Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, 10 times All-Star, nodded while asking if he felt weird coming off the bench on Friday night in the team’s 127-102 win over Sacramento in the Moda Center.
The answer was clear. For Anthony, who has started 1,114 of his 1,122 career games, his new role with the Trail Blazers will clearly take some getting used to.
“It was a different emotion, a different feeling, you know,” said Anthony, 36. “But once you get past that, it’s basketball. “
If Friday is any indication, Anthony should flourish in his new role. The six-time NBA forward and future Hall of Famer scored 21 points in 23 minutes on 8 of 13 shots against the Kings. He made his three three-point attempts and had four rebounds and two assists.
Sometimes Anthony looked like an adult schooling children on a playground hoop. No one on the Kings had an answer for him. Really, what will the second units of the opposing teams do against Anthony? He’s too smart, too skillful, too flexible, and has 26,446 experience points to fall back on.
So much so that Anthony’s performance raised a very valid question. Granted, this was just a preseason game, but it’s at least worth speculating that Anthony might find himself chasing the NBA Sixth Man Award this season.
Last week, as he discussed his role for the first time this season, Anthony said he hadn’t given the idea serious thought. He should.
While the type of performance he delivered on Friday won’t be the norm, Anthony will be able to deliver some serious offensive pop with the second unit.
“It will be good to have that offense on the bench,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.
Yes it will. As a former NBA champion, Anthony offers a luxury off the bench that no other team can claim to have.
Anthony’s career average of 23.6 points ranks 24th all-time. There are 18 other active players in the top 100. Of those, only Houston center DeMarcus Cousins (21.3, 40th) should be a reserve for the Rockets. Former MVP Detroit goaltender Derrick Rose is 103rd on the all-time scorecard (18.8) and will come off the bench for the Pistons.
For 16 of his 17 seasons, Anthony got used to hearing his name called during introductions. During his brief stint with Houston in 2018-19, Anthony only started two of 10 games before being released and spending the remainder of the season away from basketball.
It can be difficult for legends to adjust to less important roles later in their careers. The reality, however, is that the Blazers barely made the playoffs last season with Anthony starting 58 of 58 games averaging 15.4 points per game. The Blazers have a roster capable of making some noise in the playoffs, especially if Anthony delivers those same 15 points per game as a save. Anthony’s offensive punch should also prove invaluable late in the game.
Anthony said he was at peace with the situation and wanted to make sure he approached the game the same way he always has.
Anthony added that he thinks he still has some starting skills, but his time on the bench is best for the team.
It’s clearly more valuable for the team at this point to have the defensive prowess of forwards Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. in the starting lineup to balance the scoring powers of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. Dropping Anthony in that starting squad would add more offense while removing much needed defense.
Plus, the reality is that few NBA greats have remained viable starters on teams chasing a championship at age 36. Nevertheless, Anthony can still perform at a high level during stretching. A fresher Anthony with a lighter workload could be a force, especially against lower backing defenders.
The role requires different mental preparation. Anthony said he could no longer get into a game like beginners usually do. Instead, he should now be ready to dive into an already smooth game and find his rhythm.
“It’s a different mentality that I’m going to improve myself with,” he says.
When entering a game, Anthony will usually be at least the second scoring option on the field, given that either Lillard or McCollum would likely be the point guard.
Anthony will come fresh and provide an instant attack, which Stotts said the team would need this season.
“I think that will help with our offense, our rotation and he’s going to have some good games coming up on the bench,” Stotts said.
Anthony clearly still has some adjustments to make. But he is in a good position with a good team who need him to be “Melo” again when called up.
“I think once you accept it,” said Anthony, “it makes it easier to manage. “
More performances like Friday’s could both dampen the blow and bring Anthony’s material to the end of the season.
– Aaron Fentress | [email protected]
| @AaronJFentress(Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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