- Carmelo Anthony scored a measly 10 points in his Portland Trail Blazers debut.
- But he floundered on both sides of the ball, especially defensively.
- His play only confirmed what skeptics knew about his year-long absence from the NBA.
As Carmelo Anthony saw it, his debut with the Portland Trail Blazers proved what he’d known for over a year: that he “belongs” in the NBA.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 20, 2019
His new teammates and coaches expressed similar sentiments after a 115-104 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. They questioned the justification behind Anthony going unsigned for so long, praised his attitude, and insisted he showed encouraging signs during his 20 minutes of court time.
Any objective observer, though, gleaned far different takeaways from the future Hall-of-Famer’s first time on an NBA court since last November.
Carmelo Anthony’s Porous Plus-Minus
Anthony isn’t a superstar anymore, or even the third offensive option he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017-18. He’s a role player for the Trail Blazers, and role players don’t get the benefit of the doubt afforded to stars. His new contract is non-guaranteed, too, ensuring Portland won’t feel obligated to stick with Anthony unless he positively affects winning.
That didn’t happen against New Orleans. Anthony, in fact, put up one of the worst plus-minus numbers of his 16-year career.
Even more telling of Anthony’s destructive influence? The player he replaced in the starting lineup, Nassir Little, had a team-best plus-minus of +9, finishing with career-highs of 12 points, 11 rebounds, and two made three-pointers.
Most discouraging is that Anthony’s negative impact extends the trend that caused the Houston Rockets to release him last year, just 10 games into the regular season.
Offense Is a Problem, But Defense Is the Real One
Critiques of Anthony’s performance revolve around his porous plus-minus and overall offensive struggles. Indeed, his 10 points on 14 shots and five turnovers loomed large.
Even so, it’s defense that was the biggest issue.
Anthony’s worst defensive tendencies were laid bare throughout Tuesday’s game. In the opening minute of action, he gestured at teammates to get in proper help position, over-communication that led to his man grabbing an offensive rebound. Later, he neglected to offer the help he was so insistent on before, failing to rotate from the weak side to yield an easy New Orleans layup.
The Blazers were smart to “hide” Anthony on the Pelicans’ least-threatening offensive player to open possessions. But weak defenders are targeted more than ever in the modern NBA, and Anthony’s helplessness in isolation situations contributed to his departure from both Houston and Oklahoma City.
New Orleans didn’t forget.
The result? Anthony’s 122.0 defensive rating, worst on the Blazers.
Room for Improvement?
The obvious caveats apply. Single-game plus-minus is a fickle stat, and Anthony is due an acclimation period after a year away from the game.
Still, his play confirmed what skeptics knew about his absence and believers feared. It’s not politics or groupthink that kept Anthony out of the league, but the reality that he offers nothing besides waning shot-making ability that makes him a viable NBA rotation player.