Salman Ali: How the Rockets can make Carmelo Anthony better

Can the Rockets make Carmelo better? Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

It's no secret that the Houston Rockets have been after 10-time All Star Carmelo Anthony for a very long time. Houston met with Anthony in July of 2014 and made a strong run at him last summer when he was became available via trade. Even going back to when he originally demanded to be traded from the Nuggets, the Rockets made their interest level known.

They have always been fond of Anthony, and for the most part, their interest has been warranted.

This is a different Carmelo Anthony, however. His athleticism is diminishing, he posted career lows in scoring and efficiency last season for Oklahoma City, and at 34 years old, he may be a bigger defensive liability now than he's been at any point in his career. It's very clear that he's just not the same level of player. There is a reason Oklahoma City chose to move on from him.

Nonetheless Houston remains firm in their pursuit of Anthony once he is bought out or more likely, waived by the Atlanta Hawks. It goes without saying that Anthony is still a very skilled basketball player, but the impact just hasn’t been felt on the court for a few years now. Carmelo is a good shooter, he can handle the ball, he can create his own shot, his footwork is good, he has historically rebounded well for his position, and he can attack closeouts. The Rockets see these redeemable qualities in him and feel they can maximize them towards positive impact in their organization.

Houston isn't scared off by what happened to Anthony in Oklahoma City.

"People look at how a player has worked in another team's system on offense and they assume that that's how he's going to work in every other system." Daryl Morey said on The Herd with Colin Cowherd earlier this month, alluding to Anthony without saying his name specifically.

Morey talked about how players generally play better under Mike D'Antoni's system, citing Gerald Green as a prime example. And the truth is, he's right. There are ways that the Rockets can make Carmelo Anthony a better basketball player, and in turn, making Anthony a net positive addition.

Shot selection

The biggest and most immediate area the Rockets can aid in improving Carmelo's game would be his shot selection. The Rockets have improved the shot selection of players every single year to make them the most efficient versions of themselves. Let’s take a look at Gerald Green, since that’s who Morey cited as an example in his interview.



This is Gerald Green’s shot chart from Boston. Green shot 33.3% from mid range that season and yet 23.4% of his shots were from the midrange area, per NBA.com/stats. While the Celtics are certainly a very smart basketball team, they never maximized Green’s effectiveness by taking away these shots.

He also needed to be taking more 3-pointers as Green was a career 36% 3-PT shooter and in Boston he was only taking 2.4 threes per game (only 50% of his FGAs). As you can see by the chart, he was extremely comfortable with above the break threes (60 FGAs) and shot them at a high percentage (41.7%). This was a weapon that the Celtics clearly underutilized.

That all changed when Green got to Houston, however.

As you can see, not only did the volume of 3-pointers increase exponentially, he nearly stopped taking midrange jumpers entirely. Gerald Green went from shooting 2.4 threes a game (50% of his FGAs) to 7.4 threes a game (72% of his FGAs). The Rockets also reduced his percentage of midrange shots from 23.4% to 9.4%.

Playing for a coach like Mike D’Antoni, who encourages his players to shoot 3-pointers when they’re open and/or comfortable, also helped Green immensely. Under D’Antoni’s system of free flowing offense, Green’s percentage of above the break 3s skyrocketed from 32.1% to 65.1%. He also maintained good efficiency on those shots (38.3%).

It’s worth noting that Gerald Green’s true shooting percentage improved from 52.4% to 56.6%.

In Houston’s system, you are encouraged to take the shots you are most comfortable with and Gerald clearly was comfortable taking 3-pointers at a high clip. With a coach like Mike D’Antoni and installing Daryl Morey’s philosophy of limiting the inefficiency of midrange jumpers, players usually see a cleanup in their shot selection. So it is not unrealistic to assume the same will happen with Carmelo Anthony in Houston.

You don’t have to view a shot chart to know that Carmelo Anthony takes a ton of midrange jumpers. In fact, Anthony takes the fifth most midrange jumpers in the entire NBA, per NBA.com/stats. They took up 39.3% of his total field goal attempts last season and he only hit them at an ironic rate of 39.3%. That’s only good for 0.786 points per possession.

Now historically Anthony’s actually been a pretty OK midrange shooter, always hovering around the low-to-mid-40s in percentage. However, he’s never been good enough to justify him taking as many as he does. There’s only a select group of players good enough to shoot them (Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, etc…) and Anthony unfortunately falls just short of that class. The Rockets will almost assuredly limit his midrange attempts because of this alone.

Anthony, much like Green, is also taking too few 3-pointers for the quality of shooter he is. As you can see from the shot chart, Anthony is very comfortable shooting above the break, trailer 3s and shoots them at a decent clip (34.8%). However, his true strength lies in that right corner three and he shoots them at an elite clip (41.2%). When you look at shot charts throughout the rest of his career, this remains a trend. It’s truly been an underutilized weapon for him and he didn’t shoot nearly enough of them last year with the Thunder.


Anthony only took 3.2% of his shots from the right corner compared to 34.4% of his field goal attempts being above the break threes and 40.2% being mid range jumpers. While the Rockets like to have a trailer like Ryan Anderson shoot threes above the break in transition, they also love having their shooters slotted in the corners for easy catch and shoot opportunities. If Anthony were to take more shots from these corner areas (particularly the right one), he could see a notable spike in his 3-point percentage.

Open catch and shoot opportunities

Carmelo Anthony spent a great deal of his time trying to create his own shot in Oklahoma City. These usually resulted on low efficiency shots and wasted possessions. There is now an incredible amount of data throughout Anthony’s career that supports the conclusion that he is a much better catch and shoot player than he is at creating his own looks.

Amount of dribbles

Carmelo Anthony's 3-PT Percentage

0 dribbles


1 dribble


2 dribbles


3-6 dribbles


7+ dribbles


(stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats)

Notice how Anthony’s 3-PT percentage dips with every dribble he takes. In Houston, there won’t be a need for his ball handling services considering the Rockets have very capable playmakers in Chris Paul and James Harden already present.

Anthony also shot a staggering 41.9% on wide open threes last season. In Houston, Chris Paul and James Harden generate a ton of these kinds of looks even against the best defenses. One of the two will penetrate, either in transition or in a half court pick and roll situation, and kick out to shooters constantly in the corner where Mike D’Antoni likes to place them.

Take for instance, someone like P.J. Tucker. Last season, Tucker constantly benefited from the looks Chris Paul and James Harden were able to generate for him. While he’s not the most prolific three point shooter, Tucker feasted on corner threes in the regular season (37.1%) and playoffs (46.7%) out of catch and shoot opportunities.

Here’s an example of Tucker getting a wide open 3 in the Western Conference Finals in transition against the Golden State Warriors.

Mike D’Antoni also likes to use his bigs as a trailer to shoot above the break threes (possibly Carmelo Anthony 's favorite shot, after midrange jumpers).

Here’s an example of Houston using Ryan Anderson as that trailer for an above the break 3.

Anthony will theoretically get looks like this all the time in Houston because of the amount of attention Chris Paul and James Harden draw.

So as you can see, there’s a way Carmelo Anthony can benefit from this soon-to-be-marriage with the Rockets. He just has to be willing to adapt his game to the philosophies of the organization and carve out a new role for himself that can still be very productive in this league. The tools will be at his disposal and the pathway to a successful partnership between the Rockets and Anthony is present.


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Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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