The dust has settled from the Trial Blazers’ exit from postseason competition. Free agency, roster construction and the NBA Draft have crept into everyday conversation in Rip City. Before we turn the page on the longest season in the Blazers’ 50-year history, let’s take another look at the players that populated the roster during that journey.
Yesterday’s installment looked at how Jusuf Nurkic fared inside the bubble. Today’s post looks at Carmelo Anthony’s return to the NBA with the Blazers.
Games: 58 (58 starts) | PTS: 15.4 | REB: 6.3 | FG%: 43.0
Victorious in just three of their previous 10 games, the Blazers turned to a familiar face in late November. That face: former NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony. Ravaged by injuries and lacking reliable scoring in the frontcourt, the Blazers ended Melo’s absence from the NBA by reaching a non-guaranteed deal with the 36-year-old veteran. Eight games and a Western Conference Player of the Week award later—Melo’s contract was picked up for the remainder of the year.
Melo, who had forgettable stops with the Thunder and Rockets after departing the Knicks, found a near-perfect match with the Blazers. Portland had a clear opening in their starting rotation and featured a system where the former Syracuse star could operate free from judgement on the offensive end. After a three-game debut that featured a trio of losses, the Blazers and Melo bounced back by winning four out of their next five games. In that five-game stretch, he recorded 20 points or more in three contests.
Following a successful start to his tenure in Portland, Melo remained consistent as the Blazers endured peaks and valleys. Melo, who routinely draws ire from analytics-based observers, connected on 38.5 percent of his three-point attempts. That mark represents his best percentage since his time in New York (2013-14).
Melo’s contributions stretched beyond the scoring column as well. Always in position to rebound (and ready to let teammates and opponents know it), the 36-year-old forward helped the Blazers remain competitive in the rebounding battle. While his lateral quickness has diminished over time, Melo’s communication and experience became a feature inside Portland’s rotation. Off the court, Melo showed through his own actions how to last in a league that overflows with roster turnover.
Following the NBA’s hiatus, Melo thrived during the seeding process. In the biggest moments, he found a way to shine. Prior to the postseason, I reflected on his late-game heroics from inside the bubble.
In the Thunder’s six-game series against the Jazz in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, Melo struggled with efficiency on the offensive end of the court. He averaged a paltry 11.8 points per game on 37.5 percent shooting from the field. Prior to OKC’s exit from the postseason, Melo connected on just 21.4 percent of his three-point attempts (6-of-28).
Inside the bubble with the Blazers, Melo’s numbers represent a night-and-day difference. Through the eight seeding games, he averaged 16.5 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting from the field. When working from beyond the arc, Melo connected on 46.9 percent of his three-pointers. More importantly, he typically saved his most efficient production for crunch time. It was clear to everyone that watched the Blazers in the past two weeks that Melo was clutch and the numbers definitely support the eye test. In the fourth quarter, Melo shot an even 50 percent from the field and converted a stellar 64.3 percent of his three-pointers.
In the playoffs, Melo held his own against a Lakers team that featured a loaded frontcourt. During those five contests, he averaged 15.2 points per game. In Game 5, Melo erupted for 27 points and seven rebounds in 40 minutes of action.
Melo is now headed to the open market for the second offseason in a row. Unlike last year, the former NBA All-Star is entering this negotiating period with positive momentum. If the Blazers plan to pursue Melo in free agency, they have two things working in their favor. First, Melo has consistently said the same things about his happiness level in Portland and how he hopes to maintain it. Second, the Blazers, unlike recent summers, have the tools to retain Melo if the demand for the 36-year-old forward surpasses a minimum contract. Warm and fuzziness aside, it is important to note that a path to the Blazers’ starting lineup might not be as welcoming once the 2020-21 season begins.