The seamless quick start might have conjured hopes that Anthony, once one of the league’s most famous and marketable superstars, was back, but the rest of Tuesday night proved to be a bumpier road. The 35-year-old finished with 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting and posted a game-worst minus-20 rating while committing five turnovers and five fouls in 23 minutes. By the end, it was clear that Anthony had done himself a favor by soft-launching against a small-market, below-.500 opponent.
Anthony had approached this long-awaited return with a flair for the dramatic, releasing a YouTube hype video entitled “My Next Chapter” and posting a cryptic explanation about his decision to don “00″ to Instagram. After being abruptly sent away by the Houston Rockets after just 10 games last November, the 10-time all-star had no choice but to settle for a non-guaranteed contract with the injury-ravaged Blazers. Derided for his ball dominance with the New York Knicks and his unwillingness to compromise his role with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Anthony struck a chastened tone.
“The last year and a half has been an emotional roller coaster,” Anthony said on the YouTube video, later saying, “[My stint with the Blazers] will only work if all parties see it the same way.”
The video continued: “What happened before is the past. I can’t dwell on that. I learned from that. This happened at a point in time in my life where I do have a lot of clarity and understanding of different situations, and just life. My approach is totally different.”
Unfortunately for Anthony, whether he succeeds in Portland will be determined less by his mental evolution and more by his physical abilities. Optimists have hoped that Anthony can remake himself as a functional role player, much like Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard. It should be noted, though, that Howard has become a vital rotation presence largely because he is moving remarkably well after getting his body in excellent shape. His sacrifice and ego-free approach are the cherry on the top, not the actual sundae.
The question for Anthony, then, is whether he possesses sufficient quickness and mobility to handle pick and rolls and to cover ground as a perimeter defender. He was late closing out on shooters multiple times against the Pelicans, and his foul trouble can be attributed in part to his adjustment to the speed of the NBA game. His physical limitations were a problem during his time in Houston, too, and advancing age tends to make things worse, not better.
What’s more, the Blazers, whose defense ranked 19th entering Tuesday night, don’t have the personnel to effectively hide Anthony. He will be an easy target night after night.
Make no mistake, Portland can use Anthony’s offensive flashes, which came in the form of multiple three-pointers and a nice drive through traffic Tuesday. Blazers guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum thrive in space, and Anthony can provide some punch in that department in ways that Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja haven’t.
Yet the first look at Anthony’s fit in Portland only confirmed the suspicion that his staying power will be determined not by the buckets he scores, but by how many he concedes.
Read more on the NBA: