Carmelo Anthony is an easy scapegoat, but Rockets have bigger issues
The Houston Rockets were always the likely destination for Carmelo Anthony once it was clear his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder was over. The Rockets wanted him the previous offseason, but no trade could be worked out. He ended up in Oklahoma City, which did not go well, as the team had an early exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Utah Jazz. With the Thunder not wanting him back this season, he ended up getting traded to the Atlanta Hawks, who promptly waived him. From there, he ended up in Houston on a veteran’s minimum contract. He finally got to where he wanted to go with good pal Chris Paul, so things should have been all good for Melo, right?
Well, the Rockets are out to a poor 5-7 start, and the rough ride out of the gate has everyone questioning Melo’s addition to the team. He moved to the bench to start this season to appease the team and fill a role, but it hasn’t been going well. There is now a strong indication that Melo has played his last game as a Rocket, despite just 10 games played with the franchise. Much of the blame has been heaped upon the future Hall of Famer, but while he’s an easy scapegoat, he’s far from the only one to blame for Houston’s woes.
Thanks to myriad injuries and a Paul suspension, the Rockets haven’t had much time to build chemistry together after an offseason featuring a good amount of turnover. CP3 missed games due to a suspension from the Rajon Rondo fight, and he’s also dealing with a nagging elbow injury. Harden missed games due to a hamstring issue. Other key rotation players have missed time. It’s hard to build chemistry and find a rhythm when players are in and out of the lineup.
Along with Paul and Harden not having time with Melo on the floor together to mesh, both stars have not been the same guys they were last season. Harden seemed like a man on a mission last season, averaging 30.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds en route to his first MVP award.
This season, Harden has taken a step back so far instead of surging forward with the success of last season. He’s averaging less points and assists and is averaging more turnovers this season. His overall shooting efficiency is slightly down as well. This isn’t the Harden they need to make noise in the Western Conference.
As far as Paul, he also hasn’t been the same player we’re accustomed to seeing. Last season, he averaged 18.6 points, 7.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds as he helped lead the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals. This season, Paul is putting up 17.3 points per game, which would be his lowest scoring average since the 2012-2013 season. He also is averaging more turnovers with the same amount of assists while also shooting 40.5 percent from the field (down from 46 percent last season) and 33.9 percent from the 3-point line (down from 38 percent last season). Paul and Harden are the leaders of this team, and they need to be held accountable for the Rockets’ struggles.
Eric Gordon is another player who has contributed to the problems. Gordon has typically been huge for Houston since coming over in 2016, primarily off the bench, but this season has been a disaster. Gordon is shooting 32.2 percent overall (down from 42.8 percent last season) and 23.1 percent from 3-point land (down from 35.9 percent last season). His recent injuries may be playing a role in this downturn, but these are especially putrid numbers deserving of scrutiny.
So, while Anthony has struggled offensively outside of brief flashes, he’s not the only one to do so. Houston’s best scorers have all suffered through some serious slumps, leading to a major step back offensively after a historic offensive season in 2017-18. That’s not just on Melo.
Defense is a whole different conversation, and everybody knew what the Rockets were getting in Anthony on that end. Melo has never been a particularly good defender, and that’s especially the case now that he’s nearing the end of his career. Still, while Anthony has contributed to Houston’s defensive struggles, there are other issues at play here.
Two players who helped the Rockets defensively were Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Both were rugged defenders who made things happen on the perimeter defensively, along with P.J. Tucker. The team added Anthony in the offseason but didn’t effectively replace Ariza or Mbah a Moute. James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams haven’t panned out, and it has been undrafted rookie Gary Clark needing to step up on that end. Unfortunately, Clark is a limited player.
Maybe the return of defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik will help the Rockets get better on that end of the court, but missing those two perimeter defenders has hurt them mightily this season.
The Rockets currently have issues on both ends of the floor, and getting rid of Carmelo Anthony isn’t automatically going to solve them. The team needs to look in the mirror and realize that everybody has to step up and play better, otherwise, Melo or not, Houston is in for a disappointing campaign after coming a win shy of the NBA Finals last season.
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