Ever since the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Carmelo Anthony to the Atlanta Hawks, it was very well known throughout the NBA that Anthony had no interest in staying with the team. He was going to seek a buyout with the Hawks and then join a team which was in contention for the NBA Championship. Teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets had emerged as the preferred landing spots for Melo. The fact that those teams had two of his closest friends, LeBron James and Chris Paul respectively, was also supposed to play a big part in his desire to sign with those teams. Upon finalizing the buyout, the Atlanta Hawks waived Carmelo Anthony on July 30th and he cleared waivers on August 1st, making him eligible to sign with another team. League sources informed Yahoo Sports that Melo had reached a verbal agreement with the Houston Rockets and he will officially sign with the team once he returns from Africa.
Carmelo Anthony and current Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni have some history together. When Carmelo Anthony was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks as a part of a blockbuster 3 team trade in 2011, D’Antoni was the head coach of the Knicks. Even though Carmelo Anthony went on to have some successful offensive seasons and the Knicks enjoyed one of their more successful stints in recent memory (winning the Atlantic Division once), the coach-player relationship deteriorated so much that the New York Knicks organisation was forced to fire coach D’Antoni. And all of this was during a time when Carmelo Anthony was actually a very good player, even led the league in scoring once. Anthony’s game and abilities have eroded over time. While he never was a very efficient offensive player, he has become one of the absolutely worst inefficient scorers in today’s NBA. He never really took care of his diet and showed up overweight for training camps on multiple occasions. That, combined with a lack of interest in playing defence resulted in Melo being a below average defender. Add age and attrition to that and Melo is one of THE worst defenders in the league today. His defence was so atrocious last season that during many occasions, he was downright unplayable. During the first round playoff series against the Utah Jazz, coach Quinn Snyder exploited Melo’s defensive shortcomings repeatedly.
FiveThirtyEight‘s Chris Herring shared a funny stat about Melo getting destroyed by the Jazz during the playoffs: The Jazz found success with that approach, scoring 1.22 points per direct screen when getting Anthony to switch onto a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Second Spectrum. For context, Kevin Durant — who led the league in efficiency when handling the ball in pick-and-roll situations — averaged 1.15 points per direct screen set for him during the season.
Aside from the general decay of his game and his defensive shortcomings, another huge problem with Melo’s game is his open proclamation against the idea of not starting and contributing off the bench. The loss of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute is really tough on the Houston Rockets’ defensive capabilities and roster depth. So getting James Ennis and P.J. Tucker to start alongside James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capella makes a lot of sense for the Rockets. Both of them are solid 3-and-D players who can thrive in the ‘switch everything’ style of defence that the Rockets play. If Carmelo Anthony starts instead of any of those two, not only will the Rockets have a more inefficient player on offense who does nothing off-the-ball, they will also have a gaping hole on the defensive end which will be exploited by all good teams. If coach D’Antoni and teammates Chris Paul and James Harden fail to convince Melo to come off the bench, the Rockets might be in for a long season of bad defence, inefficient shooting and eventual failure in the playoffs.
Even if we assume that against all odds, Melo will become more efficient at scoring, his style of play still fits awkwardly with the highly successful ‘shoot threes till you are dead’ offensive philosophy that the Houston Rockets employ. Yes, he can create his own shots and will possibly be the third best shot creator on the Rockets team. However, his ‘bang-bang’ style of shot creation in which he gets the ball in the post and backs a player down for very long is really a relic of the past. The modern NBA is all about pacing, spacing and ball movement. On top of that, the Rockets already have two ball dominant guards, so Melo will hardly have any time within the 24 seconds of the shot clock to create his own shot. Last season in Oklahoma City proved that Melo doesn’t really work as a spot up shooter as well.
Houston Rockets fans might want to wait a while before they start celebrating Carmelo Anthony’s acquisition. The league wide consensus on Melo’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, is that they became better through the principle of ‘addition by subtraction’ when they got rid of him. So unless the coach and fellow players can figure out how to get the best out of Carmelo Anthony, the question that the fans should be asking themselves is, Are we better with Melo or without him?