Melo-Mania: Nine Years Later, The Nets Should Consider Carmelo Anthony

Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony
AP Photo — Flashback Sunday

Carmelo Anthony was waived by the Chicago Bulls on Friday afternoon and, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the future Hall of Famer is expected to clear waivers and become a free agent.

And when he does, Brooklyn should consider bringing him in.

Stay with me. Yes, Anthony has had a serious fall from grace — that’s probably an understatement. Since the summer of 2017, Anthony has been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who after one year promptly dumped him. Then, before this season, he signed with the Houston Rockets who said: “thanks, but no thanks,” after just 10 games.

But Melo — 19th in NBA history in points scored and one of the greatest one-on-one scorers ever — averaged 13.4 points in the 10 games this year and could still have something to offer. And for a Nets team that’s in playoff contention for the first time in five years, but is battling through injuries with specific depth issues at forward, Carmelo could become a valuable option. At the very least, it’s worth a shot.

Let’s break it down.

The Need

Two of the Nets’ three best players — Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie — are out with injuries. LeVert is expected back sometime this month, but it’s unclear how he’ll come back from his dislocated ankle. Dinwiddie could be out for another month.

LeVert and Dinwiddie, along with D’Angelo Russell, were the main offensive catalysts for this Nets teams. Each one was adept at running the offense and could also get his own shot at any point.

That’s what the Nets are clearly missing now. Starting mainstays Russell and Joe Harris have performed well all season for the Nets, and the same holds true for their recent play. But in the last five games —  or, ever since Dinwiddie has also been out of the lineup — here is the Nets’ minute leaders and their respective field-goal percentages (not including the centers, Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis).

• Shabazz Napier — 27.0 mpg, 36.1 FG%
• DeMarre Carroll — 26.6 mpg, 38.6 FG%
• Treveon Graham — 24.2 mpg, 26.3 FG%
• Rodion Kurucs — 23.2 mpg, 26.5 FG%
• Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — 22.6 mpg, 43.8 FG%
• Theo Pinson (3 G) — 20.8 mpg, 39.1 FG%

Only one player shooting over 40 percent — plus on the season, RHJ is right at the 40 percent mark and has been remarkably inconsistent game-to-game.

The Nets’ depth is being worn out as players are being forced to take significantly higher roles and it’s absolutely leading to those poor field goal percentages. You can look at usage rate (measurement of how many possessions a player is using — if that possession ended with player X either shooting the ball, turning the ball over or getting to the line) as the evidence.

Russell’s usage rate over the last five games is up to 31.1 percent, which would be fourth in the league behind only James Harden, Joel Embiid and Devin Booker (and right ahead of LeBron James). Last year, in a very successful campaign for Portland as a bench piece, Napier had a usage percentage of 19. Today, the backup point has ballooned to 29.1 — a notch below what Stephen Curry has at 29.2 for the Warriors — and well above what he’s accustomed to. Hollis-Jefferson is up to 21.5. Dinwiddie, before he went down, was at 24.0

Guys who play minimal roles and find shots within the flow of the offense are being asked to create the offense themselves. The Nets have shot a putrid 41.2 percent over the last five games. 

The eye-test these last few games reveals the holes, too. When Russell sits, Brooklyn’s has very few options when it comes to shot creating and it’s why they’ve played very ugly basketball. And even the good moments get overblown. Against Orlando on Saturday, Shabazz Napier hit three three-pointers at the end of the second quarter, in what seemed like a sign of life for the Nets’ reserves. Of course, he ended the game 3-of-9 from deep.

It’s unclear exactly when LeVert will come back and how effective he’ll be coming off a tough dislocated ankle injury. What is clear, though, is that without him and Dinwiddie, the Nets desperately need another scoring piece.

The Fit

At 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, Melo has a very similar build to Carroll and the currently injured Jared Dudley. He could play either forward position on both ends of the court. In fact, if the Nets keep running the 2-3 zone on defense, there isn’t any tangible difference between the small forward and power forward spots on defense other than which side they play.

Anthony’s numbers each of the last two years haven’t been great — just 40 percent from the field — although, as shown above, it would actually be a bit better than most of the Nets’ bench, recently. But he’s said a few times that he didn’t feel like the Thunder’s style of play was the best fit for him (it’s chronicled really well in this Tim Keown ESPN piece on Anthony from a year ago). And he never really got off the ground this year.

Two years ago, in the 2016-17 with the Knicks, Anthony knocked down nearly 45 percent of his elbow midrange jumpers.

I probably lost you here, but stay with me. I know — it’s an analytics game and every team has to play the same way and if you’re not getting open 3s or layups, you’re taking the wrong shots. I’ve heard it. Russell, who was just named as the first Nets’ All-Star since Joe Johnson in 2014, has done a lot of damage this year with specifically with that same midrange shot. In that Dec. 7 win against the Toronto Raptors, which started this 20-7 run that propelled the Nets into the playoffs, Russell scored 16 of his 29 points from midrange. It shouldn’t be the focal point of the offense. But it shouldn’t be ignored, either, particularly for a team that’s offensively starved.

Anthony can still bully smaller wings in the post, just like he does to Joe Ingles a few times in this video starting at the 3:53 mark:

The Nets’ forward play has been lackluster, too. Hollis-Jefferson hasn’t looked right all year and has had a slew of different injuries that have kept him out. Brooklyn played Dudley a solid 20 minutes per game before he injured his hamstring, with no apparent timetable for return. Carmelo Anthony could slide into the role that Dudley played, except as a more reliable weapon on offense.

If the second unit’s offense is stalling, as it has several times this past week, possessions could be siphoned off to Anthony attacking mismatches in the post. If defenses collapse on him, it just means there’s an open shooter somewhere for Brooklyn to find.

Anthony can’t run an offense like Russell, Dinwiddie, or LeVert can, that’s obvious. But his entire NBA career has been predicated on being able to take, and make, shots — something that, outside of Napier, none of the Nets’ reserves even look comfortable doing. Right now, Brooklyn doesn’t have a single player, other than Russell, that can really win a one-on-one matchup and, against switchier teams with long wings, that could be an issue.

The Scenario

A few things need to go right for Anthony to come to Brooklyn. Namely, he’d have to be ready to accept a position coming off the bench. He’d need to also buy into the Brooklyn culture, which the players continuously rave about.

About that, the big-time elephant in the room: The supposed reputation that Anthony as a bad presence is a little overblown and unfair. After Houston sent him away on Nov. 16, the Rockets went 2-3 in their next five games, including three straight losses to non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference (Pistons, Cavaliers, Wizards). It’s taken a historical run from Harden to keep Houston afloat, so blaming Melo for the early-season struggles isn’t totally honest.

Anthony has strong ties to New York City and would likely want to play for a playoff team. If he wants to go to a team with better championship odds, Brooklyn might not be the place, but none of the contenders really seem like a fit. Unless, of course, you count the Lakers and longtime pal LeBron James, but it’s been reported that they’d need to open up a roster spot via trade to bring Anthony on board. Depending on how this Anthony Davis situation shakes out, the Lakers may prefer their roster as is — which would leave Carmelo searching again.

For Brooklyn, it would only make sense to sign Anthony to the rest of this season, as to not clog up money for the summer. Also, making the playoffs this season is important for Brooklyn, even if their championship odds are low. It’s a sign of affirmation for the fans, the players on the team and the entire league, that the Nets’ rebuild has gone right so far.

Beyond all that, head coach Kenny Atkinson has a proven track record of getting these type forgotten assets back on track — why not take on his biggest project yet?

With a slew of injuries, the Nets need another bench scorer to help them maintain this spot in the playoffs and Carmelo Anthony just might be the one.