I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time watching and thinking about this league and I’m not sure I knew that each conference had a Player of the Week award. It makes sense that the NFL does, and that the NBA hands out a pair of trophies on a monthly basis, but a week is not an increment that meaningfully describes a basketball player in the midst of an 82-game season. It’s like interviewing a man in some random and perhaps inopportune five-minute portion of his daily life and writing a magazine profile about it. I bet Patty Mills has assembled a couple weeks that, taken by themselves, would severely mislead you as to what caliber of player he is. I’m shocked to learn the Player of the Week award isn’t sponsored by an insurance or car company. Apparently the league could just get rid of it without upsetting their friends at State Farm, and they probably should.
Carmelo Anthony, whom nobody wanted at the outset of the season and whom the Blazers picked up recently because you can always do slightly better than Mario Hezonja, is your Western Conference Player of the Week for the week ending December 1st. Presumably the certificate will be thumbtacked onto the wall of a game room with a pool table nobody uses, in between a framed Team USA jersey and a photo of the time he ran into Regis Philbin at an event staged by the fine folks at Greubel Forsey.
Truly, no one should care about this, but we do because we’re all bored and need something to get exercised about. Even dubious honors disseminated in the armpit of late fall. Spinning in our computer chairs, huffing the fumes of our own outrage, maybe we’ll catalyze a warmth inside ourselves. At the very least, we’re killing time. Another irretrievable moment sacrificed to looking up and regurgitating James Harden’s recent efficiency numbers in spite—two retweets, five likes.
This is ordinary internet unpleasantness, the kind of violently inconsequential, evaporating-on-contact controversy the content machine that’s commandeered our minds produces with perfect and crushing regularity, and it would be unremarkable if for the fact that it willfully ignores the obvious good that one of the best players of his generation is back in the league and playing really well. Out of some misplaced sense of justice, or a desire to be right about everything all the time, some folks are failing to enjoy a brilliant Carmelo Anthony comeback that will last only for who knows how long. If, a decade from now, we curiously look back on this week in time, the record doesn’t need to state that Luka Doncic was awesome, because he’s going to keep being that way for the rest of the season, and probably the next 12 years. Melo temporarily channeling his younger self is more notable. It’s the fleeting stuff that you need to write down.
For now, he’s still got it, and it’s soothing to watch him work from the pocket of his familiar rhythms, turning and facing from midrange, hesitating and firing or driving to the rim. He’ll take a few threes, but he also likes to throw a fake, take one dribble, and pull up from 18 feet. You’re not supposed to do that, but Melo was born in 1984. You hire him to do the things he has always done, slightly slower than he used to and not as prolifically. He doesn’t defend and he distributes the ball at his own pace. You can implore him to get the to the rim a little more often, and sometimes he’ll listen. That’s about as malleable as his game gets.
Which is why Melo has been out of a job since the Rockets cut him last fall. His utility in 2019 is highly questionable and he’s not an obvious fit for any franchise. If you’re a rebuilding team, there’s not much reason to bring aboard a 35-year-old forward who’s going to take shots away from the younger players you’re trying to develop. If you’re a contender, you’re better off filling his minutes with some high-effort guy who can defend a little bit.
But if we can agree that sports are more like arts and entertainment than business, Carmelo Anthony deserves to be playing somewhere and Portland is, mostly by accident, a fine fit. The Blazers are suffering through a transitional year—Neil Olshey refreshed the rotation, and wasn’t right about much—and clearly aren’t going to be able to build on last season’s Western Conference Finals appearance. They’re not terrible, so there’s no reason to bottom out. Dame Lillard and C.J. McCollum are 29 and 28, respectively, so any kind of hard reboot is out of the question. They’re still waiting on Jusuf Nurkic, arguably their second-best player, to return from a hellacious leg injury. Bum seasons like this happen even to well-run organizations. In time, fortunes will even out and the Blazers will get back to being pretty good.
In the meantime, their minor crisis has provided Melo with an ideal opportunity—not to redeem himself, because that’s both sort of impossible and unnecessary, nor to audition for some grander occasion that won’t come, but to contribute in his particular fashion, to remember in real time what he remains capable of. He was great, not so long ago, and so far his stint in Portland has been stubbornly glimmering evidence of that. There is an essential pleasure to watching Melo’s old tricks work, and to watching him, maybe a smidgen self-conscious about it, appreciative of having enough juice to finish through contact, enough playing time to put up good numbers. The statline from his award-winning performance isn’t as staggering as Harden’s or LeBron’s or Luka’s, but it’s something: 22.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 2.7 APG on 57.4 percent shooting. That’s an excellent week at the office, and worth commemorating. If you can’t see that, you’re beyond help. Carmelo Anthony is the best, if only figuratively.