December 18, 2018 | 9:14 pm
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Is it too late for Carmelo Anthony to blend in?

Last month, bird watchers around the country were captivated by an unusual sight in New York’s Central Park. A stout, full chested Mandarin duck, known as the Mandarin Patinkin in ornithological circles, found himself flocking with the rest of the park’s waterfowl. Native to East Asia, the duck posted up in the park and had his photo snapped by countless onlookers, only to disappear without a trace for two weeks.

Feared to have been plucked wing from wing by a predator—a likely story for an animal that was presumed to have escaped some kind of controlled housing—the multi-colored drake returned for visitors to admire.

Recently however, the seemingly rare bird has come under fire. Paul Sweet from the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Ornithology called out the flashy pheasant. It’s not that the bird isn’t interesting he said on twitter, rather that the overblown excitement over its mere presence takes away from all those similarly spectacular, native birds.

Sound familiar?

Carmelo Anthony is experiencing a similar phenomenon. On November 15, reporters announced that the Anthony and the Houston Rockets have parted ways, after the all-star appeared in just 10 games. Though details on the separation are scarce at the moment—Anthony’s affinity for mid-range jumpers is likely part of the divorce proceedings—his departure marks the second team to call it quits with Anthony within the last five months. Three if you include the “It was never going to happen” Atlanta Hawks.

At this stage of his career, Anthony’s plight is a lot like that special-but-not-so-special Mandarin duck. On one hand, Anthony is an exotic name. His career highlights, particularly his stops in Denver and New York, solidified him as a Hall of Fame talent. Anthony is a decorated NBA soldier, amassing awards at every level of play imaginable. From his signature headband and hoodie to his iconic “Stay Me7o” catch phrase, Anthony is made of a mold not available to every NBA player.

On the other, like that outsider duck, maybe it’s time for Anthony to stop getting special treatment.

In joining Houston, Anthony made clear he was willing to do anything necessary to fit. In September 2018 he claimed he’d come off the bench, a change in perspective that came almost a year after his refusal to do so in Oklahoma City. “Whatever I have to do to help this team win a championship,” he said, “that’s what going to be done.”

And for eight of his 10 appearances he did just that. But despite his flexibility, Anthony’s game has proved incompatible with Houston’s approach. Where many players have added the side step 3 to their repertoire, Anthony is still throwing pump fakes to get into his beloved mid-range semicircle.

Subbing into the game after tip-off didn’t change Anthony’s incongruous fit with the Rockets either. A quarter of his field goal attempts this season came between the 3-point line and 10 feet from the basket which comprises the dreaded mid-range zone.

On top of that, Anthony, a player who has preferred isolation plays for the bulk of his career had about 56 percent of his total touches in Houston limited to two or fewer seconds. That is 15 percentage points higher than in 2013-14, his best shooting season from 3, when only 41 percent of his shots came in that time frame.

Coincidentally, drawn out isolation plays are the name of the game in Houston. Despite head coach Mike D’Antoni’s history as a fast-paced coach, the Rockets were 14th in pace last season and have slowed things down even more this year. But when those iso plays don’t end in 3s, drives or lobs, as are the specialties of Chris Paul, James Harden and finisher Clint Capela, Anthony’s glaring proclivity to mid-range pullups becomes a noticeable problem.

At this stage of his career, Anthony, like his next of kin Mandarin Patinkin, could easily stand out for the sake of standing out. He has an ardent band of supporters, from former and current teammates to legions of fans, in favor of his continued career.

Running with that support, however will only continue to draw the ire of his ever-vocal mob of critics who harbor memories of the Anthony of yesteryear.

Conforming to the ways of the NBA in 2018—shooting more 3s and turning down mid-range twos—won’t showcase what earned him his hall of fame luster. But learning to blend in, like Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki before him, will help Anthony keep up with the rest of the flock.

 

 

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