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Could Carmelo Anthony replace Nemanja Bjelica?

Short answer: no. Long answer: but maybe?

Carmelo Anthony smiling Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors have taken some hits this offseason. Gary Payton II leaving for the Portland Trail Blazers was a huge hit. Otto Porter Jr. heading to the Toronto Raptors stings. And Nemanja Bjelica, while not a player who would have felt critical had those other two re-signed, departed for Europe, which hurts quite a bit.

The Dubs have always been fond of mixing and matching, so they won’t feel the need to replace the exact things those three did. But they’ll likely follow the blueprint a little bit.

Payton provided athleticism, cutting, some shooting, and strong defense. In comes Donte DiVincenzo to do those things half as well for half the price.

Porter provided shooting, intelligent play, and versatile defense. The Warriors might not sign a replacement for that, but should be able to supplement it with a full season of healthy Klay Thompson, and slightly larger roles for Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody.

And Bjelica provided floor-spacing and intelligent playmaking from the four or as a small-ball five. Who replaces that?

I don’t know. But can I interest you in some Carmelo Anthony?

I’ll be frank. I’ve been lower on Melo than most people for the entirety of his career. While he had some undeniably brilliant years with the Denver Nuggets, I’ve felt that most of his career has been spent hoisting a high volume of shots that he converted on only middling efficiency, while often stagnating the offense, and rarely considering what might happen on the other end of the court.

But, despite his initial foibles when he laughed off the thought of being a bench player while with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Melo has turned himself into a quality option off the pine. I’d argue that his most recent season, in which he averaged 13.3 points in 26.0 minutes off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers, was the best basketball that Anthony has played since his All-Star days.

And it’s basketball that just might fit with the Warriors.

Melo will always be a more isolation-heavy player than Bjelica, but he bought into the Lakers system last year. The ball didn’t stick in his hands. He made the right decisions and passes, even though he’s not the natural playmaker that Bjeli is.

But more importantly, he picked his spots. He was a pickier offensive player than he’s ever been, with the lowest usage rate of his career. And he relied on his three ball more than ever before, averaging the second-highest number of threes attempted per possession in his career, despite said low usage rate. And as a result, he shot with career best efficiency, finishing the season with a 57.9% true-shooting percentage that was nearly identical to Porter’s, and higher than Bjelica’s, Thompson’s, or Andrew Wiggins’.

Melo isn’t a good defensive player, but neither was Bjelica, and the Dubs were fine. What he is is someone who has openly adjusted to the modern game on that end of the court, and it’s paid dividends. Through the 2016-17 season, Anthony had spent virtually his entire career as a small forward. But since then he’s played almost exclusively in the frontcourt, and increasingly more at the center position.

Last year he spent 41% of his time at the five, per Basketball Reference, with the other 59% spent at power forward. And as a result his defense, while not good per se, was a lot better than it’s been in a while, to my eye (and to many metrics). Plus he rebounds, all while shouting a signature phrase that I can’t repeat here, but that sure is fun to hear accidentally come over the broadcast.

There’s always the question of fit with the Warriors and their chemistry. But the team’s stars have been around for a while and know him well. Draymond Green is close with LeBron James, and surely will have vetted Melo before anyone signs a contract.

Anthony provides more than just the name value of a 10-time All-Star. He’s a decent role player off the bench, and the Warriors have proven time and time again that those can make all the difference.

It just might be a quality move after the initial hits of the offseason.

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