Rewind about 2-and-a-half years. Carmelo Anthony checks in a few minutes into the first quarter, his tenth time playing in the All-Star Game (and just his second time off the bench). His employer, the New York Knicks, are struggling for a late-seed playoff push — they’re just 23–34 by All-Star weekend — but you can’t pin the blame on Anthony. At this point, he’s averaging 23.4 points, 6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game, carrying the offensive load for a team that struggled with injuries (and having a god-awful roster in the first place).
Today, we’re midway through August and the 35-year-old Anthony remains without a job. What happened since?
You can find much debate just about anywhere as to whether Carmelo belongs in the league today. For the past few offseasons, videos of him working out and making fadeaway jumpers over D-2 college sophomores have inspired hope that Anthony is still in All-Star form, but the results on the court have disagreed.
In the 17–18 season, Carmelo struggled season-long to find his role in Oklahoma City, playing alongside two ball-dominant stars in Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Used to an offense centered around him, he seemed to insist that OKC was similarly-structured, isolating just over 3 times per game and scoring at a 42.3% eFG%. While Melo would certainly have been better off-ball (51.6% eFG% in OKC spot-up situations), he had very Me7oish moments that would make any Thunder fan cringe in hindsight, taking over in moments that likely would have been better off had his All-Star teammates Russell Westbrook or Paul George closed them out.
After an uninspired first-round exit to the lower-seeded Utah Jazz and blessing us all with an amazingly-ironic quote, Melo found himself playing for the Houston Rockets on a league-minimum deal, coming off of the bench for a team desperately needing a spot-up scorer at the forward spot following the absences of Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza.
He was cut in November.
Since then, we haven’t seen Carmelo on an NBA court, sans the one time he nearly shot a dead ball while sitting courtside at Dwyane Wade’s last game. So is Carmelo Anthony good enough to remain in the NBA? Or are the last moments of his otherwise-honorable career marred by underwhelming shot selection and an inability to adapt to the modern game?
In the short time Anthony spent with Houston, he found himself less useful than his teammates in the Rockets’ strict Moreyball offense. Where much of Anthony’s value earlier in his career stemmed from being able to attack off the dribble and create separation, Anthony’s game in Houston was marginalized to a strict diet of catch-and-shoot opportunities. This decision isn’t necessarily Houston’s fault — just refer to Anthony’s performances in OKC — but Anthony simply was not more effective as a catch-and-shoot scorer than much of the surrounding roster beside him.
In Houston’s catch-and-shoot opportunities, Carmelo scored at a 47.3 eFG%, or around the 40th percentile, according to NBA.com stats. This ranks below everyone on Houston’s roster but Gary Clark, Iman Shumpert, and Nene. To be an iffy shooter is one thing — to be a worse shooter than Kenneth Faried is another. Melo’s athleticism and fluidity on the court has been greatly diminished since his time in New York, as well: Melo’s average speed defensively ranked second-worst among all Rockets players, and his average speed offensively fit right at the bottom.
Melo’s greatest strengths lie among the least valuable skillsets in the modern era of the NBA, where ISO-heavy offenses and pull-up midrange shots have diminished considerably. Melo’s weaknesses — which include his defensive ineptitude and inability to fit (or want to fit) in a modern offense — have been exploited quickly by opposing teams over the past couple of years. I think we may have seen Carmelo’s last game in an NBA uniform — where he shot 1-for-11 in a loss to OKC. Stay Me7o.