In September during introductory press conferences, Carmelo Anthony was asked about being willing to come off the Thunder bench. His infamous reply:
And at the time, I agreed entirely.
But now, after 30 games, the Thunder have not inspired confidence, sitting at .500 and slowly regressing statistically. Something has to change, and not surprisingly, numerous voices have begun to call for Melo to come off the bench for the benefit of the team. Would Melo coming off the bench truly help? Let’s see what the data so far says.
Through 30 games, we have over 2,500 minutes worth of game time to analyze, and for our purposes here, Paul George and Russell Westbrook are starting, period. They’re the two best players on this team in general and are unquestioned in their need for OKC to be competitive. How do the pieces fit?
Through all these games, we can see a few trends. First, the three man lineup is solid, if unspectacular. A +5 net rating is good, but also may show that there may be some issues of fit going on. When you pull either George or Anthony, we see some definite changes in the numbers. First, moving PG to the bench is a wreck. Not only does the defense suffer, the bench with George just doesn’t function well. We can also see this in the lineups via NBA.com:
That’s right — so far the Thunder have four different lineups with over 200 minutes that own a negative net rating, and the worst by a large margin is George with the bench. Two of the remaining three happen to be Westbrook/Anthony-led lineups.
As for the inverse? George/Westbrook sees an increase in defensive efficiency and only a minor dip offensively, while Melo’s time with the bench has been way more productive than George. From a quick glance at pace, it seems like Melo/Westbrook lineups tend to not be able to play in transition as much (Westbrook’s strength), which makes sense. Also, both have a tendency to settle on offense in the half-court and isolate a ton, neither of whom are very efficient. ISO stalls the offense and, given that neither is a great defender, it tanks the lineup’s production. George on the other hand also doesn’t run a ton, but can keep up and moves off the ball much more. He also bolsters the defense, and the bench defense can absorb some of Melo’s deficiencies while he works on offense.
Should Melo Come Off the Bench?
This poll is closed