Carmelo Anthony played 50 games at power forward for the Portland Trail Blazers this season. Though he averaged a respectable 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, his position was not secure heading into the NBA season restart into Orlando this month. The return of Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic from injury meant fewer minutes, with a greater emphasis on size and defense, at the four spot.
The Blazers have no such traffic jam at small forward, however. Incumbent starter Trevor Ariza will miss the conclusion of the season, emphasizing family priorities. Replacement Jaylen Adams plays point guard, not forward.
With guidance from the coaching staff, Anthony aims to fill the breach, returning to a position he’s played for 14 out of his 18 NBA seasons. In order to do so, he’s dropped weight and upped agility. Once photos of Trail Blazers practices hit the scene, the new-look Anthony quickly earned the nickname “Skinny ‘Melo”. As Jason Quick of The Athletic explains [subscription required], it’s not an accident.
“I take it as a compliment,” Anthony said. “A testament to the work I’ve put in and the extreme focus I’ve had.”
Anthony said some of his motivation came when Blazers coach Terry Stotts told him he would move from power forward to small forward to cover for the loss of Trevor Ariza, who opted out of the NBA restart to fulfill custody requirements with his son. It will be the first time Anthony has played small forward since 2017, when he was with the New York Knicks.
“Once coach told me I would be switching back to the three, I kind of challenged myself to get down to the weight where I feel comfortable playing the three, comfortable running around,” Anthony said. “That was a big motivation for me.”
Quick quotes Anthony saying that the personal challenge to earn the starting three spot was not the only factor. Success is also a motivator, as it has been throughout his career.
“Every summer it’s a different name for me — ‘Skinny Melo’ … ‘Hoodie Melo’ … ‘USA Melo’ … — but at the end of the day, I’m me, and I knew how important this was for us coming back, and how locked in we had to be.”