Melo’s stardom fading right before our eyes

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Updated: May 2, 2018
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Carmelo Anthony has been a popular name throughout basketball circles for nearly two decades. He’s been a great player at every level. He was highly recruited, won a national title in his one year at Syracuse, and has been an NBA All-Star 10 times during his career.

If he was just an average player on the decline, he would’ve been benched by the Oklahoma City Thunder months ago. But because of his name itself, Anthony will always be revered as a star.

During his exit interview, Anthony dismissed a potential bench role despite Oklahoma City experiencing more success when he wasn’t on the court. When the Thunder shook off a 25-point second-half deficit to come from behind and beat the Utah Jazz in Game 5, Anthony saw limited action. Russell Westbrook and Paul George appeared to gain more chemistry with Anthony on the sideline.

If players like Dwyane Wade, Andre Iguodala or Tony Parker (all of whom have championship rings) can accept a bench role as their skills diminish, why can’t Melo? Oh, that’s right. Because Anthony still views himself as an All-Star caliber player.

In that first-round matchup against Utah, Anthony looked barely above replacement level. His isolation game is a problem and doesn’t create team offense. It usually results in a highly-contested midrange jumper, which is a very inefficient shot to take. It goes in less often and draws fewer free throws than shots near the rim.

This is the foundation for the Houston Rockets‘ philosophy of shooting either a 3-pointer or getting to the rim on every possession. And the same logic has permeated throughout much of the NBA, a style the Golden State Warriors helped develop. Offenses built on iso play generate a lot of midrange looks off the dribble. It causes the team to be stagnant and prohibits any natural flow to the offense. More than that, it’s no longer cool.

The game has evolved. Everyone these days want to shoot 3s and launch their bodies to the basket, similar to Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or LeBron James. Players don’t prefer to exert the sort of energy it takes to back someone down the old-fashioned way to earn a bucket. And in Year 14, at age 33, Anthony’s game is drifting more and more towards the perimeter.

He hasn’t been able to blow by power forwards like he once accomplished in Denver and New York. Some of those Melo-at-the-4 lineups that worked with the Knicks were successful because he was explosive compared to other players at the position. But since that part of his offense has diminished, Anthony finds himself taking contested 2s — without hitting them at a good enough clip to continue doing so.

Here are two examples of how he’s clearly lost a step when being guarded by bigger defenders. He used to cook these guys with his quickness.

Melo isolated against Derrick Favors. Settles for a contested jumper.

 

He loses the ball in isolation against Rudy Gobert.

 

Anthony shot the lowest field goal percentage of his career this season (40.4 percent), which is partly attributable to the uptick in 3s. He attempted 6.1 per game, the second-most of his career.

Anthony couldn’t even become “Olympic Melo” alongside Westbrook and George, which general manager Sam Presti was hoping he’d get out of the four-time Olympic medalist when acquiring him from the Knicks. There was a lot of fantasizing about how effective he could be as a third option next to Westbrook and George. But people got caught up on the guy who, in 16 games spread across the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, shot 41-of-91 from a shorter 3-point line, against inferior competition and alongside megastar teammates at every position.

First off, he’s not exceptional in that role. He shot 34.7 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s in 2014-15, 38 percent in 2015-16 and 42.3 percent in 2016-17. But this season, he regressed on those catch-and-shoots to 37.3 percent based on 141 makes in 378 tries, which is slightly below the league average.

He threw up so many bricks in the playoffs, including an 0-for-6 showing from 3-point land in Game 4 vs. Utah. Anthony shot just 3-for-15 on 3-pointers when defenders were within four-to-six feet during the postseason, and only 3-for-11 when defenders were over six feet away.

 

If Anthony can’t make wide open 3s, what does he bring to the table? At this point, Jerami Grant is a better option than Anthony. Which showed in the playoffs.

Anthony hasn’t expanded his game much in his latter years. Michael Jordan is the most obvious example of a dynamic scorer who learned to pass the ball, play defense and contribute in more subtle ways. Anthony doesn’t have Jordan’s handle or incredible athletic ability, but his size and considerable skills should enable him to do more.

As a playmaker, Anthony never improved. His 17.4 assist percentage in his past four seasons with the Knicks was significantly behind that of Olympic teammates James (36.9 percent), Durant (24.6 percent) and Kobe Bryant (26.7 percent over his last four seasons). This season Anthony is down to a 6.5 assist percentage.

His size, length and athleticism should enable him to average more than 6.2 rebounds per game for his career. And despite routinely facing double-teams and controlling the ball throughout his career, Anthony has averaged no better than 4.2 assists for a season. During the Utah series, Anthony didn’t record an assist in five of the six games. He had 21 total assist-free games this season.

And don’t get me started on his defense.

Occasionally, Anthony reminds fans that he can lock down opponents. However, those moments are far and few between these days, and usually combined with lengthy stretches of ineffective play that put his ball-watching habits on full display. Oklahoma City surrendered a defensive rating of 109.7 with Anthony on the floor in the postseason, according to NBA.com’s stats database.

His sinking offensive game is still better than his defense. Anthony ranked 79th out of 92 power forwards this year in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. He couldn’t guard my grandmother in pick-and-roll, much less actual NBA players. And opposing teams know it. They target him constantly and are very successful in doing so.

 

Anthony simply should never ask to contain quick guards like Donovan Mitchell, under any circumstance.

 

Anthony is a future Hall of Famer, but he’s no longer a franchise cornerstone. If he doesn’t want to accept a role off the bench, it’s going to look a lot like the back-end of Allen Iverson‘s career: bouncing around from team to team because of pride.

At this point, Anthony is just another star who appears destined to go down in the annals of history as one of the best players to never win an NBA title.

Kevin Parrish

Kevin Parrish

Kevin is an NBA contributor for Sideline Sports Report and provides content for USA Today Sports, SB Nation's Bullets Forever and ESPN Richmond 950 AM.

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