Along with ten-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony‘s signing with the Rockets comes some mystery in how he’ll fit in with the team. In a broad sense, there are two ways his season could go down.
After verbally agreeing to a deal, Carmelo Anthony is finally a Rocket. The conditions that he’s arriving under and the public perception of his abilities are much different than they would’ve been had he come to Houston last year or prior to then, though.
A sought-after after player for Houston’s organization, Anthony is coming off of a rough and well-documented season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged a career-low 16.2 points per game on a career-low 40% field goal percentage in 32 minutes played per game. After watching him play this year, it’s hard for many people to shake the bad taste that those bricked midrange jumpshots leave, and more difficult to decide if his struggles have been an outcome of age, poor fit, or a combination of the two.
It’s because of that underperformance and his resulting drop in value that Houston was able to sign him for only the minimum of $2.4 million for this season. That’s a steal of a signing for the Rockets almost regardless of how well Anthony meshes. The only reason he’s taking that money though is because he’s already getting most of his nearly $28 million from the buyout with Atlanta.
One can’t help but assume that Anthony feels like he’s worth more than a $2.4 million salary, and with the career that he’s had as a basketball player, it’s understandable why he’d feel that way and most can probably agree with him. If he hadn’t received that buyout money, he might be signing with another team that could offer him more money and probably a more involved role with their team.
But Houston finally got their guy; a 34-year-old professional scorer who’s been having trouble scoring on an efficient clip and might think he should be more involved than he probably will be. The variable that’s going to decide whether this season will be a repeat of the last, or if Anthony will be the best contributor to Houston that he can be, is role acceptance.
One possible outcome
The first potential outcome of his first season with the Rockets, which I’ll keep short because it’s much less fun than the second, is the one that many critics predict: Anthony isn’t willing to be a lesser part of the offense or potentially come off the bench (something he openly was not interested in during his time with OKC), and his discontent with his role in the organization creates off-court and on-court issues that would keep the team from reaching its ceiling.
Another possible outcome
The other possible outcome, and the one I personally see as much more likely to happen, is the fun one. It’s the one where Anthony contributes to the team within his strengths, using his isolation abilities within the offense and using the array of shooters around him to his advantage. His best role (should he choose to accept it) would probably be as an off-the-bench scorer and someone for Chris Paul to defer to on offense within the second unit. He could also start if he really wants to, leave early and come back to face the other team’s bench.
Anthony coming off the bench, though, would allow Houston to run a starting five of Paul, James Harden, James Ennis, P.J. Tucker & Clint Capela, which would allow the Rockets’ best defenders to guard opposing teams’ best offensive players. At the same time, that gameplan would also make it easier on Anthony by pitting him against opposing bench units and weaker defenders.
The cherry on top in this best-case scenario is that Anthony could embrace a roll as a screen setter. Think of what Ryan Anderson had been doing, but instead when Anthony receives the ball off the pop, he’ll be better at attacking close-outs and able to create more variations in Houston’s offense. Paul and Harden running two-man action with Anthony could seriously frustrate opposing defenses if Anthony is willing to utilize himself off-ball.
Harden has told ESPN that he is “in regular contact” with Anthony, and Anthony and Paul are known to be close friends. The stars communicating this early can breed a sense of optimism for fans that they’ll be on the same page and Anthony will have bought into his role by the beginning of the season.
It remains to be seen how his time in Houston will be remembered, but a new and competitive team will give him a golden opportunity to flip the script on the latter stages of his career.