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Carmelo Anthony vs. James Ennis: Who should start?

Who will be the Rockets’ starting small forward next season?

Memphis Grizzlies v New York Knicks Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Yes, you read the title of this article correctly.

Today, we are looking into whether 10-time NBA All-Star and future Hall-of-Famer Carmelo Anthony should be starting over NBA journeyman and 6.4 PPG scorer James Ennis.

Both guys have very different paths, but they are crossing now in Houston as both signed, or are about to sign, minimum deals to play for the Houston Rockets this season. That has to put them on some similar playing field, am I right?

As bonkers as the idea may sound, I believe Ennis has an argument to be the team’s starting small forward this season over Melo.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Melo also has an argument, and a very good one at that. But I think it’s important to explore every option, and I’m sure the Rockets will at some point this season.

Keep in mind, the Rockets began the season starting the offensive-minded Ryan Anderson at power forward and ended the season starting the defensive-minded P.J. Tucker. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine a world where Tucker is not a starter on this team, but the Rockets now face a similar dilemma this season. Do you start the better scorer in Melo or the better defender in Ennis?

Why the Rockets Should Start Melo

He’s simply the better player. Melo has played for 10 All-Star teams, and even in his worst season, he averaged 16 points per game.

If you put Melo next to James Harden and Chris Paul in the starting lineup, the Rockets are going to have the opportunity to blitz teams right out of the gate. Houston can blow up leads to double digits early and play more comfortably as the game progresses. That starting lineup will be filthy and will challenge as one of the best in the NBA.

I’m sure Mike D’Antoni will weave Melo’s minutes very strategically and always place him in a position where he is not the primary or even secondary scorer. It’s very possible that MDA will mimic what he has done for Harden and CP3 with Melo and Eric Gordon as the secondary scorers. He would ensure that there is no lineup where EG and Melo are both on the bench. He can easily stagger their minutes with Melo starting and Gordon coming off the bench with the two sharing the court at some points throughout the game.

Starting Melo will commit the starting lineup to offense and force the team to make its buckets early. This is the downside to putting Melo in the starting lineup. If the team has an off shooting night, it could spell trouble for the Rockets as they will look to play catch up as the game goes on.

The Rockets know that this team’s difference is their weaknesses on defense as Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute headed out west. Bringing in Melo is an upgrade on offense, but is a downgrade on defense, which is the one thing that allowed the team to reach new heights last season.

Why the Rockets Should Start Ennis

Ennis is the better defender, which is probably what the Rockets need more of in their starting unit. He is replacing Trevor Ariza, who was the perfect hybrid of offense and defense. The Rockets are trying to replace him using multiple guys, which is not the most ideal alternative but the team is rolling with it.

Last year, the Rockets opted for defense towards the end of the season when Tucker usurped Anderson’s spot in the starting lineup, so it’s possible that the Rockets may do the same this season.

If the Rockets are playing a team like the Lakers or Warriors, Ennis or Melo will have to guard LeBron James or Kevin Durant. I definitely trust Ennis over Melo in those situations, and the way the league is trending, the league is getting longer and leaner. Ennis has the ability to guard multiple positions, whereas Melo does not.

Last season in Memphis, Ennis was one of the team’s best defenders and it turned him into an attractive piece for teams needing a defensive wing on the buyer’s market.

The team’s DRtg when he was on the floor was nearly four points lower than when he was off the floor. So the question may seem far-fetched on the surface, but if you dig a little bit, the argument for Ennis is definitely there.

What the Rockets Will Do

I think the starting lineup is going to be fluid, at least for the first part of the season. Who starts versus who comes off the bench does not matter very much as both will see a similar division of minutes. I see Melo getting a slight uptick in minutes, but Ennis will play about half of the game, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-28 minutes per game.

In games where teams have a very great offensive wing like the Bucks, Lakers, or Warriors, I think Ennis starting makes more sense. But in games where the offense is focused through a guard, like the Blazers, Wizards, or Thunder, I expect Melo to get the start only because CP3 can hold the fort down in the backcourt on defense and the Rockets can take advantage from having a great scorer like Melo in the frontcourt.

In the playoffs, it will depend on the opponent, but when the playoffs go a little slower, having a guy like Ennis in the starting lineup could pay major dividends. It also puts Melo in what will be a second unit absolutely loaded on offense. It will be scary what the Rockets bench could do with Melo riding out there with Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and CP3.