Less than one week after Carmelo Anthony's NBA return was first reported, the 35-year-old managed to play nearly 24 minutes as a starter in his Portland Trail Blazers debut on Tuesday, completing a rapid transition back to the professional ranks.
According to Anthony's trainer, Alex Bazzell, the 35-year-old's ability to quickly ramp up for game action stemmed from an adapted training program that addressed his weaknesses, including defense.
"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)," Bazzell told SNY's Ian Begley.
"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," Bazzell added.
Enhancing Anthony's off-ball movement was another point of emphasis during training, according to Bazzell. His ability to put himself in the right spots will be crucial for a Portland team that heavily relies on its backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to manufacture offense.
"We worked on getting used to (moving without the ball). Getting used to the actions of catching," Bazzell said. "His footwork efficiency with rips and jabs and all of that off the catch ... it was just getting him comfortable with moving in different ways than he has in the past."
Anthony struggled on both ends during his debut, finishing with a game-worst minus-20 rating while connecting on 4-of-14 field goals for 10 points.
Despite his subpar return, Anthony will have ample opportunity to carve out a role on an injury-depleted Blazers squad; head coach Terry Stotts acknowledged on Tuesday he intends to keep Anthony in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.