“He is not who he once was”

“He is not who he once was”

Full disclosure, I always thought Carmelo Anthony was overrated. Where I come from, not playing defense (especially not giving effort) is a cardinal sin, so you don’t have to ask me how I feel about James Harden. Let me also point out that saying Carmelo is overrated doesn’t mean I’m assuming he is not a good basketball player. Overrated is a comparative, not an absolute.

Conventional wisdom says the Rockets are playing a low-risk game with Melo because of the contract they got him. That is indeed true from a financial aspect. Determining he is not your best option and keeping him on the bench in crunch time when you are paying him the minimum is not a big problem. But team-building isn’t only cap management. It is also ego management and system considerations. If you could get Roy Hibbert on the minimum, would you? It seems the league said no on that one. So, there is more than one significant part of the equation.

The biggest problem with (overrated) superstars is that they develop bad habits. When the superstar part of their game (mid-range jumpers) become obsolete, and it’s time to start hustling on defense, boxing out when playing the four and developing new habits, this is what happens.

Who, me? Yes, you. His game was ready for the sixth man role; his ego wasn’t. On a recent episode of The Jump, Richard Jefferson commented on Carmelo’s recent struggles with the Rockets

I think Carmelo is a very good player, he’s a Hall of Fame player but he is past his prime. He is not who he once was. This team; and there was a lot of people nervous about how he would fit in, and I think he is doing his best, but he is just not that player anymore. He’s good, he should come off the bench. He probably should’ve come off the bench the last two years. Father time is undefeated. Why is he playing like this? He can’t go to the cup, he can’t finish. The one bucket that he made was a goaltend. He doesn’t elevate the same anymore. That makes it tougher for everyone around you.

This was after Melo had a 1 – 11 shooting night against the Thunder, and yes, his only field goal was a goaltend. A rough shooting night happens to everyone, and we shouldn’t jump the gun. What Carmelo would benefit from is changing his game as Vince Carter did. One of the best dunkers we ever had in the game is now a prolific three-point shooter. He accepted the change, and that’s why he is still playing in the NBA at the age of 41.

When all is said and done, I believe Carmelo will be a perfect addition to the Ewing Theory. This is a concept that Bill Simmons developed with a fan named Dave Cirilli. Here is an excerpt from Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball”:

One last Ewing thought: When I was writing for my old website, a reader named Dave Cirilli sent in his elaborate Ewing Theory, which centered around the inexplicable phenomenon that both the Hoyas and Knicks seemed to play better every time Ewing was sitting on the bench. After tinkering with it and finding various examples, Dave emailed me and we honed the language over the next few weeks, eventually deciding that two crucial elements were needed for any situation to qualify for Ewing status: a star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest; and that same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the near future. … A few months later, Ewing tore an Achilles tendon during Game 2 of the ’99 Eastern Finals. The heavily favored Pacers seemed like a mortal lock..only with Ewing himself involved, suddenly this had become the ultimate test of the Ewing theory. Heading into Game 3, Dave was oozing with confidence and predicting in no uncertain terms, “Ewing’s injury is the best thing that ever could have happened to the Knick; they’re definitely making the Finals now.” Incredibly the Knicks won three of the four and advanced to the finals as I was playing up Dave’s Ewing theory prediction on my website!

Every team he played on hoped for great results, but Carmelo was insisting on his style of play invariably limited them in reaching the ultimate goal. Now LeBron has rings, Wade has rings, Bosh has rings, and Melo doesn’t. It’s easy to forget that at the beginning of their careers, debating LeBron and Carmelo wasn’t so uncommon. One decided to play defense and became one of the greatest distributors in the league; the other was shooting elbow jumpers and putting up stats. That is the difference between star and superstar.

What’s left for Melo? Richard Jefferson thinks he should make this season his farewell tour. We all know what Melo would say to that.

photo by Keith Allison