Thu, Dec 12, 2019

After more than a full year off, Carmelo Anthony made his return to the NBA on Tuesday. It didn’t end well for the Blazers, who fell to the Pelicans 115-104 to drop to 5-10 on the season, Meanwhile, Anthony finished with 10 points on 4-for-14 from the field — 2-for-11 from 2-point range — with five turnovers and zero assists for a team-worst minus-20 in 24 minutes. 

That looks pretty bad on paper, and honestly, it didn’t look THAT MUCH better to the eyes. But numbers, as always, don’t tell the whole story, and that’s what we’ll try to do here. Here’s a quick breakdown of how Melo looked on both ends of the floor. 

The defense left a lot to be desired

Melo haters are going to feast on that plus-minus number. It’s one game. It’s a flawed statistic to begin with, even more so in small samples. But it’s not nothing. The Pelicans didn’t spotlight Anthony defensively the way a lot of teams surely will, but he was slow to rotate on multiple occasions and had trouble containing dribble penetration. 

In the following two clips, Melo gets caught way out of position off the ball and has no chance of recovering to his man at the 3-point line, and then gets cooked off the bounce by Frank Jackson.

These are not surprises, for a couple of reasons. First, Melo is not going to be a good, or probably even an average, defender. That ship sailed a long time ago, if it was ever afloat in the first place. Second, whatever defense Anthony does have in him is going to take a lot longer to muster than his offense. 

In the clip where Melo gives up the 3-pointer, you can at least see him trying to communicate with his teammates to get everyone in position. To be fair, Melo probably isn’t the guy you want quarterbacking your defense, no less in his first game with the team, but it’s effort. 

Melo will become more familiar with the defensive schemes and rotations. Those things do take time. But that doesn’t mean Melo will get any better. There’s a lot of evidence, in fact, that says this is a pretty accurate representation of what we can expect from Carmelo’s defense moving forward. 

As for the offense …

I’m going to give Melo a B- on the offensive end. The 4-for-14 doesn’t look great, but he had a couple of shots go halfway down and he was 2-for-3 from deep — which is where he’s likely to help the Blazers the most as a floor stretcher when Damian Lillard, who missed Tuesday’s game with back spasms, gets back in the lineup. 

Below are Melo’s first three buckets as a Blazer, all in the first half. 

As you can see, Anthony can still score at all three levels — from 3-point range, in the mid-range and at the rim. That pull-up jumper at the right elbow was vintage Carmelo. The roll to the rim was smooth. But it was Melo’s first bucket that is super encouraging moving forward. Watch it again:

Using Anthony as a screener makes it far more difficult for defenses to commit hard doubles to McCollum and Lillard, as Anthony can burn them as a pop shooter as he did on this play when both defenders went with McCollum. 

Prior to Anthony’s debut, scouts who spoke with CBS Sports were most intrigued by the idea of Anthony playing the four and spacing the floor, but clearly he doesn’t have to just stand in the corner. Moving him around the arc and utilizing him as a screener can open some stuff up for Portland, and particularly for McCollum and Lillard, who face as much defensive pressure as any two-man tandem in the league. 

Melo can play pick and roll (we saw him score as a roller). He can play pick and pop (we saw him score as a popper). And he can still create pull-up jumpers, but this is where we get into the same dicey territory we’ve been in with Carmelo for years. Just because Anthony is still capable of creating his patented mid-range pull-up off the dribble doesn’t mean he SHOULD. 

Perhaps the same goes for Anthony’s frequent post-ups. In theory, Melo can punish switches and exploit mismatches by taking smaller guys onto the block, and he showed on Tuesday he is still a load down low who can get good position. But he didn’t finish a single shot out of the post on Tuesday.

Even had these shots gone in, the Blazers aren’t going to go far running their offense through Anthony in the post — “mismatch” or not. I don’t know if Terry Stotts was just going out of his way to get Anthony quickly acclimated, or if Lillard’s absence just made it necessary for Portland to feature Carmelo more heavily that Stotts would’ve liked, but for most of Anthony’s minutes the Blazers were running offense through him like he was a straight up go-to player. Like it was 2011. 

It didn’t work. As you can see below, the Blazers were far better off when Anthony WASN’T touching the ball, or just wasn’t in the game altogether.

Again, take these one-game on-off numbers with a grain of salt, particularly when it’s a dude’s first game in a year, But don’t totally dismiss them. Because we’ve seen them before. 

All told, Melo was pretty much Melo offensively. He still wants to take his mid-range pull-ups and post-up turnarounds, and it sure didn’t seem like anyone on the Blazers has urged him to reconsider his shot selection. The 3-pointers, again, were the most encouraging. The stroke was smooth, and if he can make that shot and cut out a few of the others, that should help the Blazers when Lillard gets back. 

Whether it will be enough to offset the defense, well, that’s the million-dollar question. 

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