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Carmelo Anthony makes sense in Memphis

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Kind of. Like Memphis itself, it’s imperfect. But it’d be fun!

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

If you clicked on this article, one of the following three statements is likely true-

  1. You want to see how this disaster of an idea is argued for.
  2. You have a morbid curiosity about how this could actually work even though it probably won’t happen.
  3. You are La La Anthony and are concerned that this may actually happen and you may have to visit Memphis at some point despite the fact you and Carmelo Anthony are no longer together.

Regardless of which category you fall in (hi La La, big fan), you surely got a little bit of a twinge of thought when you saw the report from Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young about Carmelo Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder reaching a buy-out this summer. The Thunder will save over $100 million in doing this, so it makes total sense for them, and it makes Melo a free agent sooner rather than later more likely than not via the stretch provision, a buy-out, or a combination of the two.

Surely visions of the Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, and L.A. Lakers are dancing through Carmelo Anthony’s head. As well they should be - playoff and/or NBA Finals contenders are fun to play for, and those cities (especially L.A. and Miami) fit the “Melo” brand...or at least the public perception of it.

Before it all goes down, though, I ask that Carmelo consider the following truths-

  • In all three options listed above, he will not be a main focus of what goes on. Miami has Dwyane Wade and other quality players that play a part in Erik Spoelstra’s system. L.A. has LeBron James and his new cast of characters, and the Rockets have Chris Paul and James Harden to carry the offensive load.
  • He also likely would not have the role he’d be looking for. Carmelo had his worst offensive season in a decade plus in Oklahoma City alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George. It would be more of the same in the areas above, even in Miami with the Heat. Melo cannot be Melo - at least the way he wants to be - in these places.
  • Anthony is not what he once was as a player, and that idea will limit him in terms of how realistic his goals are moving forward. Carmelo can still be a very good scorer and that type of offensive weapon has value, to be sure. But the arrival of Anthony in any of the three cities mentioned is probably not enough to put those respective squads over the top in terms of beating the Golden State Warriors.

Anthony needs a place where he can be free to be himself - a cold-blodded offensive weapon. He needs to go somewhere where he will be appreciated, where his skill set - while depleted - would still hold significant value for a team trying to still compete in a crowded playoff field. He needs a place where even in his diminished state he would be accepted, and after some strong showings even loved.

Know any place like that?

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Carmelo Anthony should absolutely come to the Memphis Grizzlies once he leaves the Thunder.

Here is why.

Memphis needs buckets and minutes

The Grizzlies desperately need scoring. The return of “Grit and Grind” is all well and good to try and get behind, but at some point someone is going to have to score the rock. Even in a season that would not be considered “good” by Melo standards, per-36 minutes he would’ve been the Grizzlies’ third leading scorer among players that logged at least 1,500 minutes played behind Tyreke Evans and Marc Gasol. And he is within .2 points of Marc for 2nd.

That is in a place and system where Carmelo was fighting for scraps offensively after Russell Westbrook and Paul George got theirs, where Anthony posted a career low usage rate, even lower than his rookie season. This past campaign was the first time in Anthony’s career that he played 2,500 minutes or more and attempted fewer than 1,200 shots. That’s impressive, considering he appeared in 78 games, which would’ve had him 2nd on the Grizzlies behind Dillon Brooks. His historical willingness to attack offensively combined with his durability even at 33 years old would be welcome for the $7 million-ish that the Grizzlies can offer him.

The Grizzlies need a scoring four, in particular

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Carmelo Anthony started his career in the NBA as a small forward, and he could “in theory” go back to that role. But in OKC, since Paul George was in town and more nimble on the perimeter, Anthony spent 90% of his time as a power forward, or “4”, and 10% as a “5”, or center according to basketball-reference.com. It’s not like this helped his rebounding (he grabbed his 8th most rebounds in his career at 453 total boards) or defensive rating (109, his third worst in any season he played at least 65 games in).

But he is familiar with life as a “stretch four”, and this is a spot where Memphis could use scoring. Assuming Marc Gasol/JaMychal Green/Jaren Jackson Jr. are your top bigs, there figures to at least be some minutes available for Melo. Yes, Chandler Parsons still exists, and yes Memphis has Ivan Rabb and Jarell Martin as young talents at that spot as well. But you cannot make any decisions assuming that Parsons will be able to play consistently moving forward, and while both Martin and Rabb showed flashes of offensive firepower they are nowhere near the threat that Anthony is on that end of the floor.

Perhaps a 50-50 split between small forward and power forward would be the best compromise of role and ideal fit between the Grizzlies and Carmelo. If so, Anthony could show that he can flip between either forward spot even at this stage of his career and Memphis would gain some versatile scoring that could fit in a variety of lineup combinations.

Carmelo, and Memphis, need to matter

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Carmelo Anthony has fallen pretty far in just two years time. From one of the NBA’s best scorers to a hooded sweatshirt punchline, Anthony is not what he once was by any stretch of the imagination. He is about to get paid to not play for a team, and was essentially forced out of New York once it became clear he did not fit the future of the Knicks. Between his professional life and personal life, it has been rough for Melo.

The same can be said for the Memphis Grizzlies. After a 22-60 season, the most exciting things the Grizzlies have done are draft Jaren Jackson Jr. (that is pretty exciting, in fairness) and agree to sign Omri Casspi in free agency. They brought back J.B. Bickerstaff without an official coaching search, had their owner come on the team’s media branch and say they should win 50 games, and then sleepwalked through free agency while Mario Hezonja shunned them.

Hard times, indeed. Except for JJJ, he’s going to be great.

Point being, Melo needs a place that will be excited to have him and Memphis needs something to be excited about beyond their draft pick. You have money tied up in Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Chandler Parsons anyway - what harm does a 1 or 2 year near full MLE offer do to you in the long run? It won’t hurt the development of Jackson (a big) or Dillon Brooks (can play either wing position), it doesn’t crush you financially, and if anything it brings folks back in to the camp of “hey, they’ll at least be fun to watch”.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be genuinely excited to watch a team and not have to talk yourself in to MarShon Brooks and Jarell Martin minutes being “exciting”? This imperfect union would do just that - Melo would once again be a focal point, and the Grizzlies would have a formerly great, still decent, scorer to help them maximize a season or two before the bottom fully falls out.


These two sides need each other. It is nowhere near a perfect fit, both for personal and basketball reasons, but it makes more sense that you may realize. Carmelo, while used to a smaller market after Oklahoma City, still sees himself as a bright and shining star in the NBA universe while his game suggests he’s a starter on a mediocre team at best. His assist numbers last season were atrocious (6.5% assist percentage), and he would have to be a bit more of a facilitator in Bickerstaff’s unselfish system for this to work.

Would he be willing to up that side of his game some to be somewhere where he could still be “Melo”, the star? History says yes - his lowest assist percentage in New York was 14.1%, not great but certainly better than a single digit.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies continue to strive for something around mediocrity, hoping with a little luck and health they can compete to be a playoff team in the loaded Western Conference. Memphis lacks a third star, a void left behind by Chandler Parsons’ knees. Anthony’s addition, while flawed, would allow for Marc Gasol to be more of a facilitator and creator for others in his own right and would enable Mike Conley to be a co-scoring option instead of “the” scoring option.

For all of Melo’s issues and warts, putting his numbers on last year’s Grizzlies team would have had him at 2nd in three point field goal percentage, 5th in win shares per 48 minutes, and tied for 5th in PER. That’s in arguably the worst season of his NBA career. Considering all other options on the table - Wayne Ellington, Rodney Hood, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham, doing nothing - and the fact that the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and L.A. Lakers have already essentially locked up the top three-ish seeds in the west, what do you have to lose?

You’re capped out the next two seasons anyway...why stress over the fit? May as well Melo out a little bit.

Stats provided by basketball-reference.com.

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