Carmelo Anthony is officially an early frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year, two years after it appeared that his already-Hall-of-Fame-caliber NBA career was over. As many other Lakers offseason acquisitions have been hurt or struggled to open the 2021-22 season, Melo has been a revelation. He looks right at home as the off-ball stretch-four bench scorer that he resisted becoming for years before embracing the role with the Trail Blazers to revive his career. He’s been as effective as ever while playing it in Los Angeles.
In his first 11 games as a Laker, Melo is averaging 17.6 points per game, his highest since the last time he made an All-Star team, on an absurd (and probably unsustainable) 50% from the field and 52% from three-point range. What seems more sustainable is this: Anthony is currently averaging 8.6 three-point attempts per 36 minutes, which would easily be the highest mark of his career over a full season. He’s planning to keep firing them up when he’s open.
“I’m just taking advantage of it,” Anthony said after he went 7-10 from three and dropped 29 points in the Lakers’ win over the Hornets on Monday. “I’m not thinking about it. Just playing ball, catching and shooting, not giving the defense a chance to get back and close out. It’s just something I have always worked on. People don’t see it, but I’ve always worked on that part of my game. You guys are seeing it more often now.”
Anthony knows what it’s like to draw the majority of defensive attention from an opponent on any given night, but on a team with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, those days are long over for him, and he’s enjoying the open looks that come with that.
“Oh, they’re open,” Anthony said. “The attention that those guys get, it’s just a matter of me getting to the right spot and those guys finding me.”
But if the Lakers are to recover from their rough start and become the championship contenders they expect to be, they’re going to need to keep setting Melo up for success from deep, and they know it.
“We’re getting as many threes as we can get him,” said head coach Frank Vogel. “We’ve always got him spaced in areas where it’s going to be difficult for defense to help, and our guys are always looking for him.”
“He’s a hell of a shooter,” added Russell Westbrook. “Our job is to be able to find him in transition. When guys leave him, it’s our job to find him, and he’s doing a hell of a job of not just making big shots, but making timely shots when we need him to do so.”
The only downside to Melo’s performance this year is that he has struggled on the road, as he is shooting just 10-35 overall and 1-16 from three over 88 minutes in the Lakers’ three road games thus far. Again, it’s a small sample size that will likely even out as the season progresses, but it’s no secret Anthony is enjoying finally playing on the home team at Staples Center.
“I always thought Staples was a good shooters gym,” Anthony said. “Back in the day, I used to think Staples was the best shooting gym. But it’s different when you’re an opponent as opposed to the home team, and now I’m on the other side of that. So you get that energy, you get that momentum, you get the crowd behind you, you get your teammates behind and that’s what we need. That’s the Lakers basketball that we need. To play hard, get the crowd into it. Because we want to make this a tough place to come and play.”
His teammates also know how crucial it is for someone like Melo to get the home crowd fired up when they do play at Staples Center.
“Anytime he shoots the ball I think it’s going in, and he just gives us confidence,” Davis said. ”He gives us momentum. The crowd gets into it, the bench gets into it, and it’s just a different type of feeling when he shoots the ball and it goes in. Especially a three. It gets us hyped, it gets us excited to go on the other end and get a stop and try to find him again.”
Melo’s ability to evolve his game and remain a key part of a team contending for the playoffs is a testament to his skill level as one of the greatest players of his generation. But in order for the Lakers to reach their potential, his fellow all-time greats need to either get healthy (in LeBron’s case) or start playing like the superstars they hopefully still are.
Oh, and one other thing would help.
“We just need him to do the same thing on the road,” Davis said with a laugh.
If Melo can do that, the Lakers will be in even better shape.