Well, they did it. After both Chris Paul and James Harden, Houston’s best players, missed multiple early season games, the Rockets have decided to part ways with Carmelo Anthony. They’re basically blaming the team’s “bad” start (they’re currently 6-7, and lost one game by 3 points, so they could very easily be 7-6, and tied with the Spurs) on Anthony. Let’s take a look at the ten games that Carmelo played for Houston and see if we discover whether Houston’s panic over their slow start was justified, and whether Melo is actually to blame.
Game 1, vs. New Orleans, LOSS, 131-112
The first game of the season. All 7 Rockets who played at least 20 minutes had a negative plus-minus, including Carmelo (who didn’t start). Melo went 1 for 5 from three, and 3 of 10 overall. Eric Gordon went 2-9 from three and Gerald Green missed all four of his shots. FOUR Pelicans scored more than 20 points.
Game 2, at the Lakers, WIN, 124-115
Melo has the team’s highest plus-minus, a positive 23, despite shooting 30 FG%, and going 1 for 7 from three (he had 10 rebounds). Eric Gordon was 4 for 13 from the field, 0 for 4 from three.
Game 3, at the Clippers (top 10 defense), LOSS, 115-112
Chris Paul doesn’t play due to suspension. The Rockets only lose by 3. Melo goes 3 for 8, and ties for the team lead in rebounds at 6. Harden goes 4 for 12 from three. If CP3 plays, one imagines the Rockets would have won. Against a top 10 defense on the road.
Game 4, vs. Utah , LOSS, 100-89
CP3 is out again. Melo scores 22 points (on 9 of 17 shooting), second on the team behind Harden’s 29. NONE of Houston’s starters have a positive plus-minus (Melo didn’t start), and Eric Gordon went 1 for 12 from three, and 5 for 21 overall (he had a -18 +/-). Harden and Clint Capela combine for 12 turnovers.
Game 5, vs. the Clippers (top 10 defense), LOSS, 133-113
Houston gets blown out at home. Harden doesn’t play, Melo starts. NONE of Houston’s starters have a positive plus-minus. Melo shoots 6 of 10 from three, and 8 for 18 from the field. He leads Houston scorers with 24 points. CP3 goes 3 for 13 from the field, and Eric Gordon goes 3 for 14 (and, 1 for 6 from three).
Game 6, vs. Portland (top 10 defense), LOSS, 104-85
Harden doesn’t play and Melo starts again. NONE of the Rockets have a positive plus-minus. NONE. Melo has a terrible night and goes 2 for 12 from the field. No one looks good on Houston.
Game 7, at Brooklyn, WIN, 119-111
Harden doesn’t play; Melo doesn’t start. He scores 28 points off the bench on 9 of 12 shooting, and 6 for 9 from three. This is what Houston envisioned when they signed Carmelo in the offseason. Eric Gordon goes 2 for 8 from three, and Gerald Green goes 1 for 5.
Game 8, at Chicago, WIN, 96-88
Harden’s back, Eric Gordon doesn’t play. Melo goes 8 of 14, and has the second most points on the team, 17. Gerald Green goes 0 for 5 from three.
Game 9, at Indiana (top 10 defense), WIN, 98-94
Houston beats a playoff team, on the road. Eric Gordon doesn’t play. CP3 goes 0 for 6 from three. Gary Clark, who Mike D’Antoni suggests could replace Melo in the rotation, goes 1 for 6 from the field. Ditto Gerald Green. Green is 13 of 52 from three so far in the season. Melo has a blah game but still finishes with a positive +/-, unlike James Ennis III, who started.
Game 10, at Oklahoma City (#2 defense in the NBA), LOSS, 98-80
Houston loses to an elite defense on the road (and, Carmelo’s ex-team). Only one Rocket has a positive plus-minus, Marquese Chriss, and he played under 6 minutes. CP3 goes 0 for 4 from three, and Gary Clark goes 1 for 6 from the field AGAIN. He’s now 2 for 12 in his last two games. Melo has a terrible game, shooting 1 for 11 (again, against an elite defense, and maybe one that has his number from playing with him all last season). At this point, only one player on Houston has a positive plus-minus for the year: Isaiah Hartenstein, a 7-footer who’s played in only 102 minutes and has shot a total of only 23 times.
In total, Chris Paul and James Harden combine to miss 5 of Houston’s first 10 games. Their record is 4-6, with 4 of their losses against top 10 defenses in the NBA. Carmelo’s apparent replacement, Gary Clark, has a negative plus-minus on the season, and is shooting under 30% from three, and only 32% from the field. He averages 3 rebounds a game. Pretty elite stuff! Meanwhile, Eric Gordon is ALSO sub-30% from three, and is ALSO shooting 32% from the field. Carmelo ends his Houston tenure with a 40 FG%, and averaging 5+ rebounds per game, and 2+ 3PM per game. These are almost EXACTLY his stats from last season when he played for the Thunder.
Houston then throws Melo under the bus, despite asking him to play off the bench for the first time in his career, playing without the team’s two best players for half of their games, and playing against four of the best defensive teams in the NBA.
Since Melo stopped playing for Houston, they’re 3-1, which (falsely) suggests that it’s all Melo’s fault. However, Jeff Bzdelik returned to the Rockets (he’s their much ballyhooed defensive coach), and it seems like Harden and CP3 have gotten over their early season struggles. Mike D’Antoni, who’s never cared about defense in his career and only had a good defense LAST season because of Bzdelik, shortened his rotation to postseason levels (a troubling habit of his throughout his career). Houston is now looking for more shooting, and hoping to trade or waive Melo, despite him performing better than several of the other Rockets, including Eric Gordon.
Houston’s problem isn’t that Carmelo Anthony can’t play defense; everyone already knew that. It’s that Mike D’Antoni can’t coach it. So, now that CP3 and Harden are back and healthy, and now that their defensive guru Bzdelik has returned, Houston has won 3 of their last 4, and now find themselves at 6-7 and two games out of the 8 seed in the West (currently held by the Sacramento Kings, which is, how you say, TENUOUS). If they had won the game they lost by 3 points, then they’d be 7-6, tied with the Spurs, and one game out of the 8 seed.
Rather than accepting the team’s poor luck in their first ten games, the front office panicked (mainly because of lofty expectations, even though they KNEW they’d be worse on defense), and they’re now jettisoning Melo in the hopes that no one notices that IT’S NOT HIS FAULT so much as it’s bad luck and everyone’s fault. The adage goes, If everyone’s at fault, then no one’s to blame. Apparently, Morey and D’Antoni don’t know this saying. Too bad. Now, they’ll have to spend more assets to acquire other players, while Carmelo can basically pick his landing spot. If he joins the Warriors, you can bet that he’ll get minutes in a postseason series against the Rockets. That is, if Houston even makes the playoffs. Wouldn’t that be ironic? Melo gets a ring while the Rockets get exposed as just another overrated D’Antoni offense, and not much else.
Regardless, this was a panic move, and it reeks of pathetic desperation and people trying to save their own necks by sacrificing someone else. They could’ve given Carmelo another 10 games, and seen what he looks like when Houston has all their best players playing at their usual elite levels. Now, they’ve embarrassed a Hall of Famer, pissed off his friends (who are all over the league), and shown that they cave under pressure (just like Harden and Chris Paul are infamously blamed for in the playoffs).
One thing’s for sure: Carmelo probably could’ve helped the Rockets last season when they were busy missing 27 threes in a row against the Warriors, ultimately losing the series. After all, it’s not like he’s as bad as Gary Clark (currently shooting 30% from three).