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Carmelo Anthony is starting to look more like his old self, for better and for mostly worse

All things considered, the Portland Trail Blazers got about what they should have expected out of Carmelo Anthony on Thursday. Most teams would be ecstatic to sign a veteran free agent to a non-guaranteed minimum deal and get 18 points of production in his second game with the team. 

If anything, Anthony looked eerily similar to his old self at points Thursday. A high point total with low efficiency is par for the Carmelo course. At one point, he even decided to waive C.J. McCollum off of a critical possession at the end of the first half in a move that almost felt like a parody of his peak self. 

Anthony’s final line wound up almost poetic. He finished the game shooting 40 percent from the field by hitting six of his 15 attempts. In classic Carmelo fashion, six of those 15 attempts came from the mid-range. While Olympic ‘Melo’s 3-point shooting has been present so far during his stint with the Blazers (he is now 5-of-8 from behind the arc), he is stylistically trying to be something closer to his former NBA self. 

That is going to be a problem offensively some nights. It will be a problem defensively every night. Portland has been absolutely dreadful on that end of the floor since bringing Carmelo in, allowing 252 total points in two games. While Anthony hasn’t been responsible for all of that, the numbers are ominous. In the two games since he joined the team, the Blazers have given up 124.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. During those same games, opponents are scoring 112.5. Small sample sizes can lie. Tape doesn’t, and Anthony’s effort on that end of the floor has been inconsistent to say the least so far. 

It isn’t just his effort causing these problems, though. Anthony simply can’t move well enough to defend physically anymore. When even Frank Jackson can jet past you, you’re hopeless against the NBA’s best. 

Teams have been aware of Anthony’s limited physical faculties for years. Donovan Mitchell spent an entire playoff series exploiting him over it. Portland had to understand that when they signed Anthony, and must have hoped that his offensive acumen would be enough to offset his deficiencies defensively. So far, it hasn’t. Against the Bucks in particular, Portland had no way of supporting him on that side of the floor. 

With Hassan Whiteside joining Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins on the sidelines, Portland had practically no rim protection. The center minutes were split between Skal Labissierre and Anthony Tolliver. The Bucks scored 64 points in the paint as a result, and while nobody would expect Anthony to serve as a primary rim-protector against Giannis Antetokounmpo, asking him to scurry out to the perimeter to contest Milwaukee’s many shooters without a real center backing him up is a recipe for disaster. 

This was always the danger for Portland in bringing Carmelo on. As flawed as he remains offensively, he clearly still has something to offer on that end of the floor. The only way to truly take advantage of that, though, is to buttress him with as much defense as possible to minimize his impact on that end of the floor. Portland’s depleted roster, devoid of wing defenders even in its healthy state, was one of the worst-equipped teams in basketball to do that. 

That was the inherent flaw in the signing in the first place. For it to work, Portland fundamentally needed Anthony to be something that he isn’t. It isn’t working because so far, Anthony has been what he has always been, and if that continues, Portland’s slide down the standings won’t come to an end any time soon.