Not that long ago, Carmelo Anthony looked like he was on his way out. This wasn’t just a fan critique — the man himself felt ready to move on. But as things tend to go with Melo, a subversion of expectations was just around the corner. He had nothing to give during his stint with the Rockets.
Having shared a draft class with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, his career didn’t quite meet expectations fully, even if the Hall of Fame is a strong possibility. This year looked like it’d be the end for him. Then the pandemic arrived, and Melo used it as a chance to change himself.
Many fans were ready to write off the aging Melo for good
Melo came into the NBA from an incredibly strong draft class, and the Nuggets saw him at his best. Yet it’s with the Knicks and their rabid fan base, that he made his greatest impression. Even if he wasn’t quite the superstar they needed, he was the one they had to give them hope during a difficult (and ongoing) era of the franchise.
Forget the narratives; look at the stats. Basketball-Reference tells a stark story about his individual performance. The 10-time All-Star entered 2020 averaging 24 point, 6.5 rebounds, and three assists per game. His reputation for selfish play seems more like an attitude assessment in this light. Clearly, Anthony usually came out playing to win with his team.
In recent years, however, his approach became far less useful. During his 10-game Rockets run. he was visibly heavier, plagued by minor injuries, and seemingly unable to show his star power. His best bet was to elevate the moribund Golden State Warriors during a season where nearly all of their key is sidelined. Then the Portland TrailBlazers decided they had an idea of how to put Melo to work.
Why Carmelo Anthony slimmed down in quarantine
Anthony has come in many forms over the years. As he tried to find his place in the NBA, he gained and lost weight, he changed his approach to the game. The Ringer once broke him down as three distinct players in one package, capable of switching from one to the next each season.
The last version of Melo we saw before the bubble NBA was The Ringer’s “Regular Melo.” He held the ball too long, tried to make plays against hopeless defenses, worked in the post often. That’s nothing like what many fans, like this Forbes author, insist Anthony should be doing on the court. They want him to shoot.
Consider a Basketball Reference stat left out of the previous section: 44.9% shooting from the field. Melo knows this as well as anyone else. With the Rockets, a team that spent months figuring out what to do with Russell Westbrook, he had no chance. The game is run through James Harden there. But with the Blazers, where Damian Lillard has long needed support off the bench? It shouldn’t have been quite so surprising that there was an NBA squad with an idea for using Anthony.
Has Melo’s new conditioning plan paid off on the court?
Melo found himself with time to prepare for his return due to the hiatus while the NBA readied the bubble. Without even a hint from the press, Anthony emerged in the bubble looking different — almost unrecognizable, according to Yahoo Sports. Yet again, the most criticized superstar seemed poised to blow past expectations.
Anthony told the New York Post a new diet and conditioning routine, which he didn’t describe, explains his transformation. His new “intense” diet and exercise plan helped him drop five pounds. Melo looks like he lost far more weight than that due to the muscle he gained. He has a lithe look to his stride that hasn’t been seen since the early days of his career.
It came down to the Blazers informing him on how they planned to use him. “Once coach [Terry Stotts] told me the position, that I’d be switching back to the 3,” Melo said, “I kind of challenged myself to get down to that weight where I feel comfortable with playing the 3.” He didn’t need the weight to muscle his way into the post; he needed to step back and hit shots from the field.
It wasn’t all hype. He’s a major reason why the Blazers emerged as a major threat. Melo is exactly the late-game support piece Lillard needs in order to get actual wins. Blazer’s Edge reports that his 56% shooting in catch-and-shoot situations, especially toward the end of games, is directly responsible for sealing off victories. Whatever version of Melo this is, he’s the one the NBA obviously needs.