Who doesn’t love nostalgia?
Carmelo Anthony’s fourth quarter last night was arguably the most ‘Vintage Melo’ we’ve seen since his joining the Portland Trail Blazers in November 2019. While it was a season-high 24-point showing in a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, and Anthony’s had seven higher point totals in Portland — including one in last year’s playoffs — last night’s fourth quarter offered a throwback to the takeover Melo that New York and Denver folks grew fond of at his peak.
When you simply watched the bounce at which Anthony springs off, the fluidity in finding the desired spots to attack opposing defenders, it felt like watching a standard Melo highlight reel circa 2012-13 during his scoring championship season with the 54-win Knicks. But outside of a recent 1-for-8 showing five days ago, it’s what Anthony’s shown during his highs in an otherwise inconsistent 18th NBA season. The 36-year-old future Hall of Famer recently passed Oscar Robertson for 12th on the all-time scoring list, and is trailing Hakeem Olajuwon by only 200 points, a number he should amass by April, barring any setbacks. In all likelihood, Anthony — who is 663 points behind Moses Malone’s ninth spot, should crack the top 10 if he plays a 19th season.
It’s easy to view the surface level metrics, the mid-range sweet spots, and the lack of defensive upside, and deem that the Brooklyn-born swingman has no place in this NBA — and prior to February 2, you might’ve had a convincing argument. But especially on a depleted roster, there is indeed still a place for Anthony in this league.
Yes, he’s shooting 39 percent from the floor this season, which was 36 percent before his recent five-game stretch, and sure, the rebounding is numerically the worst of his career both per game and per 36, but positive Melo outbursts have been conducive to the Blazers’ success as of late.
In his last five games, Anthony has scored 21, 22, 2, 23, and 24 points, in that order. Portland has won four of those previous five, and you could guess which one they lost. Anthony’s netted 18 or more points on seven occasions this season, and Portland’s gone 6-1 during that stretch, all of which were performances of at least 43 percent shooting from the field. This season, the team is 14-10, remaining above water despite brutal injuries to C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkić, and Zach Collins. Last season, when Portland finished 35-39 and barely obtained the Western Conference’s eighth seed, in 18 games where Melo — a full-time starter — dropped at least 20 points, the Blazers went 12-6.
The consistency of these high-scoring Vintage Melo outputs is what you seek if you’re the Blazers, though. Melo hasn’t quite been an Immanuel Quickley-like Kingda Ka roller coaster, but he had been mostly down prior to this month, where he’s now on his best five-game stretch of the season. Even with that two-point performance, he’s still averaging 18.4 points on 47.8 percent shooting from the field and 54.2 percent from three during this stretch.
The career-low rebounding is concerning, but it’s not his primary agenda for being there. His offensive rating is 106, which is bottom half on the team, but his personal best since 2016-17, his last go-round with the Knicks. The 115 defensive rating is tied for a career-low set last season, but it’s tied for the fifth-best on this defensively-challenged roster, where the worst D-ratings are held by Rodney Hood, Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, and Gary Trent Jr. Most advanced metrics aren’t favorable to Anthony this season, where he generally ranks in the bottom half of the team in most categories, like box plus-minus, value over replacement player, true shooting percentage, and rebound percentage, the latter of which is actually 0.1 lower than Simons, a 6-foot-3 combo guard averaging just over two boards per contest.
The major room for improvement for Anthony is the 2-point shooting, which is in a much better place today than it was before 10 days ago. On two’s, Melo’s at a team-low 39.4 percent (unless you count Keljin Blevins’s 16.7 percent, but he’s logged 38 minutes all season). The key to Anthony turning this around and becoming a more consistent threat for the Blazers to ride along with Lillard (and eventually McCollum) offensively this season are the twos in his usual sweet spot between 16 and 24 feet, a frowned-upon shot in today’s NBA, but one Anthony’s executed as well as anyone over the past 20 years.
The two-point shooting percentages for Anthony are as follows: 47.1 from 3-feet and in, 42.3 percent between 3-and-10 feet, 40 percent between 10-and-16 feet, and just 35.1 percent between 16 feet and three-point-range. Just last season, Melo’s percentages from these same spots were 53.0, 47.6, 41.9, and 38.0. It’s critical Melo converts his 2s, especially from 10-feet out, because his usage rate of 22.6 trails only Lillard (31.3) and McCollum (28.4), who has missed 10 games and counting. But perhaps what would be most helpful is converting more long 2s into 3s, where he is 39 percent on over four attempts per game. Whatever it is, Anthony’s proven he could still be the team’s X-Factor, they’ll just need him to do it more consistently, which we’re starting to see.