If you were listing the toughest covers for a forward in the NBA, the first names that might come to mind are LeBron James and his overwhelming athleticism (when healthy) combined with a high IQ game. Or maybe Kevin Durant, a long guy with the handles and quickness to create a little space — all he needs to get off a high-efficiency shot.
Paul Pierce, in a first-person piece at the Players’ Tribune, named the five toughest covers he’s had in the league. LeBron made that list, not surprisingly. Kobe Bryant did as well, which also makes perfect sense. There are some quality guys from the last generation on the list in Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter (yes, Carter is still in the league, but he’s not that Vince Carter anymore).
But Pierce reserved his highest praise for Carmelo Anthony.
If I had to single one guy out who is the most difficult player to guard in the league, it would have to be Carmelo. He’s a unique blend of being big, strong, and athletic while also having a world-class shooting touch and a natural ability to get to the rim. That’s what sets him apart — every facet of his game is elite.
Some great players will have one or two particular skills that make them special. But Carmelo can do everything, which puts you in a baaad situation as a defender. A lot of guys might shoot better from certain areas, so you try to force them elsewhere on the floor. Carmelo doesn’t have a spot on the floor where he can’t consistently hit shots.
In my opinion, his combination of physicality and shooting touch is unmatched in the NBA. You can’t take one second off when you’re matched up against him.
Anthony is unquestionably a difficult matchup for any defender because of his versatility.
But as a coach of the opposing team if Anthony is stopping the ball and using that versatility in isolation sets, if he is not swinging the ball to open teammates when his gravity pulls defenders to him, I can live with that. It’s going to be a rough night for the guy guarding Anthony, but if you can force him into inefficient shots — and Anthony has never been the king of efficiency — and not get him moving the rock, you can beat the Knicks. Anthony certainly has looked for his rather than played the triangle the way Tex envisioned this season.
That said, Pierce has been the guy trying to stop Anthony in games for more than a decade. He knows a tough cover when he sees it.