Recent stretch shows Carmelo Anthony could be Portland’s X-Factor as he climbs NBA all-time scoring ranks


Always a prolific scorer, Melo still has something to give in Portland.Image: Getty ImagesWho doesn’t love nostalgia?Carmelo Anthony’s fourth quarter last night was arguably the most ‘Vintage Melo’ we’ve seen since his joining the Portland Trail Blazers in November 2019. While it was a season-high 24-point showing in a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, and Anthony’s had seven higher point totals in Portland — including one in last year’s playoffs — last night’s fourth quarter offered a throwback to the takeover Melo that New York and Denver folks grew fond of at his peak.When you simply watched the bounce at which Anthony springs off, the fluidity in finding the desired spots to attack opposing defenders, it felt like watching a standard Melo highlight reel circa 2012-13 during his scoring championship season with the 54-win Knicks. But outside of a recent 1-for-8 showing five days ago, it’s what Anthony’s shown during his highs in an otherwise inconsistent 18th NBA season. The 36-year-old future Hall of Famer recently passed Oscar Robertson for 12th on the all-time scoring list, and is trailing Hakeem Olajuwon by only 200 points, a number he should amass by April, barring any setbacks. In all likelihood, Anthony — who is 663 points behind Moses Malone’s ninth spot, should crack the top 10 if he plays a 19th season. It’s easy to view the surface level metrics, the mid-range sweet spots, and the lack of defensive upside, and deem that the Brooklyn-born swingman has no place in this NBA — and prior to February 2, you might’ve had a convincing argument. But especially on a depleted roster, there is indeed still a place for Anthony in this league. Yes, he’s shooting 39 percent from the floor this season, which was 36 percent before his recent five-game stretch, and sure, the rebounding is numerically the worst of his career both per game and per 36, but positive Melo outbursts have been conducive to the Blazers’ success as of late. In his last five games, Anthony has scored 21, 22, 2, 23, and 24 points, in that order. Portland has won four of those previous five, and you could guess which one they lost. Anthony’s netted 18 or more points on seven occasions this season, and Portland’s gone 6-1 during that stretch, all of which were performances of at least 43 percent shooting from the field. This season, the team is 14-10, remaining above water despite brutal injuries to C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkić, and Zach Collins. Last season, when Portland finished 35-39 and barely obtained the Western Conference’s eighth seed, in 18 games where Melo — a full-time starter — dropped at least 20 points, the Blazers went 12-6.The consistency of these high-scoring Vintage Melo outputs is what you seek if you’re the Blazers, though. Melo hasn’t quite been an Immanuel Quickley-like Kingda Ka roller coaster, but he had been mostly down prior to this month, where he’s now on his best five-game stretch of the season. Even with that two-point performance, he’s still averaging 18.4 points on 47.8 percent shooting from the field and 54.2 percent from three during this stretch.G/O Media may get a commissionThe career-low rebounding is concerning, but it’s not his primary agenda for being there. His offensive rating is 106, which is bottom half on the team, but his personal best since 2016-17, his last go-round with the Knicks. The 115 defensive rating is tied for a career-low set last season, but it’s tied for the fifth-best on this defensively-challenged roster, where the worst D-ratings are held by Rodney Hood, Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, and Gary Trent Jr. Most advanced metrics aren’t favorable to Anthony this season, where he generally ranks in the bottom half of the team in most categories, like box plus-minus, value over replacement player, true shooting percentage, and rebound percentage, the latter of which is actually 0.1 lower than Simons, a 6-foot-3 combo guard averaging just over two boards per contest. The major room for improvement for Anthony is the 2-point shooting, which is in a much better place today than it was before 10 days ago. On two’s, Melo’s at a team-low 39.4 percent (unless you count Keljin Blevins’s 16.7 percent, but he’s logged 38 minutes all season). The key to Anthony turning this around and becoming a more consistent threat for the Blazers to ride along with Lillard (and eventually McCollum) offensively this season are the twos in his usual sweet spot between 16 and 24 feet, a frowned-upon shot in today’s NBA, but one Anthony’s executed as well as anyone over the past 20 years.The two-point shooting percentages for Anthony are as follows: 47.1 from 3-feet and in, 42.3 percent between 3-and-10 feet, 40 percent between 10-and-16 feet, and just 35.1 percent between 16 feet and three-point-range. Just last season, Melo’s percentages from these same spots were 53.0, 47.6, 41.9, and 38.0. It’s critical Melo converts his 2s, especially from 10-feet out, because his usage rate of 22.6 trails only Lillard (31.3) and McCollum (28.4), who has missed 10 games and counting. But perhaps what would be most helpful is converting more long 2s into 3s, where he is 39 percent on over four attempts per game. Whatever it is, Anthony’s proven he could still be the team’s X-Factor, they’ll just need him to do it more consistently, which we’re starting to see. .

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Kentucky and Duke haven’t sucked this bad since Watergate… literally


John Calipari and Kentucky are just 6-12 so far this season.Illustration: Getty ImagesIt’s no secret that the blue bloods of college basketball have been worse this year than an Amy Schumer stand-up special.Traditional powerhouse teams that have relied heavily on young talents like Kentucky and Duke are struggling worse than a communications student in a Calculus III class. The current conditions of the pandemic and the slow vaccine rollout have made everyday life even more difficult for these younger athletes.Plus, they just haven’t been able to play that well.Things haven’t been this bad for both the Wildcats and Blue Devils at the same time since 1974, when Richard Nixon’s presidency was on the brink and the Jackson 5 were making music for Motown.It’s been a very wacky season for everyone this year, but the struggles of these two universities are noteworthy not only because of the rarity of these teams being hot garbage but because of how both of these programs have been structured in recent memory. G/O Media may get a commissionUsually, both of these institutions send their fair share of one-and-done prospects to the NBA draft following the season, yet neither of these teams seem to have prospects that can currently make a difference on an NBA roster. And with the programs bringing in top four/five-star talent next season, it’ll set up an interesting situation for both John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski.This season will likely be an anomaly for both these programs but when you haven’t looked this terrible since before the Rumble in the Jungle, we can’t let you off the hook.Duke and Kentucky will need to get it together to avoid their first losing seasons since 1994-95 and 1988-89 respectively. .

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O, say, can you see Mark Cuban’s point? No one even noticed lack of national anthem, so let it go


Mark Cuban gave fans two minutes back and no one noticed.Image: APSomehow it escaped most everyone’s attention for 13 home games that the Dallas Mavericks weren’t playing the national anthem before any of them, which pretty much tells you how important the tradition actually was in the first place. The Mavs hadn’t been allowing fans into the arena until Monday’s game, so there wasn’t really much point in playing it anyway. And seeing as how no one really noticed, Cuban has decided to eschew the practice altogether.The initial fear, and really the only one, is that scrapping the anthem from before games is an easy out. To avoid the controversy of players kneeling or not, fans’ reaction to it or non-reactions to it, is to simply remove the point of conflict. And maybe that’s to be considered, as Rob Parker wrote back in June. But there are plenty of other ways, and plenty of more meaningful ones, to protest and get your message out. The anthem before every game has always felt jingoistic and overdone. We’re the only country that does it. You’ll see it before big events, like Cup finals in soccer in other countries or games that involve actual national teams. And there it makes sense, either as celebration or a symbol of the actual participants. But before every game? Why? They don’t play it before movies, or plays, or concerts. Those are all public gatherings. There are times when it serves a purpose, and perhaps on the 4th of July and some other days, as well as the beginning of championship series or games, it could be played, but other than that, what would we really be losing? We shouldn’t have to stand and wait around for two minutes to prove love of country. And if you do, then the relationship with country is probably pretty fractured. Both individual and nation will survive without it. The fact that it took six weeks before anyone noticed in Dallas pretty much tells you that. This country has always confused shouting “patriotism” with actual patriotism. The playing of the anthem before every game was and is just a show, essentially an empty gesture now. We can move on and find other ways to define who we are. G/O Media may get a commissionOn the actual floor last night, the hottest team on the planet continued their supernova act as the Utah Jazz got their 16th win in 17 games with a 122-108 win over the Celtics.The Jazz do what they do, going Smash TV in their shooting without a conscience from beyond the arc, hurling up 48 attempts and making 18, which is below their usual average of 41%. Donovan Mitchell went for 36 while Joe Ingles chipped in 24. The Jazz opened it up in the third when they dropped 42 points, and though the C’s got within six at one point in the fourth, the gap was just a little too much, especially on a night when Jayson Tatum was something of a wayward 7-for-20 from the field. The win kept the Jazz atop the West standings, and they did it without Mike Conley (though the Celtics were without Marcus Smart), They’ll see the Bucks, Sixers, Clippers (twice), and Lakers in the next seven. They’ll be the show to watch over the next little while. The real winner though, was Mike Conley’s look on the sidelines.I once joked to an ex who complained about my habit of wearing hoodies all the time that if it came to it, and the occasion called for it, I could produce a dress hoodie. I didn’t think there actually would be one. That thing can go from the club to a pajama party to a red carpet to the gym. Simply in awe. More shenanigans from the NBA, as here’s Jimmy Butler going the full Rivaldo 2002: .

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Kyle Lowry’s potential trade destinations if/when Raptors decide it’s ‘time to move on’


Image: Getty ImagesLowry, the Philadelphia native, the Villanova alum, returns home. The Sixers are currently first in the Eastern Conference with a 17-7 record in the Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey era, but no one NBA team has a stranglehold on this oddity of a season thus far. Joel Embiid has looked like an MVP frontrunner, Tobias Harris should command All-Star consideration at the absolute minimum, and Ben Simmons, for better or worse, still looks like the same guy he was as a rookie. While the team’s playmaking could improve, Simmons is averaging his usual 8.0 assists per game, but as great as Embiid has been, working with Lowry would decrease his offensive workload, give the Sixers someone who could create a shot in the game’s final two minutes, and give the roster a leader it needs. What people forget about the Embiid and Simmons pairing is that they were at their best in 2018-19 when Jimmy Butler was present to carry the load. You could see the semifinal stats against the Raptors that season for yourselves. Lowry could have a similar impact, and it appears that Embiid may be ready to shoulder the responsibility, but a true point guard (who is willing to shoot from the outside) would help. It will matter come playoff time, and Lowry is a proven champion. Regarding an actual deal, the Sixers have several expirings, most notably Danny Green’s $15.4 million. They have several young pieces, led by Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey, and Shake Milton, who are all making less than $3 million each this season, and they have most of their first-round picks going forward, which were discussed in the Harden deal before he went to Brooklyn. They also have Ben Simmons at nearly $30 million, and he’s maxed out through 2025. Again, just saying. .

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The Derrick Rose trade could work for Knicks, but only if Immanuel Quickley is allowed to grow


Derrick Rose is headed for New York… for the second time.Image: APDerrick Rose is back in his second home. The New York Knicks re-acquired the former MVP in a deal over the weekend with the Detroit Pistons, confirmed on Monday morning. The Knicks sent a 2021 second-round pick and enigmatic 2017 top-10 draft choice, Dennis Smith Jr., to Detroit.It’s a return to NYC that nobody really asked for, but one Knicks fans shouldn’t be mad at unless the team decides to keep Elfrid Payton beyond the March 25 trade deadline. The deal reunites Rose with the head coach he’s had the most success with in Tom Thibodeau, and gives the Knicks a top-six-or-seven rotation piece at the minimal cost of a non-rotation player and a second-round draft choice. Rose is also in the final season of a two-year deal worth $15 million total. Quietly, Rose has played his best basketball post-ACL tear since initially joining the Knicks prior to the 2016-17 season. In the last five years, Rose has averaged 16.6 points and 4.3 assists while shooting over 47 percent from the floor, and that includes a bizarre stint with Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as a nine-game cup of coffee with the Minnesota Timberwolves that same 17-18 season, when he appeared to be at the end of the line before a resurgence the following year. (Should be noted that Rose did average over 14 points, shot nearly 51 percent from the field and 70 percent from three in five playoff games with Minnesota that season, though, in his only taste of playoff basketball without the Chicago Bulls.)In 2018-19, Rose produced the highest offensive rating of his career, 114 per 100 possessions. Last season with the Detroit Pistons, his 109 O-rating was the fourth-highest of his career, and his 25.1 points per-36 minutes were a personal best, one whole point higher than his 2010-11 MVP campaign. In both the last two seasons, Rose finished in the top-seven of Sixth Man of the Year voting, successfully reinventing his basketball career as a scoring lead guard with above league average playmaking abilities. This season, Rose is good for 14.2 points and 4.2 assists in just under 23 minutes per game, though he only shot 43 percent from the field, but give him a break, he was a Detroit Piston. Per-36 minutes, Rose’s averages sit at 22.4 points and 6.6 assists. For reference: This is slightly up from his 20.3 points and 6.4 assists per-36 during his seven-season Bulls tenure. (No, he’s not a better player now, necessarily.) G/O Media may get a commissionThe Knicks indisputably got the best player in the deal, but if Payton remains on the team, and or the acquisition of Rose stunts rookie Immanuel Quickley’s growth, what’s the ultimate benefit? At 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game, while logging the fourth-most minutes on his team (28.5), Payton’s statistically one of the NBA’s least productive starting point guards, and would be better served coming off the bench for a contender instead of standing in Quickley’s way. Quickley is averaging 12.0 points and 2.7 assists while logging only 18.9 minutes per contest. He’s also shooting 36.3 percent from three, and providing more hope for Knick fans than fellow Kentucky-alum Kevin Knox ever has. Quickley’s minutes have been as consistent as his shooting, but if the Knicks are ever going to conclude their seemingly multiple decades long rebuild, developing young talent is the essential method. Quickley doesn’t need 30 minutes per night, but he should hover around at least 20-25 for the bulk of his rookie campaign, unless he Swanton Bombs into a rookie wall. And Austin Rivers has been exactly who Austin Rivers has been throughout his career, which isn’t to say that it’s bad; it’s to say that Quickley’s development should supersede a nightly 8-2-2 in 23 minutes. IQ already has eight games of 16 or more points, including four of 23-plus. Play Rose, play Quickley; play Rose with Quickley, but clear the way by dealing Payton (and perhaps other stuff to acquire draft capital or a player to help your playoff push) elsewhere. .

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