Prior to this season, no one thought Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard would have been as good as they were.
When the 2019-2020 NBA season began a year ago, there were two players who fans and pundits had pretty much given up on. The first was none other than three-time defensive player of the year Dwight Howard, who had just signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. The other player was Carmelo Anthony, who wasn't even signed to a team at the beginning of the season. Instead, Melo had to wait until mid-November before he was given a chance with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Both of these men had similar narratives surrounding them. When it came to Howard, some felt as though he was a shell of his former self who simply didn't have the motivation to put up consistent results, despite being a good teammate. The same was said of Melo, with some theorizing that he had been completely blackballed by the league for his lack of defensive play and locker room attitude. These narratives were easy to run with, mostly because both players had gone through public falling outs with high-profile teams. Specifically, Howard with the Lakers in 2013, and Melo with the New York Knicks.
Given these narratives, it was almost inconceivable that Howard and Carmelo would be able to right their wrongs and prove themselves to be extremely competitive, especially given their ages. Well, it didn't take long for either player to prove everyone wrong, and that's why it must be said that both of these stars are the NBA's comeback kids of 2020.
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Starting with Howard, his impact with the Los Angeles Lakers was immediately felt as he saw a complete return to form, albeit in a more supportive role. Fans were fairly shocked to see him on a whole new level when it came to blocking, all while scooping up defensive rebounds like it was nothing. As the Lakers began to go on massive winning streaks throughout the regular season, it was becoming quite obvious that Howard was no longer the player we saw in Charlotte and Washington. Instead, he was a more motivated version of himself that had been soaking in the criticism of the last seven years, only to unleash it back in our faces.
Statistically speaking, this was Howard's lowest-scoring and lowest-rebounding season of his career. These facts don't necessarily tell the whole story, however, as Howard was logging fewer minutes and contesting shots in a more energetic fashion, leading to some huge defensive stops for the Lakers. Not to mention, Howard improved when it came to blocks per game, while also providing the Lakers with the best field goal percentage of his career. Though his numbers on the stat sheet weren't comparable to what he was doing in 2011, it's impossible to deny how much of a positive impact Howard had on this team.
This was especially true during the playoffs as he proved to be a menace whenever the Lakers decided to go big. A perfect example of this was in the Western Conference Finals when Howard rendered Nikola Jokic completely ineffective. Jokic was one of the most unstoppable players in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but Howard put a quick end to that, which ultimately helped provide the Lakers with a path to the NBA Finals. From there, Howard did what he had to do when called upon, and it all culminated in him winning his first-ever NBA championship.
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While Melo's comeback season didn't end with the same glory, it's safe to say that it was just as impressive. Coming off disappointing stints with the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, fans weren't sure what to make of him on the Blazers. Luckily, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had always expressed interest in playing with Anthony. This desire to run the floor with Melo led to immediate chemistry, and while it took a few weeks for him to get comfortable, he began to get in his signature groove. Unlike past seasons, Melo was playing solid defense that wreaked havoc on opposing shooters and actually led to more steals than he's had in three years. As for scoring, Melo averaged over 15 points per game while notching 6.3 total rebounds. In fact, this was his best rebounding campaign in five seasons.
Throughout the year, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts praised Melo's presence on the team, telling Yahoo! Sports "It goes beyond just leadership. I think the way he conducts himself as a person, just creates a lot of respect in the locker room." These words alone debunked years of slander when it came to Melo's ability to lead his teammates. His leadership qualities ultimately proved to be necessary in the bubble as the Blazers went on an incredible run in the seeding round, leading to a playoff appearance where Melo and company were ousted by Howard and the Lakers in just five games. Regardless, it was a triumphant season for Melo that proved he still has it.
As for Melo's future, it seems as though he is willing to come back to the Blazers, as long as the circumstances are right. While that feeling is mutual, there are rumblings Melo could be going back to the Knicks, although we'd have to wait for the offseason to find out. Interestingly enough, Howard also has a big decision to make, as it's been reported the Golden State Warriors might be going after him come the free agency period.
Following their respective seasons, both players seem to be in high demand, which is the ultimate compliment to how well they did this season. After years of disappointment and media criticism, Howard and Melo are back in everyone's good graces and it's why they are undeniably some of the best comeback stories of this season.