Carmelo Anthony proved that his wholly dispiriting start with the Portland Trail Blazers isn’t necessarily a harbinger of what’s to come over the season’s remainder. After failing to make more than 40 percent of his shots in his first three games with Portland, Anthony last week looked far more like the player who masses couldn’t believe was out of a job for a full calendar year.
Helping the Blazers to a perfect 3-0 record, he averaged 22.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 57.4 percent overall and 45.5 percent from three-point range. He was ultimately named Western Conference Player of the Week for his efforts.
But that honor says more about the public’s told-you-so reaction to Anthony’s recent success than it does his actual performance. What it indicates most, though, is one of the main reasons it took so long for the future Hall-of-Famer to find another job after a full year away from the NBA.
Anthony, just to reiterate, played very well last week. His individual numbers speak for themselves, and Portland outscored opponents by a team-high 56 points with him on the floor. It’s that combination that Anthony proved consistently unable to conjure during his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, leaving him sidelined since November 2018 until the Blazers called last month.
But the notion that he was the best or most valuable player in the Western Conference last week is ridiculous nonetheless.
James Harden, for instance, dropped 60 points against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday and had 34 points in a victory over the 12-5 Miami Heat three days prior.
Luka Doncic averaged 30.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per game while leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 2-1 record, including a convincing road win over the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard put together an objectively better Player of the Week resumé than Anthony, too. But the league cares about narrative, and honoring one of basketball’s best players yet again wouldn’t warrant attention the way honoring Anthony has.
Of course, it’s that very dynamic which contributed to Anthony being out of the league for a year.
He’s hardly the only aging superstar who’s been asked to re-adjust his expectations and the role that comes with them. But unlike contemporaries Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade, and Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony resisted calls to change before being released by the Rockets even as his game was obviously fading.
Portland really is the perfect fit for Anthony. It needed a forward who could help alleviate pressure on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum after a rash of early-season injuries and boasts perhaps the most envied locker-room culture in the NBA. There’s a reason why the Blazers were the only team willing to end Anthony’s hiatus.
But his undeserved Player of the Week award also speaks to the double-edged sword of Anthony’s fame and status as an all-time great. His presence could still prove a bigger off-court distraction than on-court benefit to Portland long-term, and it’s unclear how he’ll react when inevitably reverting back to a normal level of play. Anthony certainly won’t be one of the league’s most efficient, high-usage scorers for the season’s duration.
His return was already a good story of persistence and his standout play last week one of redemption. It should have been enough. But the NBA, hurting for ratings, deemed it prudent to wildly overstate Anthony’s effectiveness anyway, a reminder of why he was sidelined for so long in the first place.