Portland Trail Blazers: How Carmelo Anthony the “point forward” is helping Portland’s second unit

Within his role on the second unit, the Portland Trail Blazers have had Carmelo Anthony run point forward on occasion. Here’s how he’s impacting the team.

There was a sequence in last night’s game in which the Portland Trail Blazers tripled down defensively on an Anthony Edwards drive and forced a miss. Carmelo Anthony snagged the miss, mentally downloaded the 5-on-4 numbers advantage, and pushed the ball at breakneck speed … or as close as one can get to it as a 36-year-old.

Arms swinging rapidly to direct traffic, Anthony found teammate CJ McCollum, who calmly pump-faked in rhythm, and drained a 3-pointer that finished a 7-0 run for the Blazers. It also helped set the tone for a Trail Blazers offense that used quick offense to open an 18-point lead, this one they wouldn’t surrender this time.

It wasn’t quite Magic Johnson-esque, but grain the quality a bit, raise Portland’s shorts up a bit, and one might’ve had some trouble telling the difference. And who would’ve thought?

It wasn’t a wrinkle we saw often during Anthony’s first season in Portland, but given the expected workload of their star backcourt, it’s a welcome development. The 10-time All-Star is averaging only 1.1 assists, which is part-mentality, part-situation.

He’s sacrificed, playing the fewest minutes of his career (24.3). Adjust those numbers per 36, and it looks slightly more convincing. And in terms of potential assists, he’s only a shade behind Robert Covington for the No. 4 spot on the Portland Trail Blazers.

This isn’t to suggest it’s a long-term solution, but it is a neat luxury to have. His overall box creation ranks in the 51st percentile on BBall Index’s scale, and though he doesn’t make every kind of pass, or even pass with volume, the feeds he does set for the second unit have been efficient.

The principle far outweighs the numbers, too. Carmelo Anthony is showing that, even if in limited spurts, this Blazers team can survive without a true, pure backup point guard operating the second unit. If he pulls down a rebound off of a miss, he’s been decisive with those passes, giving Portland an efficient alternative to the “dribble, dribble, iso” offense they’ve subjected themselves to sometimes.

All in the second quarter alone, he helped commandeer that quick attack. The shot clocks when those shots were taken? 19, 19, and 17 seconds. Consider his other dimes to Gary Trent Jr., and McCollum a second time. The second unit performed so effectively that even Damian Lillard had to sing praises in his postgame presser.

“I thought our second group came in in that second quarter and we really picked up, you know, on the defensive end. We were scrappy, they were physical, we rebounded well, the ball was moving around, and I thought that was when we really kicked it in gear, and we pretty much sustained that for the rest of the way.”

We’ve touched on it before, but the Trail Blazers’ offense is an entirely different animal when they’re able to defend — an end sentence in itself — and then able to get out and transition.

This year, no team in the NBA has taken more 3-pointers in that 15-to-18 shot clock area than the Portland Trail Blazers. Though they haven’t been as productive as they were in 2019-20, they’re due for a regression to the mean, especially if they can continue to get looks like this.

The floor general versatility should serve Portland well going forward. Carmelo Anthony deserves credit for how he’s become a bit of a chameleon for this offense. He’s showing that he can orchestrate for a few possessions, defend serviceably, especially in higher-profile matchups, and, his best trait these days, his catch-and-shoot ability, has been up to par.

If Portland can create these types of offensive looks, it will be, in the grand scheme, an exciting full-circle development. From passing up legends on the NBA’s leaderboards to passing to legends — Blazers legends, at least — on the floor. And that could be quite the story.