Carmelo Anthony may be thinking: ‘Where did all of my shots go?’
He shouldn’t be surprised. Despite being his team’s primary offensive option for his entire basketball career, the trade in the offseason that teamed him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George in Oklahoma City now has him third in line for every shot.
Carmelo may (or may not) also be thinking: ‘How can I change my game to make this work?’
The answer may be all too simple: Not at all.
Instead of adjusting how he plays, Carmelo can instead adjust when he plays. In doing so, he’ll find all the shots he desires in the one place he’ll likely never want to look: the bench.
By changing the context of his minutes, Anthony can be allowed and even encouraged to shoot and score as much as possible while on the court.
Ask Jamal Crawford. He’ll tell you life off the bench can be pretty sweet.
Carmelo—and in fact every veteran NBA scorer—should look no further than the journeyman guard for a way to get everything they want even as their place on the NBA’s power rankings plummets.
One question Jamal Crawford has never had to ask for is more shots.
Crawford has made a career of being a second-team leading scorer. He comes in off the bench and is always on the floor to shoot the ball. If he’s not shooting to score, then he’s not doing his job.
Nothing if not an elite scorer, Crawford has thrived by being unleashed on the opponent’s second team and by being the undeniable first option on his own. It is rare for a scorer with Crawford or Carmelo’s capacity to be utilized off the bench, and having such sure buckets checking in with the second team is a luxury.
Crawford has long operated as an anomaly, and in doing so has won a record three NBA Sixth Man of the Year Awards.
And while Crawford has taken on this role from early on, it may the perfect hat for an aging scorer like Carmelo to wear, now.
So why is a move to the bench so unlikely? Why does Carmelo have to start, when it could be better for the Thunder and Anthony to join the second team?
The first factor is empirical. While this move may be best for Anthony if he played in a vacuum, with him playing on the Oklahoma City Thunder the reality is that there’s no room for it. A look at the candidates on the OKC roster to replace Anthony in the starting lineup results in one question: With who?
A second factor is emotional, admittedly, but that doesn’t make it insignificant.
Carmelo has started every game he’s participated in since entering the NBA fifteen years ago, and probably every game he ever played in before that. It is easy to be a fan, or a media member, and to watch and say that the best thing for Carmelo is to relegate himself to the bench.
But it will likely prove much harder for Anthony to stand aside while the ceremonies he’s been featured in 82 times for 15-plus seasons–1,120 to be exact–are performed with 10 players who aren’t him.
Carmelo & Crawford’s offensive bent may be similar, but it is also true that these circumstances differ substantially. As stated before, Crawford found his role early on, after failing to find success as a starter. Carmelo sustained himself among the NBA’s elite for most of his career, and is being asked to re-evaluate only now in his 16th season.
This pill may just be too large to swallow.
But if he can get it down, he would see the conversation change. Analysis of how Carmelo Anthony is hurting OKC could change to analysis of what he’s adding.
He’s spent his whole career facing criticism of his defense and effort, and has spent all season hearing questions about why he’s only scoring 17 points per game.
Someone tell Carmelo. I know a place where 17 points/game will never be only 17 points/game and where 17 points will be enough to silence any talk about defense.
I know a place, and its the OKC bench.