On Saturday in Rio, Carmelo Anthony will become the first U.S. men’s basketball player ever to play in four Olympic Games. LeBron James could have done this as well, but he’s played in seven NBA Finals—as well as the two Summer Games—since their first Olympic appearance back in 2004 and probably needs a break. Melo? Not so much. If he wants championship glory, he has to seek it elsewhere.

So, Rio. The 32-year-old Anthony takes the global stage once again as an undisputed international superstar, where his long twos become threes and he can do whatever he wants in the post. He’s come a long way since 2004 where, as a 20-year-old rookie, he scored all of 17 points over seven games as the U.S. team sputtered to bronze, the first NBA squad to fall short of gold. (Class of ‘03 draftmates Dwyane Wade and James didn’t play much either, as Larry Brown stuck to vets like Allen Iverson, who started all eight games despite a fractured thumb on his shooting hand. Good job there, Larry.)

He gets to the line less, shoots threes more. It’s all there for the taking, and he takes it.

Since then, though, Melo has been a revelation. Sure, he has 13 assists total through his first three tournaments, but hey, this is Melo we’re talking about. He’s not there to pass. Anthony shot 38 percent from three in 2012 and then 50 percent from three—on 46 attempts, no less—in 2012, good for third on the team behind Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala (who attempted just nine). He was the fourth-leading scorer on the ‘08 team, at 11.5 points per game, and was second in ‘12 (again to Durant) at 16.5. 

The numbers only tell part of the story though, especially in the Olympics, where most games aren’t terribly competitive and minutes are divided between a dozen stars. Most Team USA players just emerge as better versions of who they are in the NBA—Kobe Bryant taking and making huge shots down the stretch, LeBron zinging pinpoint passes all over the court, Kevin Durant becoming some kind of death pterodactyl, a wing who is all wing. But Anthony, he transforms. He almost becomes a different player.

This is not to denigrate Anthony’s NBA game, which is stellar. But it’s like the international court and its scaled-down three-point line is more suited to the way Anthony already plays. He still plays both the 3 and the 4, and is more effective at both. His shooting opens up his drives, and there’s not many post players he can’t overpower. He’s too big for guards to check, too quick for bigs to stay in front of. Anthony can even come off the bench—as he did for every game in 2012—and still finish second on the team in shot attempts. He gets to the line less, shoots threes more. It’s all there for the taking, and he takes it.

carmelo anthony usa basketball smile
Image via Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It all came together in Team USA’s second game of the 2012 Olympics vs. Nigeria, a 156-73 demolition where Anthony scored a U.S. Olympic single-game record of 37 points (in 14 and a half minutes) including 10-of-12 from three—both also U.S. Olympic records. He even gave the Jordan shrug after hitting the last one. If the Olympics represent the ultimate Anthony, this was ultimate Olympics Anthony, an entirely unstoppable force.

That Anthony might not be needed in Rio. With DeMarcus Cousins bludgeoning inside and new Warriors teammates Durant and Klay Thompson sniping from outside he should be able to get his shots in relative comfort. As the elder statesman on this team—Kyle Lowry is the only other player who’s even 30—Anthony can just take the free ‘Lo and chill. He won’t, of course. He’ll play, he’ll score, he’ll help lead the team to gold once again.

Then, perhaps his NBA fortunes will turn. He’ll return to a reloaded Knicks team featuring a just-turned-21 Kristaps Porzingis, former MVP Derrick Rose, and former All-Star Joakim Noah, along with sixth man spark Brandon Jennings. If they can stay healthy—admittedly a huge if—the Knicks could make some noise in the postseason. And if not? Well, there’s always Tokyo in 2020.

 

*International basketball player.