Carmelo Anthony has worn a USA Basketball uniform seven times in the last 11 years and when he takes the court Sunday at North Greenwich Arena in London in the gold-medal game against Spain, his 67th in red, white and blue, he faces a reality that it could be his last.
“This experience has been great,” Melo said after the 109-83 win over Argentina in the semifinal on Friday. “You never know what could happen after this. It might be our last one, for some of us, you don’t know. We just wanted to enjoy this experience and anytime you can win and enjoy it at the same time it is double the pleasure.”
NBA commissioner David Stern has been championing the idea of an age limit for NBA players in the Olympic Games. When the next Games come around in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Anthony will be 32 years old.
According to a report by SI.com’s Ian Thomsen, Stern’s plan won’t likely be in place by 2016 because there isn’t enough time to implement such a dramatic regulation, which the sport’s international governing body, FIBA, would also have to agree to, along with, of course, the International Olympic Committee.
So technically, Melo and his fellow stars, such as LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, will be eligible to play in Rio. For Melo and LeBron, it would be a chance for an unprecedented fourth medal.
International basketball genuinely appeals to Anthony, who has had yet another successful experience at the Olympics, where his versatility at both forward positions (and occasionally at center) allows him to thrive as a scorer. He had 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting, along with six rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes of the win over Argentina. He drilled 4 of 8 from that international three-point line, which is more like a mid-range jumper in NBA standards to add to his U.S. record with 37 career three-pointers.
With a 17.4 points per game average, Anthony enters the gold-medal game 23 points from setting a new U.S. men’s basketball mark for points in a single Olympic Games, which is currently owned bySpencer Haywood (145 in the ’68 Games in Mexico City).
Considering the scoring talent on this team, Melo’s offense has been ridiculously efficient. He’s averaging 17.4 points in 17:22 minutes per game. According to ESPN Stats, he is scoring an amazing 48.2 points per 48 minutes (an NBA regulation game) in Olympic play. His highest average per 48 minutes over his NBA career is 36.3.
Durant leads the team with 18 points per game and he’s doing that at a torrid pace as well in 24:23 minutes per game.
“We’ve got guys on this team that can get blistering hot,” said Kobe Bryant, who is averaging 11.4 points in 16 minutes per game. “They get hot quick. Me, KD and Melo knocked down two shots each and all of a sudden the floodgates opened. It feels like we can’t miss and it just seems like it happens instantaneously.”
With so much firepower, there is less pressure on an individual to carry the scoring load like you will see during the NBA season. But there is also far more trust on a star-laden team and that promotes unselfish play and a willingness to make an extra pass rather than force up a shot. It promotes accountability to move the ball, play off the ball and play within a system rather than focus on isolation and taking on the responsibility to carry the scoring load.
That, more than the red-hot shooting from downtown, has been the most prominent element of Melo’s game in the Olympics. Ironically, he has still been an incredibly volatile scorer while willingly maintaining a role player’s mentality.
“Anybody on this team can get going at any point and that is the fun and dangerous part of this team,” Anthony said. “You never know who is going to get it going. Kobe started it, then Durant played extremely well and I got hot out there, too. You never know what is going to happen with the scoring.”
But this is Team Utopia. There are no salaries listed here and players aren’t compared by statistics. LeBron has been the most dominant player in these Games and yet his numbers (12.4 points, 5.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds) don’t leap off the page. But that’s exactly what is so appealing about this team: it’s been about the game, not the player. It’s been about individual moments, but not individuals.
Will this experience be exactly what Melo needed to understand how he can make it work withAmar’e Stoudemire in New York? Can he carry the same mindset into training camp?
REDEEM TEAM REMATCH
The U.S.-Spain finale, a rematch of the 2008 gold medal game, a 118-107 win for the U.S., was expected.
“Everyone has said that this is the game they want to see,” LeBron said. “So we look forward to it.”
The U.S. is looking to clinch a second straight gold and push the disdainful bronze medal effort in the ’04 Games in Athens further into the past.
“Anything less than this would not have been satisfying,” Melo said of winning gold. “We believed that we can get there and we are here now and we have one game left.”
LeBron and Melo are looking to join David Robinson as the only men’s players in U.S. Olympic history to win three medals. But neither one of them give that bronze a single thought.
• Pablo Prigioni went scoreless in the game for Argentina as he did not attempt a single shot in 20 minutes. He did record six assists and two turnovers with a rebound and a steal and came away with an appreciation for Melo’s ability to heat up quickly. “I hope he shoots like this during the whole season,” Prigioni said.
• Tyson Chandler once again played a limited role as the starting center, with four points and three rebounds in 12 minutes.
• The Dwight Howard-to-Lakers deal went down before the game and in many ways it overshadowed the semifinal. Afterward, several players talked about the blockbuster deal and its impact on the NBA this coming season. Durant, whose Thunder team now has a serious contender to deal with, wasn’t interested. LeBron also passed. But Melo, who may be relieved Howard didn’t land in Brooklyn, seemed happy. “It makes the NBA that much more fun, that much more exciting,” he said. “I can’t wait to see them on Christmas.” The Knicks play at L.A. on Christmas Day, but Howard, who is still recovering from back surgery, may not be in the lineup by then.