Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
With Carmelo Anthony set to play his second game for the Blazers on Thursday, we spoke to the trainer that helped him prepare for the opportunity.
Below, Alex Bazzell, who works with Trae Young, Kyrie Irving, Bobby Portis and Doug McDermott among others, talks about training with Anthony over the past few months to get ready for the ex-Knick's return to the league.
WORKOUTS WERE FOCUSED ON MAKING QUICK DECISIONS AND MOVING WITHOUT THE BALL
"The biggest thing was making quick decisions off the catch. He's had the luxury of being one of the top 10 players in the world, in my opinion -- top 5 players at one time -- in his career. So he just got accustomed to kind of holding the ball, letting everyone else clear out so he can kind of go one on one. In the new NBA, in the role that he's being asked of, that wasn't something he was going to be able to do more often than not.
"So we were working on moving without the ball because that's something I saw on film he didn't do very well. Especially coming from -- let's face it, Houston's offense is four guys standing and watching James (Harden) dribble the ball for 20 seconds. It's tough. So we worked on getting used to (moving without the ball). Getting used to the actions of catching. His footwork efficiency with rips and jabs and all of that off the catch. He's as smart a player as you're going to find. There's a reason that he's scored as many points as he has. So it was just getting him comfortable with moving in different ways than he has in the past."
WORKOUTS ALSO FOCUSED ON DEFENSE
"Defensively, we worked a lot on guys trying to attack him off a ball screen, trying to isolate him. Right off the bat, that was one of the first things we talked about. We worked on a lot of that through film. And then we would drill it out. One day, I had Raul Neto, one of my clients, come in and Melo had to guard him live. They probably went for 20 minutes. Melo was strictly on defense…. We put Melo in different scenarios (defending Neto in ball screens as the player who had to switch on to him). He actually did great. It's easier when you can sit there and critique him as you go with each possession, 'Hey, focus on your off hand, focus on your hips.'
"What a lot of people don't realize with defense in the NBA is, the best defenders know when to slide and they know when to turn and run and stay hip-to-hip with someone. The guys are too athletic (for defenders) to slide all the time and beat (the offensive player) to a spot. So it was just the self-awareness of that (for Anthony) and working on off hand, working on a contest. Because (in the past) he would be fine staying in front of guys every now and again and he just wouldn't contest, which is half the battle. It was just little stuff like that, which goes a long way."
Bazzell and Anthony were connected through Anthony's physiotherapist Fabrice Gautier. They worked from June to August in Los Angeles. Bazzell also worked with Anthony in New York prior to the season and in the days leading up to his Portland debut. He says Anthony, 35, was very much open to making changes to his game:
"He was actually extremely receptive. I was actually kind of surprised that a guy who has had that much success playing a certain way (was so receptive). He was completely bought into the (idea that on) the defensive side of the ball, he's got to get better. He was bought into not being able to hold the ball (on offense). We would still work on his mid-post because I think that's going to be a part of his game that he's going to have to rely on to score every now and then. You don't take that away, you keep all of that fresh. When we would play one-on-one scenarios, when he'd catch, it's hard because sometimes you just have a tendency to hold it, relax and kind of let the defense make a mistake. It was just trying to break habits that he's built up for so long and he was never defensive about it. He was always 100 percent in agreement with what I was saying, which makes my job and my life 100 percent easier."
MELO GOT ACCUSTOMED TO THE NEW APPROACHES ON OFFENSE & DEFENSE
"He started getting very comfortable with all of the stuff we were working on. Now, the only issue is it's different when you're (playing) 1-on-1, 2-on-2 or maybe there are three guys simulating an action, as opposed to an NBA game when there are 10 games on the court. Especially now when you're trying to succeed right off the bat. You kind of revert back to what you know and what you're confident in. So it's going to take a little time. But I was extremely encouraged (in Anthony's Portland debut) with how he was moving. He's still got to get used to the level of physicality of where the game is today, especially with the emphasis on moving screens. So it's just getting used to all those different little changes that are affecting him. Because he's a bully ball player. So he's got to learn when to bully ball and when to finesse around it. But like I said, he's as smart as they come so he's going to figure it out."
Anthony's representatives had been in touch with several teams on his behalf in the offseason, including the Los Angeles Clippers. He worked out with the Brooklyn Nets in Los Angeles. Some Nets players were in support of the club signing him. He also worked out with the Knicks. New York would have strongly considered signing Anthony if they'd signed top free agents such as Irving and Kevin Durant, as SNY reported. But once that didn't come to fruition, the Knicks didn't have strong interest in Anthony. Anthony met with at least one NBA team in person prior to the season starting, per SNY sources, but nothing came to fruition. Here's Bazzell on Anthony's mindset throughout the process:
"His mindset, (initially) it was, 'let's get back into a groove, let's stay in game shape as much as we can.' We would go three days and take a break, and we'd go three days again and take another break. We'd go for about an hour. When the info came out about the Nets possibly being interested, he was going up to their open runs to play with Kyrie and Caris (LeVert) and all the Nets guys. I think that kind of reaffirmed that he belonged in the league because he went up there and played incredible. He was moving the ball, he was communicating, showing effort on defense. He was just doing all the right things. So I think that kind of gave him another jolt of energy of thinking that he was going to be close to signing with a team even if it wasn't Brooklyn. So there was a lot of optimism.
"And once the season started, he was kind of down because you look and you see these players that you feel like you know you can outproduce getting all these minutes. It's not like he's looking at guys at the end of the bench. He's looking at guys who are getting 20-25 minutes a game that he knew he could outperform. So he was just more so confused by the whole process of what was really going on. Once he got that call, finally, that Portland really wanted him as bad as he wanted to back in the league, it was just a huge burden off his shoulders that he was going to get one more shot at it."
WORKOUTS 'CRAMMED' TO PREPARE FOR BLAZERS DEBUT
"It was just a completely different mindset (in workouts leading up to the Portland debut) because before it was just about maintenance. Not overdoing it, keeping his body fresh but not running it into the ground. Once we got that call, we did five workouts in three days. So we kind of crammed in everything. But the workouts were much more specific because I actually knew the offense of what Portland was going to run and the touches that he was going to get. The first workout was beating on his body a little bit. He'd drive and we'd put a shoulder in him. Just to see how his body was going to bounce back. And then get his cardio up.
"The next day it was specific towards seeing where he was in terms of game shape. He'd been working out doing cardio and weight training. He remained strict with his diet. But running on the treadmill, swimming, is completely different than game shape." (To prepare for the games, Bazzell had Anthony work in 2 on 2 drills for five-minute intervals where he would defend ball screens, in transition, work as a screener in pick-and-pop scenarios and in the mid post. The workouts were at the NBPA offices in Manhattan).
HOW WAS THE FIRST GAME?
He seemed pretty happy and relieved to just get back out there and get back in the groove with it. I thought things went as well as can be considering he was out a year, thrown into a new system, not having any prior practices, being without (Damian Lillard). There was just a lot of pressure on him, period. Once the first shot went in, at least from my sense, there was a huge sense of relief to know that he was back in the groove. He's excited because he knows that it's a process to get back into game shape, get your rhythm back and get your rust off. (Bazzell sent Anthony film from the first game of some adjustments to be made on both ends of the ball. He'll talk to him a few times a week and send game film every 3-4 games)."
Anthony plays in his second game on Thursday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. He's on a non-guaranteed contract. So the Blazers can waive him before January 7 without having to pay his full salary. If he's on the roster after Jan. 7, the deal becomes fully guaranteed. It was suggested over the summer that Anthony is looking at this season as a farewell tour. Anthony has refuted that idea. Bazzell also mentioned that they've never talked about this being Anthony's last season. From everything Bazzell knows, Anthony wants to play beyond this season. The next few weeks will go a long way toward informing Anthony - and the rest of the NBA - if he can accomplish that goal.