There are few players in today's NBA that are more intriguing than Denver's Carmelo Anthony. He's supremely talented, yet his team never seems to win. He has maturity issues and personal problems off the court, yet he is the captain and team leader of the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He has a boyish smile to go with a childish pout. The man is 6 feet 8 inches of contradiction.
This summer, rumors have been flying around about trades involving Anthony. Melo to the Nets. Melo to the Pistons. Melo to the Moon. His agent has been calling summits with Denver management, trying to figure out why the Nuggets would explore the possibility of dealing a 24-year-old scoring dynamo. Confusion has reigned supreme and speculation has followed. Many have surmised that Anthony's off-the-court problems have worn Denver out. Others feel that his high-volume shooting doesn't quite mesh with fellow star Allen Iverson. A handful of people simply feel that Melo is Denver's best trade asset and that the team has to do something to shake things up.
I happen to think Denver should trade Carmelo Anthony. But my rationale has nothing to do with his attitude or his teammates or anything else that people tend to point to. I simply believe that Anthony is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While he was at Syracuse, Melo played the game with a joy that grabbed media attention, but more to the point, he played with a style that grabbed the attention of scouts and GM's everywhere. He had the ability to play with patience and strength inside, even at a young age. His jumper was a thing of beauty out to 20 feet. Great body control, great feel, great size; the guy looked like he'd been put on earth to play small forward in the NBA.
There was just one problem - the NBA was rapidly changing. In the spring of 2003, when Melo was lighting college hoops on fire, the National Basketball Association was still largely the vestige of slow-down offenses, isolation plays, and mismatches. Steve Nash was still in Dallas and had yet to unleash "7 Seconds or Less" in Phoenix. Only four teams scored more than 100 points per game and the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers were really the only teams in the league running anything other than pick-and-roll or straight isolation. The best scorers in the game were all monopolizing the ball and operating from demarcated points on the floor. A guy like the 2007-08 Carmelo Anthony (25.7 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting) would have been a monster. Posting him on the block, putting him on the pinch post, letting him isolate on the wing; all of those things would have been highly effective in the NBA at that time. He would have been perfectly cast.
Fast forward to 2008. The league is wide open, fast paced, and guard oriented. When the 2008 playoffs started, there was only one team in the entire league running an offense predicated almost entirely on isolating a star player on one side of the floor (the Mavericks, with Dirk Nowitzki). The game had evolved into catch-and-shoot, drive-and-kick, and making plays quickly. Carmelo's tendency to catch the ball, survey the floor, and make a deliberate move is in exact opposition with the way that most teams - most importantly his team, the Denver Nuggets - want to play. Every time Iverson drives into the teeth of the defense, draws help, and kicks to an open Anthony, that ball has to go up or be moved with quickness. Instead, it sticks. Melo jab steps, pump fakes, dribbles a bit, then takes a shot. And it's not all Melo's fault - he's just hardwired and built to play that way. No one killed Bernard King back in the day for taking his time to exploit a matchup advantage. No one had a problem with Mark Aguirre working his way into a good shot.
In 1982 or 1992 or 2002, teams would have run all their plays through Melo on an isolated side of the floor to allow him to patiently take advantage of a mismatch. Today, Melo is simply squandering an advantage as he waits for the defense to reset. Anthony's propensity for long two-point field goals would have been par for the course in another day and time, but now, with the rise of analytics and powerful statistic tools, we know that long two-pointers are the worst shot in the game, so we bemoan his poor three-point percentage and unwillingness to take the ball to the rim. Even his personal problems and occasional sour attitude would have gone over better five years ago, before LeBron, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard put a new face on the game.
All across the board, Carmelo is miscast and a misfit. During virtually any other era of the NBA - including the era that was ending just as his career began - Melo's style of play would have been conducive to winning. Now it's not. And it's as simple as that.
Wrong place. Wrong time.
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