While Carmelo Anthony struggled mightily last season, the Rockets can help him bounce back in a smaller role.
Although Carmelo Anthony has consistently been one of the more notable faces of the NBA for the past decade, he has obtained this status with no shortage of backlash and criticism. Last season’s move to the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to act as a step away from that demanding spotlight for him, as he played alongside alpha dogs Russell Westbrook and Paul George, but he was still responsible for many of the Thunder’s chemistry issues last season.
Now, Anthony finds himself in a similar situation once again, but with some key differences: Even though he will be out shined by the Houston Rockets’ superstars James Harden and Chris Paul, he is close friends with the latter and was under head coach Mike D’Antoni back when he played for the New York Knicks (although this familiarity with D’Antoni could turn out poorly, considering the issues they had with each other in 2012). For Anthony to boost the Rockets’ status, he’ll need to modify his shot selection and leave his role identity issues in Oklahoma City.
To begin, Anthony will have to largely fill the role Trevor Ariza occupied for the Rockets last year. Ariza, who started 67 games for the Rockets last season, left this summer for the Phoenix Suns. While some of Anthony’s potential minutes may go to veteran wing P.J. Tucker, it appears that he’ll slide into Ariza’s role as the team’s starting small forward, especially considering his clear lack of openness towards a bench role.
Trevor Ariza played a solid part for the Rockets’ success last year, scoring about 12 points per game while shooting a modest 42% from the field. While these seem like generic stats for a contributor in today’s NBA, Ariza’s shooting chart proves just how unique he was for the Rockets’ offense last season.
Courtesy of Nbasavant.com
Out of the 605 shots Ariza took last season, only 32 of them that were not three-point attempts came from outside the restricted area. Furthermore, 72% of all his shots came from beyond the three-point line, where he made a decent 37% of them.
Although Ariza’s shooting chart is an anomaly in the NBA, it is actually fairly standard for a role player on the Rockets. As of Feb. 26 last season, the Rockets took 82% of their shots in the restricted area or behind the three-point line, the highest percentage in the NBA by 11%, according to The Washington Post. Furthermore, they recorded 0.97 points per shot on their attempts, the most efficient mark in the league by 0.09 points per shot.
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Anthony, however, took almost half of his shots (46.9%) from outside the restricted area but not beyond the three-point line last season. Additionally, only 34% of all his shots came from beyond the three-point line, which is less than half of Ariza’s 72% mark.
Finally, Anthony was a much higher volume and inefficient shooter than Ariza was last season. Ariza’s effective field goal percentage was about seven percent higher than Anthony’s, while taking approximately five fewer shots per game. Furthermore, among players who took at least 15 shots per game, Anthony scored the fewest points per game in the NBA last season.
Through the lens of these statistics alone, it appears as if Anthony will not fit well into D’Antoni’s strict three or layup philosophy. However, looking beyond last season, there is evidence that Anthony can adjust his shooting tendencies to fit into a specific system. As part of the 2012 US Olympic team, Anthony quickly changed his role to become an efficient spot-up shooter. Every single shot he took during those Olympics was from beyond the three-point line, and he made exactly half of those shots.
However, Anthony is now six years removed from those Olympics and is certainly not in as good of physical shape as he was then. The question also remains whether he can lessen his role on an NBA team the same way he sacrificed it for his country.
Another factor that will need attention is the lack of enthusiasm D’Antoni showed while he was coaching Anthony on the Knicks. In 2012, D’Antoni resigned as head coach of the Knicks because Anthony “didn’t want to remain a Knick at the trade deadline if he knew D’Antoni would return next season,” according to the New York Post. However, it was reported before the Rockets signed Anthony that D’Antoni would be “fine” with the move.
At this point in his career, Carmelo Anthony is reaching a breaking point. He is quietly hovering between solid contributor and NBA journeyman if he continues his poor play from 2017. Ultimately, it will take an adjustment from both D’Antoni and Anthony to make him fit within the Rockets’ system.
While it may seem that this pairing could work on paper, Anthony’s stubbornness may get in the way of that. He will have to be willing to take more threes with the Rockets while simultaneously taking fewer shots overall. This move can strengthen the Rockets’ identity as a legitimate championship contender if, and only if, Anthony is able to change his playing style significantly, something he’ll have to reach back to his Olympic experience for.
All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com.
Edited by Kat Johansen.
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