Carmelo Anthony’s road to the Lakers this summer was a long, winding one littered with free agency meetings, trade discussions and an overlying sense of inevitability. No longer is he the superstar forward the Lakers chased a half-decade ago, nor is he the disgruntled player in his prime looking to force his way out of a franchise. But he still has value, which led to the Lakers agreeing to a deal with him early in free agency before officially announcing the signing on Friday.
Carmelo Anthony is officially a Laker pic.twitter.com/fBj3WHZuta— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) August 7, 2021
Anthony has been unapologetically himself throughout his entire career. It’s led to him both being a star during playoff runs with multiple franchises, but also to him being left at home without a team as an analytically-driven league passed him by.
But Anthony revitalized his career in Portland, showing a willingness to both adapt to a smaller role and adjust his game to a more modern style. In his career before joining Portland, 27.8% of Anthony’s field goal attempts were between 16 feet and the 3-point line — long twos — while just 19.3% of his field goals were 3-pointers.
Over two years and 127 games with the Blazers, those percentages flipped drastically as long twos accounted for just 19% of his field goals while 35.3% of his shots were 3-pointers. His focus on threes led to improvements in his overall 3-point percentage, going from 34.7% pre-Portland to 39.9% with the Blazers, and his corner 3-point percentage, which improved from 35% to 49.1% on nearly double the volume.
Anthony also showed a willingness to accept a smaller role alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. His usage rate dropped to 22.1%, well below the 30.8% career mark before joining the Blazers, and he spent the near entirety of the 2020-21 season coming off the bench.
Decrease the long twos and minutes played, increase the 3-point volume and percentage and the result is something close to the “Olympic Melo” that fans and teams long hoped Anthony would develop into.
But the Lakers will present a different test for Anthony. The Blazers were a competitive team, but not one with realistic title aspirations. This Lakers team is. It’s the first time in Anthony’s career he’s earnestly had a chance to win a title — other than maybe the 2009 Nuggets — and it’s an opportunity he likely won’t have again.
Whereas the Blazers could and would tolerate stretches of Anthony trying to relive his glory days with multiple possessions of forced midrange jumpers and no defense to atone for the errors, the Lakers, led by Frank Vogel, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, will not have the same tolerance or patience, particularly when it comes to winning time in the postseason.
All of it means that Anthony will once again have to sacrifice. He will be called upon to play defense, an area where he’s known for taking the easier out of gambling (and often missing) vs. the tougher road of staying focused and rotating. Realistically, the Lakers won’t expect high-level defense from the 37-year-old veteran, but a baseline will need to be met if Anthony expects to play a role on the team.
Montrezl Harrell saw last year what happens when a Laker can only make an impact on one end of the floor, barely even getting on the court in the playoffs. The Lakers may have added more firepower on offense, but they still have an identity built on the defensive end, and are unlikely to completely budge from that being the case. Even if their overall ranking slips a bit due to the limitations of some of their new players, everyone on the roster will still be held accountable for what they can do.
That means Anthony will have to continue making sacrifices. Winning basketball comes with lots of them. He showed a willingness to change for the better in Portland, which is reason to be optimistic, but more will have to come if he wants his best, and likely last, chance at a title to not slip away.