The Houston Rockets knew the risks when they signed Carmelo Anthony. The team was worried about how Anthony would fit in with coach Mike D’Antoni and there were obvious risks about asking a 34-year-old to completely change his style on offense.
Those two things wound up not being a big deal to the Rockets. Instead, it was Anthony’s inability to adjust to the team’s defensive scheme that doomed his time in Houston, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes.
During training camp in Louisiana, though, another issue arises, one that some Rockets officials say they hadn't fully grasped until they saw Melo on the court: The 34-year-old is struggling in the team's defensive scheme, one that requires players to switch often on pick-and-roll action. (According to Second Spectrum data, the Rockets switched on 44% of screens last season, by far the highest in the NBA. The Warriors were second at 33%. No other team was above 25%.)
That Anthony was a subpar defender wasn't breaking news to anyone, but then the NBA's style of play changed — in a big way.
The emergence of the three pointer put more pressure on Anthony’s defense. And while the Rockets knew that would be a concern, they weren’t prepared for how bad Anthony would look in their system.
Other teams noticed Anthony’s defensive struggles as well, and started targeting him during games. That strategy started when Anthony was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It got worse after he joined the Rockets. Things were so bad that one Rockets source told Holmes the team wouldn’t have considered signing Anthony if they knew how poorly he would adjust to their defensive scheme.
Those issues led to the Rockets parting ways with Anthony after just 10 games. Now, the 35-year-old Anthony is desperately hoping to latch on with another team.
While plenty of players have come out in support of Anthony, it is more than just defense that’s preventing Anthony from joining another team. There’s a perception that Anthony doesn’t play well with others.
Those concerns aren’t exactly unfounded, according to Holmes. When Anthony was with the New York Knicks, he reportedly was too stubborn to switch positions.
Anthony, several members of those Knicks say now, had always envisioned himself as a small forward; he'd stubbornly preferred to play that position, even though members of the coaching staff and front office say they had long viewed him as a stretch power forward who could space the court with his shooting. But Knicks insiders say that ownership — namely Jim Dolan — wanted Anthony to play the small forward position while A'mare Stoudemire played power forward. This frustrated some members of the coaching staff, who viewed it as driven only by Dolan's desire to have star power on the court, according to sources on those Knicks teams.
An A’mare Stoudemire injury in 2012-13 forced Anthony to play power forward, and the Knicks thrived with that alignment. The team reverted back to being bad when Anthony went back to small forward the following season.
From the sound of it, that’s less of a concern now. Anthony accepted a smaller role with the Rockets. He didn’t flourish in that role, but he didn’t complain about it, either.
Given how long he’s had to wait for another opportunity, Anthony knows he’ll have to sacrifice a few things in order to get back into the league. His defense remains a question, but Anthony’s stubbornness may be less of an issue now.
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