or to end a scoring drought, his frequency of shot attempts should still be curtailed with or without the lineup shift.
Trent Jr. is developing into a knock-down three-point shooter, Simons is choosing his spots to attack with more efficiency, Little thrives in the open floor and finishes well at the rim, and both centers shine in the pick and roll. All of these options are better than Anthony posting up another power forward, and should therefore be more frequent outcomes of the bench’s offense.
If that reserve unit succeeds, Lillard and McCollum can play next to each other as well as not have to play 36+ minutes per game, both of which can benefit Portland immensely.