It has long been known that Carmelo Anthony, upon working out the finer details of his buyout from the Atlanta Hawks, would join the Houston Rockets. Melo finalized his buyout and was waived by the Hawks on July 30; he cleared waivers on Wednesday, August 1. Today brings the expected development:
Who even knows how this is supposed to work. Anthony and Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t mesh at all when both were with the Knicks, and that was when Melo was still a good NBA player. Those days are pretty well over; Melo hasn’t been an especially efficient offensive player in at least four seasons, and while he has never been much of a force at the other end, his defense last season was lousy enough that he was, at times, downright unplayable. Here’s a funny stat about Melo getting targeted and roasted by the Jazz in the playoffs, from FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring:
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.
Then there’s the issue of Melo rejecting entirely the idea of coming off the bench. The Rockets lost a couple important players this offseason, but James Ennis and P.J. Tucker make plenty of sense as starters at the two forward spots, as respectable three-and-D swingmen who can defend in the all-switching-all-the-time style Houston used for most of last season. Carmelo Anthony, at least in theory, can do some of the three shooting, but the Rockets will be starting every game with a gaping, wildly exploitable defensive vulnerability in their lineup if they can’t talk him into coming off the bench.
The theory, then, is that Houston’s offense will be too powerful for that to matter, but even there the fit is awkward. Melo will be, at best, Houston’s third-best shot-creator, and on a team with two of the most ball-dominant players in the entire NBA. He failed as a spot-up shooter last season in Oklahoma City; his nifty mid-post isolation game isn’t what it used to be, but it could still in theory be useful as the offensive focal point of reserve-heavy lineups. That would of course require that Melo agree to play, you know, as a reserve. And there is just no way in hell Melo can possibly be used to close games, certainly not for a team that is serious about contending with the Golden State Warriors, who are better than any team maybe ever at exploiting opposing teams’ defensive weaknesses.
So Mike D’Antoni will have to find a way to give rotation minutes to an awful defensive player who needs the ball in his hands in order to be more than a warm body on offense, who also will not accept a role as a reserve. Before the Rockets can get around to figuring out how he fits into a series against the dreaded Warriors, they’ll need to figure out whether having Carmelo Anthony at all is any better than simply not having Carmelo Anthony.