By: Jalon Dixon, Columnist
In just two games after debuting for the Portland Trail Blazers, forward Carmelo Anthony is already showing that despite being away from the league for over a year, he still has what it takes to compete at a high level.
The day was Nov. 8, 2018 where a Houston Rockets loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder went from bad to worse for Anthony. After only playing for the Rockets for 10 games, Anthony was cut by the team and forced to stare down his basketball mortality. Soon came months and months of work out videos, outcries on social media by high profile players and fellow draft mates like forward Lebron James and guard Dwayne Wade. Yet, as the days passed, the chatter of a ‘Melo return soon died down and slowly started to come to a silence.
Then the fateful day came. As reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Nov. 15, Anthony agreed to a non-guaranteed deal with the Trail Blazers that would bring him back into the league with the chance to prove himself in what is now his 17th season. When you look at it, the deal actually works well for both parties.
With the departure of front court players like forwards Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless and center Enes Kanter, the Blazers came into this season desperate for bench depth. Although they have an all-star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the Blazers were in need of not only depth, but a third scoring option that could provide consistent points on a night-in, night-out basis.
As much as Portland would love to hand the reins over to their young players like rookie forward Nassir Little or point guard Anfernee Simons, this team is in more of a win now mode that requires veteran leadership across the board. Hence where Anthony comes into play. As a career 24 points per game scorer, Anthony may not be much of a defender, but one thing he can definitely do is score the basketball. Not only can he score, but in his first two games with Portland, Anthony has already shown that he still has that scorer’s mentality.
In his Blazers debut on Nov. 19, Melo did not have as great of ‘welcome back’ game as he would have liked. Shooting 4 of 14 shooting for ten points, four rebounds and had five turnovers in a 115 – 104 loss to the Zion Williamson-less New Orleans Pelicans. Although the stat line was not great, what stands out is the amount of times he shot and his willingness to shoot them rather than playing relatively passive.
Then after shaking a little bit of the rust off, Anthony showed signs of him getting back in rhythm in his second game for the Blazers against the reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Posting a stat line of 18 points, seven rebounds, and four assists with three made three-pointers, Portland fell 137 – 129, but Anthony’s outing shows that he still has what it takes to put the ball in the hole at a high clip.
Although the Trail Blazers currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference, this is still a playoff-caliber roster with championship aspirations. Whether this works for Anthony comes down to his willingness to accept his role on this team. Whether it is him being a catch and shoot three-point specialist in the starting lineup or primary scoring option as a sixth man off the bench, the way Anthony chooses to react to his role will be the difference in how long he will stay on this team and possibly impact how far the Blazers will go this season.