The third time turned out to be the charm for Carmelo Anthony and the Houston Rockets.
After striking out on him in free agency four years ago and missing out on an opportunity to acquire him in a trade last offseason, the Rockets have signed the 10-time All-Star to a one-year, $2.4 million deal.
OFFICIAL: #Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced today that the team has signed free agent forward @carmeloanthony.- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) August 13, 2018
📝 » https://t.co/xaiWjZG8Wl pic.twitter.com/qnZqRGZ8Uc
Unfortunately for the Rockets, Anthony comes to Houston following the worst season of his NBA career. He agreed to a trade with the Thunder last offseason in the hopes he could help Russell Westbrook and Paul George turn Oklahoma City into a title contender but struggled as the third option all season long. Not only did he average a career-low 16.2 points per game on 40.4 percent shooting from the field during the regular season, the Utah Jazz ran him off the court in the first round of the playoffs.
Anthony should have been perfect for the Thunder. He's long been a respectable 3-point shooter, and he's more than capable of creating his own shot in isolation and in the post. The combination would've helped him play off of Westbrook and George as a stretch four and take some of the playmaking burden off of their shoulders as a tertiary ball handler, a role he thrived in when he shared the floor with the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant on Team USA.
Instead, Anthony couldn't establish a rhythm in Oklahoma City. His efficiency in 1-on-1 situations dropped to around league average, and he went from averaging 1.23 points per spot-up possession (93.8 percentile) in his final season with the Knicks to 1.02 points per spot-up possession (59.3 percentile) in his lone season with the Thunder. He may have been more efficient going up against second units, and yet Anthony wasn't receptive to the idea of coming off the bench.
|Season||Catch-and-Shoot 3PT%||Isolation Points Per Possession||Post-Up Points Per Possession|
That doesn't bode particularly well for the Rockets on the surface. Harden (36.2 percent) had a higher usage rating than Westbrook (33.2 percent) last season, and Paul's (24.8 percent) was almost identical to George's (25.4 percent). Since Mike D'Antoni likes to have one of the two All-Stars on the court at all times, the offense will rarely - if ever - run directly through Anthony.
The difference with the Rockets is they are a team built around two of the best playmakers in the league, not two shoot-first players in Westbrook and George. Houston also has far more shooters than Oklahoma City. Sharing the floor with Paul, Harden, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and PJ Tucker instead of Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Jerami Grant, Corey Brewer and Patrick Patterson will give him much more space to work with when he receives the ball in isolation against slower-footed big men.
Anthony's experience in isolation could come in handy if Harden and/or Paul miss time with injuries in the playoffs, as was the case in their Western Conference Finals series against the Golden State Warriors. The New York native is only a year removed from scoring 5.2 points per game in isolation, the fourth-highest mark in the league, doing so as efficiently as Harden and LeBron James.
Where Anthony's fit becomes undeniably complicated is on the other side of the floor.
The sixth-best defense in the league last season, the Rockets will almost certainly take a step back defensively by replacing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute - two versatile defenders who helped transform Houston's defense - with Anthony, regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench. If it's not as noticeable in the regular season, it will likely become a factor when they have to go up against Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James in the playoffs.
Ironically, the Rockets were one of the teams to attack Anthony repeatedly on defense last season knowing he didn't have the lateral quickness to keep Harden and Paul in front of him. The Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers will look to do the same by targeting him in pick-and-rolls and forcing him to defend their elite scorers on an island until D'Antoni takes him off the court.
Anthony's shortcomings on defense explain why the Thunder were 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the bench during the regular season and 11.5 points 100 possessions better in the playoffs.
That doesn't make the 34-year-old unplayable in today's NBA. It simply puts more pressure on him to be a consistent difference-maker on offense. How Anthony performed last season certainly leaves room for pessimism, but the Rockets are banking on Harden and Paul - former teammates of his on Team USA - being able to do what Westbrook and George couldn't in Oklahoma City.
Getting Anthony following the worst season of his career might even work in Houston's favor, because the former scoring champion has a lot to prove in one year if he has hopes of extending his NBA career.
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