In a span of three minutes, Carmelo Anthony showed what has made him one of the greatest scorers in league history…and what made him desirable to the Lakers this summer.
Whether it was a jumper drifting to his right, exploiting a mismatch in the post or knocking down a mid-range fadeaway, Anthony showcased a scoring ability the Lakers haven’t had outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis in recent seasons and one that will prove to be valuable this season.
“We brought him here for a reason,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s attacking the right match-ups. He’s going to have the green light. He’s going to help us in that regard, too. Obviously, he’ll be a floor-spacer as well when the ball’s in Russ and LeBron’s hands, a lot. That’s what we love about Melo is he’s got that versatility.”
The Lakers ultimately dropped two 0-2 this preseason with a 117-105 loss in Phoenix on Wednesday as James and Russell Westbrook watched from the bench for a second consecutive game. And in the grand scheme of things, Anthony going 4-of-10 for eight points in 17 minutes won’t make the ticker at the bottom of ESPN on Thursday.
But Anthony’s skill set is one the Lakers haven’t had in the James-Davis era outside of the big two. Never has a player existed alongside James and Davis that did not heavily rely upon them to score in some form or fashion. In his debut alongside Anthony Davis in the frontcourt in the starting lineup, Anthony showed an ability to create his own shot — particularly in the post where he has been so proficient during his career — an option that will prove to be handy throughout the upcoming year.
“He looked well,” Vogel said. “He didn’t have space to work in the post because we didn’t space properly. We haven’t done a lot of post offense in our training camp. We’ve kind of opened things up and played for movement more this year. So, when he did get the ball down low, he didn’t have the proper space. We’ll clean that up. But I thought he moved well.”
Anthony did not play in the Lakers’ loss against the Nets on Sunday with Wednesday being his debut. As will be the case throughout the preseason and into the regular season, Wednesday was a feeling-out process for Anthony, particularly alongside Davis as the pair learn how to complement one another.
“I think there’s a lot of positive with that,” Anthony said of playing alongside Davis. “It’s different playing against him and scouting against him as opposed to being on the court with him. Getting a feel for where he likes the ball at, a sense of how we can play together. A lot of times on the court, we’re very interchangeable in our positions. It’s just a feel for the game, something we have to get used to.”
If the Lakers are committed to going small with Davis at center this season, something that very much remains up in the air, Anthony’s playing time could directly increase. Once one of the league’s best small forwards, Anthony’s game has shifted with the modern era as he has become a viable floor-spacing forward in the latter stages of his career.
For a Lakers team that will have a premium on spacing with James and Westbrook sharing the floor for large chunks this season — and in the wake of the Trevor Ariza injury news on Wednesday night — Anthony will be a valuable commodity to this team.
“It felt good,” Davis said of playing alongside Anthony. “But me and him, working together trying to figure out why we do on both ends of the floor, a little hesitation from both of us. We’ve never played with each other before so we’re trying to figure that out. But we’re constantly talking to each other. We’ve got the bench talking to us. The more we communicate what we want to do, the easier it’ll be as the season progresses.”
The Lakers are certainly aware that they must improve following another frustrating performance in many facets on Wednesday. But the preseason remains about the process and the veteran Lakers, who have yet to see James make his season debut and Westbrook his Lakers debut, aren’t rushing things.
Anthony, as much as any Laker, is consistently preaching patience for the Lakers in that regard.
“At this point in the season, it’s about figuring it out and getting the kinks out and trying to get everybody back on the court at one time,” Anthony said. “So, different lineups, different style of play with the personnel that’s out there. We’re just getting through it, man. It’s the second preseason game. We haven’t even two weeks to do training camp and preseason so we’ll be alright. We’ll figure it out.”
The Lakers are going to keep taking things slow this preseason. But with each passing game, they’re revealing a little bit more about who they will be this season. On Wednesday, Anthony finally debuted in the purple and gold and offered another glance at what could make this Lakers team special this season.