Heading into this 2021-2020 NBA season, Carmelo Anthony had to swallow a rather tough pill: coming off the bench.
The 36-year-old, 18-year veteran and 12x All-Star was a bright spot for the Portland Trail Blazers last season and especially in the NBA’s restart down in the Orlando, Florida bubble.
This offseason, Portland made some roster moves bringing in Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr., Enes Kanter and Harry Giles. There just wasn’t a spot in the starting rotation for Melo this season. But the veteran took a mature approach to the subject:
“I’m going to continue to do what I have been doing -- playing basketball and enjoying it,” said Melo at the beginning of this season. “At the same time, if I start thinking about all I have to do with this ‘coming off the bench’ or do this with the second unit, that'll mess it up for myself mentally.
“But with that being said, it's just come in and play ball. It’s no different than if I was a starter coming in playing ball, with my same attitude and my same approach -- and we go from there.”
Where exactly have the Blazers gone from there? Melo as a sixth man option and as Talkin’ Blazers Podcast co-host Channing Frye said on the latest podcast, is feasting on the opposing team’s second unit.
“For me, Melo is really starting to become like ‘Oh I get to eat these little guppies off the bench?’ And they’re starting to go to him. If you’re noticing - I made a big complaint about the one-pass shot or no-pass shot, they are starting to realize when that’s acceptable and when it’s not.”
Melo is averaging 12.1 points and three rebounds per game off the bench so far this season. It’s an immediate offensive boost with Portland’s second unit.
But this wasn’t exactly a smooth transition at first. Some in Rip City grew quickly tired of Melo’s go-to fade away jumper around the paint, possession after possession. Now, 12 games into the season and Portland standing with a 7-5 record, the Trail Blazers’ second unit seems to be running a lot more fluid.
“The Melo ‘Mouse in the House’ mentality where every guy is a guy he should back down, we’re seeing a little less of that when it comes down than being an every possession thing when he’s out there,” said co-host Dan Sheldon on the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast.
“I also wonder, sometimes you look at it where there aren’t any significant bigs coming off the other team’s bench that can feast on a Melo-Kanter defensive pairing. That also becomes a situation where it’s a lot easier for them obviously to hang and have a chance to flourish.”
A bench featuring Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent Jr., Rodney Hood, Anfernee Simons (and either Enes Kanter or Harry Giles, whoever doesn’t replace Jusuf Nurkic in the starting lineup) ain’t too shabby if you ask us.