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Lakers Season in Review: Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony had a great start to the season that slowly transitioned to a poor second half. His age may have been a reason for that, so with the 37-year-old set to enter free agency again, should the Lakers consider bringing him back?

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Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to our annual Lakers season in review series, where we’ll be taking a look back at every player on the team’s roster this season, evaluating their play, and deciding if they should be a part of the organization’s future. Today, we take a closer look at Carmelo Anthony.

How did he play?

Early on in the season, Carmelo Anthony seemed to be providing the same type of high returns on low investments that Malik Monk was giving the Lakers. Both players came to the team on veteran’s minimum contracts, with both propping up a Lakers’ offense that was getting little contributions from a struggling Russell Westbrook out of the gate.

Anthony’s 3-point shooting ability was the core of those contributions, as he shot 42% on 6.6 attempts per game in October and November. This included a blistering 24-46 in the seven games of the opening month, with five of those games coming at home. This started a trend of Anthony thriving with the Staples Center crowd, quickly transforming Carmelo’s first substitution off the bench into a near-daily standing ovation as the fans got ready for some net-scorching shooting from the 19-year veteran.

The use of “Staples Center” was not a mistake, as Anthony’s shooting was far better when the building was named that than what it transitioned to “Crypto.com Arena.”

The All-Star break came two months after the building’s name change, with Anthony’s shooting splits looking night and day before and following that break. He made 39.2% of his 3-pointers before the All-Star weekend, while only converting 32.7% of them following it.

Of course, there are much more credible (but less whimsical) reasons for Anthony’s declining 3-point shooting percentages than the different name on the building’s marquee. His age is the most reasonable factor, as the 37-year-old probably lost some juice in his legs as the season went on. It also didn’t help that he received a slight uptick in minutes per game this season (26.0) compared to his 2020-21 campaign with the Trail Blazers (24.5). While that may seem like a small difference, in principle, it’s probably not a good idea to give any sort of minutes increase in 2022 to a guy drafted in 2003.

The injuries mixed with the front office’s poor roster construction can be blamed for this, as Anthony was almost always either the only wing available or the only one good enough to even stay on the floor (other than LeBron James).

A mid-December injury to Anthony Davis further compounded the issue of height and length on the roster, causing Anthony to play back-up center to LeBron at times. That increased defensive demand probably made his legs even more tired.

Who knows what Carmelo Anthony’s season could have looked like if he was able to play a normal role. Either way, his statistics still looked pretty good at the end of it all, as even with the second-half slump as he averaged 13.3 points per game on 44.1% field-goal shooting (highest since 2014-15 season) and 37.5% 3-point shooting.

Without his amazing first half, the Lakers would have dropped a few of their too-closely-contested games against bottom-of-the-barrel opponents, which would have eliminated the Lakers from play-in contention far before they officially were.

That’s not something that anyone will remember as a defining moment of Anthony’s long and iconic career when it’s all said and done, but it is a positive sub-chapter nonetheless when you compare some of his early-season efforts to that of the Lakers’ three superstars.

As sad of a positive as that is, it’s still a legitimate plaudit for Anthony’s resume, even if it was an indictment of the roster construction that the team needed him to play so far above any reasonable expectations at age 37 just to have a shot.

What is his contract situation moving forward?

Carmelo Anthony signed a one-year, veteran minimum contract with the Lakers for the 2021-22 season. He will be a free agent this summer entering the 20th season of his career. In his exit interview, Anthony gave no indication that he is considering retirement.

Should he be back?

Well, it depends.

Given the roster turnover over the past couple of seasons that has (at least in part) led to the Lakers’ demise, you’d be right to say that the team should try and retain as many useful parts of this year’s terrible roster to build some continuity leading into the 2022-23 season. Carmelo Anthony is definitely one of the more “useful” players from this past year, ranking fifth in plus-minus per game among players who finished the season with the team.

However, it all comes down to how the roster is constructed this offseason. If it’s a group allows Anthony to have a decreased role off the bench with little need from him on the defensive end, then sure, bring him back. The team still needs shooting around LeBron James and Anthony Davis moving forward.

But if the probable trade of Russell Westbrook and the other signings of the 2022 offseason lead to the team needing the same type of role Anthony had this season, the Lakers may be better suited bringing in someone younger, as we all saw the negative impact that the cumulative age of the 2021-22 roster had on the results this year.

If shooting is addressed via that Westbrook trade as well as other moves, then the decision to not pursue Anthony should be even easier for the team, as he’s still a detriment to the defensive side, ranking in the fifth (!!!) percentile in B-Ball Index’s D-LEBRON metric. In other words, his overall defensive impact was worse than 95% of the NBA, including that of Coby White, D’Angelo Russell, and Donovan Mitchell.

But hell, the turmoil of the year may have caused Anthony to not even want to return. His possible refusal to even entertain another contract with the Lakers would represent another sad sub-chapter to this already depressing book of a season, but it could also serve as a blessing in disguise to the team, saving them from another fateful move around the margins that could further hurt the 2022-23 roster.

Because even though it would be fun to have Carmelo around again for some more of his patented “three-to-the-dome” celebrations as well as his expletive-filled defensive rebounds, the team might be better off using Anthony’s roster spot on someone who fills a few more needs.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.