By John Schmeelk
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Basketball Twitter went into a tizzy this week when ESPN continued to publish its NBA Rank feature and Carmelo Anthony wound up at No. 64, dropping from 31 last year.
I won’t get into the methodology because, in the end, it isn’t important, other than noting the only criterion was to rank the player based on which player will be better in 2017-18 with no accounting for salary.
Any list like that is pure clickbait, so taking the time to argue that it is absurd for Anthony to be ranked below Lonzo Ball and others (it is) is a waste of time. Anthony’s placement on the list, however, is informative in the Knicks’ trouble moving him and why Anthony is viewed the way he is.
For a moment, let’s put aside Anthony’s salary and no-trade clause, the two biggest obstacles preventing the Knicks from trading him. Let’s look at Anthony as a basketball player alone and see why he is seen the way he is and why there are still issues in finding a home for him.
Anthony is a leftover from a bygone era of the way basketball was played in the first decade of the 21st century. In the decade of half-court isolations (Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, etc.), Anthony can still do a lot. If you get him the ball 18 feet on the wing, he can still score. His quick-release jump shot is deadly. He can even post up effectively. The problem for Anthony is, for the most part, that isn’t the way the NBA wants to play anymore.
The NBA has turned into a sport where a ball-handling playmaker gets a screen set for him while the other players spread the floor, and that player either creates a shot for himself or someone else. Mike D’Antoni tried to use Anthony that way, but he resisted.
Now, Anthony’s age has crept up enough where that is no longer an option. He doesn’t have the quickness to take players off the dribble consistently or the lift to finish efficiently near the basket. He doesn’t draw fouls enough because he too often throws his body into defenders, initiating contact far too obviously to get the benefit of the doubt from the official.
The deterioration of his athleticism has also made his defense much worse. After playing better a few years back on that end, the regression has been sudden. He doesn’t have the quickness to stay with quicker NBA wings or the ability to rotate and close out on the shooters he often has to guard at small forward. On defense, he is no longer a small forward in any way, shape or form.
That’s why Anthony would be best off playing power forward. He rebounds well enough to play there, and he could get advantageous matchups on offense that would allow him to still use his quickness as a strength. A move to power forward is something else that Anthony, in the past at least, has resisted.
That move would also allow him to fit into a modern-day NBA offense, not as a primary ball handler, but as someone who can catch and shoot. As a spread four, he could be a deadly complementary player who could help a team win a title as a ball screener and shooter. Ironically, this is exactly how Houston (and Portland) would use him. In theory, with fellow stars James Harden and Chris Paul handling the ball, Anthony would be willing to accept that role, much like he did on the Olympic team.
The reason Anthony ranked so low is that we haven’t seen him play that role in the NBA yet. If he gets somewhere and plays that way at power forward, he will move up in the rankings. He will be a better player and help a team win. The problem is getting him somewhere where he can do it.
Sure, he could, like he did for coach Mike Woodson one year, play power forward for the Knicks, but it wouldn’t make sense now given their rebuilding process. It would move either Kristaps Porzingis or Willy Hernangomez to the bench. The Knicks would actually be pretty good if they rolled out a starting lineup of Frank Ntilikina, Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. They would provide a good mix of shooting and defense that, if healthy, could get the Knicks into the playoffs.
Of course, being the eighth seed and getting whacked in the first round by the Cavs or Celtics doesn’t help the Knicks in the future. Nor does it help Anthony. The Knicks want to move him, but a trade to the Rockets doesn’t look like it’s happening. Ryan Anderson is the only movable piece that makes sense for Houston, but no one wants him without unloading a terrible contract of their own. Nothing has changed there.
If Anthony wants to revive his career and be considered better than the 64th-best player in the league, he needs to expand his list of trading partners. A direct trade with Portland is something that’s feasible from the Knicks’ perspective and could come together quickly. He could help Portland a lot and be a good player there.
Anthony can hold his breath and refuse to say anything but “Houston” until he is blue in the face, but it won’t make a trade there any more likely. If he stays with the Knicks, he continues to lose, his reputation gets worse, and he has no chance to win. If he adds Portland or other teams to his list, those things can change.
The ball is in Anthony’s court. He needs to be realistic as to what his choices are and make a decision, or he will continue to be stuck with the Knicks and be disrespected the way he just was by ESPN.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk