It’s somehow easy to forget now, with the LeBron-to-Los Angeles move headlining a busy offseason and the Warriors seemingly cementing another title months before the season even begins, but the Rockets were very close to disrupting the entire “Golden State can’t be stopped” narrative.
Leading 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets lost Chris Paul to a hamstring injury that kept him out of the remaining two games in Houston. (The Rockets also had the best record in the league, if you forgot that as well. No one would blame you if you had.) And even without one of their two star players, Houston still came very close to taking down the Warriors, leading by 11 at halftime of Game 7 only to go ice cold from beyond the arc (7-44 for the game), losing 101-92.
That’s tough, and it’s interesting to think about how differently we would perceive the league’s overall competitive balance had a few more of those shots fallen, or had Chris Paul been on the floor. But that’s a different thing altogether, because while the Warriors spent the offseason losing no one of note and adding a rehabbing Boogie Cousins, the Rockets spent it keeping most of their team together as well, and it was tempting to imagine the Rockets sticking to their formula and proven roster construction in another effort to take down the juggernaut.
Instead, they’re going to bring Carmelo Anthony, recent buyout recipient and major one-year disappointment in Oklahoma City. Anthony’s reputation and legacy have taken a bit of an unfair hit this offseason, but reasonable minds can agree on the overall success of his career while wondering why the Rockets would want to add him to their team for at least one of their prime-Harden/mostly-prime CP3 championship contention years.
Carmelo Anthony has verbally agreed to sign with the Houston Rockets, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 7, 2018
Because while a player with 2018 Carmelo Anthony skills on the veteran minimum is in theory an addition just about any team can use, the problem is those skills come attached to a player who still thinks he’s 2008 Carmelo Anthony, or at the very least 2015 Carmelo Anthony. But he’s just not that guy anymore. He was worth negative VORP last season, and he clocked in with a pedestrian 12.8 PER and a fairly dreadful .503 true shooting %.
That last stat is a big one, too, because Houston isn’t going away from shooting threes, and Anthony isn’t going to have the ball in his hands like he’s been accustomed to. James Harden and Chris Paul are two of the best creators in the league, and if they’re on the floor, they’re going to have the ball. They’re also not going to be running much through Anthony in the post or high-post, meaning his value is pretty much going to come down to what he can do as a floor-spacing 4 or small-ball 5, roles he’s never embraced before with any degree of enthusiasm.
But if he can’t hit shots it’s not going to matter. Anthony hit just 35% from three last season, playing with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. And while Houston’s system is clearly a better one for shot creation than Oklahoma City’s, Anthony still made just 36% of threes where the closest defender was at least four feet away. That’s an okay number, especially in Houston’s high volume system, but Anthony doesn’t really spend a lot of time stashed in a corner. Last season, he took just 56 threes from the corners combined, and made just 19.
For Anthony to find a role in Houston, he’s going to have to massively change his playing style. Hilariously, Anthony hoisted 460 mid-range shots last season, while the Rockets as a team took just 563. If Anthony’s reputation were that of a willing defender, crafty ball-mover, and a distraction-free veteran leader, sure, bring him on board. That’s essentially what Boris Diaw did for the Spurs for a few years. But Carmelo has never shown a willingness for that, and we don’t need to look past last season to see a team with championship aspirations that would have been better off without Anthony than with him.
The Rockets were likely the best contender to knock off Golden State’s dynasty, and they may have drastically lowered their floor in a misguided effort to slide their ceiling a few inches higher.