Thursday, January 27 2022
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Carmelo Anthony has been held to an impossible standard in the final stage of his career. That’s not figurative. While his defensive shortcomings are well known, pundits have for years argued that he could make up for them offensively by transforming into the mythical “Olympic Melo,” the role player who pops up once every four years to nab a medal alongside the sort of teammates he largely hasn’t had in the NBA. The problem with that plan is that Anthony is being asked to play like a player who doesn’t actually exist. 

While there are some commonalities in his Olympic performances — more 3-pointers, fewer mid-range jumpers and overall shot attempts — Melo’s overall offensive playing style differed meaningfully in each of the four Olympics he participated in. We can write off 2004. Larry Brown largely left Anthony and his fellow youngsters on the bench. But take a look at how he used his possessions in 2008, 2012 and 2016. The differences are stark, according to Synergy Sports.

Play type 2008 2012 2016

Spot-up

46.3%

30%

23.7%

Transition

18.3%

22%

13.4%

Cut

8.5%

7%

6.2%

Isolation

6.1%

13%

21.6%

Putbacks

6.1%

6%

5.2%

Post-ups

4.9%

11%

7.2%

Pick-and-roll ball-handler

2.4%

0%

9.3%

Pick-and-roll screener

2.4%

5%

4.1%

Which “Olympic Melo” are his critics referring to, or would they perhaps like a mix of the three? Ask a dozen basketball thinkers for his ideal shot profile and you’ll get a dozen answers. Sure, Anthony devoted over 46 percent of his possessions to spot-up looks in the 2008 Olympics, but there are those that would remind you that Jae Crowder was above 50 percent last season, and an optimized Anthony should really strive to beat that figure. There are simultaneously jab-step zealots appalled at the notion that a mid-range maestro like Anthony spotted up more than he isolated in the 2016 Games. So what’s the balance? Where should he fall on the true hooper vs. basketball player spectrum? How can any player live up to a fantasy version of himself?

The answer to all of those questions is … whatever Anthony has been doing in his first seven games as a Laker. The 16.7 points per game he is averaging are the most he’s put up since his last All-Star season of 2017. His 64.6 effective field goal percentage isn’t just the best of his career … it would be the best of Stephen Curry‘s career. He alone is responsible for nearly 28 percent of all of the 3-pointers the Lakers have made this season. There’s no sense getting too wrapped up in the raw numbers here. They’re going to regress. No player is good enough to make 52 percent of over six 3-point attempts per game, and if that player existed, he wouldn’t be making the minimum. But the ways in which Anthony is coming by these points is more sustainable, and in the quest for the holy grail of Carmelo that is his Olympic self, it’s as close as we’re ever going to get. Let’s take a look at how he’s using his possessions thus far this year compared to last season in Portland. 

Play type 2021-22 (with Lakers) 2020-21 (with Blazers)

Spot-up

29.9%

23.5%

Transition

15.5%

11.5%

Post-up

11.3%

22.9%

Pick-and-roll ball-handler

8.2%

6%

Off-screen

7.2%

0.8%

Isolation

6.2%

19.6%

Pick-and-roll screener

5.2%

7.4%

Cut

4.1%

0.7%

Last season looked a bit like Anthony’s performance in the 2016 Olympics. He spotted up plenty, but he was afforded significant leeway to create his own shots. That leeway has been curbed significantly with the Lakers … but not extinguished to the degree that it was in the 2008 Olympics. He’s isolating and posting up only when mismatches dictate it. Otherwise? He’s a spot-up threat now. The Lakers have introduced a bit more movement into his shooting than Portland used, and 13 of the 14 shots he’s taken in transition have been 3-pointers. 

Most of the shots he’s taken period are 3-pointers. If analytically friendly shot selection is what distinguishes international Anthony from his domestic counterpart, the 2022 version is fully living up to his Olympic doppelgängers.

Year 3-point attempts Mid-range attempts Field goal attempts Percentage of shots from 3 Percentage of shots from mid-range

2008 Olympics

37

8

64

57.8%

12.5%

2012 Olympics

46

13

86

53.5%

15.1%

2016 Olympics

45

16

84

53.6%

19%

2021 Lakers

46

19

82

56.1%

23.2%

Just as was the case on his way to all three of his gold medals, more than half of Anthony’s shots this season have come from behind the arc. His mid-range percentage looks a tad bloated compared to what he’s done for Team USA, but he’s still taking far fewer low-efficiency shots than his past NBA selves. Even after taking six mid-range jumpers in Sunday’s win over the Houston Rockets, he is still averaging only 2.1 per game. He took 4.7 of them nightly in Portland last season. At his peak in New York, he took 9.9 per game.

Shot selection isn’t the only improvement here, though. Just as importantly, he’s getting his shots up quickly or he isn’t taking them at all. As dominant a scorer as he was at his peak, Anthony’s lengthy one-on-one duels with defenders had the unfortunate side effect of disengaging teammates. That hasn’t been an issue for the Lakers. Anthony is making the fastest decisions of his career, according to NBA.com tracking data.

Season Seconds per touch Dribbles per touch

2021-22 (Lakers)

1.95

0.81

2020-21 (Blazers)

2.88

1.46

2013-14 (Knicks)

3.51

2.35

Even movement data has been friendly to Anthony this season. He’s traveling, on average, 3.97 miles per hour on offense this season. That’s up from 3.87 during the 2013-14 season in New York and 3.75 last season in Portland. The difference is ultimately minimal, but it points to an important trend. The increased speed at which Anthony is doing almost everything offensively has made him a stellar fit for a Lakers offense stuffed to the brim with scorers and ball-handlers. 

Alex Regla at Silver Screen & Roll did a wonderful job highlighting some of the myriad ways that has been true earlier in the season, including the success he’s had as a ghost screener. One play in particular stands out as the embodiment of the season for Anthony. Initially, he tries his hand at an isolation against Kyle Anderson, a strong wing defender that matches up well physically, and he gets nowhere. The old Anthony might have forced a bad shot. Instead, he dumps the ball back to LeBron James, sets a ghost screen, slips into the paint and immediately makes a great short-roll pass that, after a disappointing miss, ultimately leads to two points.

This is the kind of basketball the Lakers want Anthony to play, but more than that, it’s the kind of basketball Anthony’s critics have long wanted him to play. He wisely exploits not only James’ gravity as a scorer, but his own as well, to set up a teammate for the sort of easy look that’s routine on the star-studded rosters that Team USA typically creates. The Lakers have the closest facsimile an NBA team could realistically hope to create now, and plays like this take full advantage. It’s a lightning-quick utilization of both his talent and basketball IQ to create the best possible shot for his team. 

That’s what this season has been for Anthony. Ever since he left New York he’s been held to the standard of a player who didn’t even exist, but through seven games, he’s been so good that he’s somehow managed to exceed it. When you consider both how Anthony is using his possessions and the shots that are coming out of them, the version of him that’s playing in the NBA right now might more closely fit the stereotypical idea of “Olympic Melo” than any of the versions of him that actually took part in the games. He has balanced all of the things fans have waited years to see out of him with just enough of what he’s always done well to create an ideal supporting offensive piece for a championship contender.

Source: CBSSports.com

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