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Sounds of Thunder: Carmelo Anthony will make every Oklahoma City Thunder job better

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Every single one.

A Portrait of the Thunders Future?
Mark D Smith - USA TODAY Sports

I don’t care if you are the reigning NBA MVP or just a humble blogger, an All-Star looking for a new start, or a grizzled veteran looking for the brass ring, if you do anything related to the Thunder, your job just got better.

From Clay Bennett on down, it doesn’t matter — bringing Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City just made your world a better place to live in. Presti and his staff? Doesn’t matter, today you are all heroes in the eyes of Thunder Nation. Billy Donovan and his assistants? The men forced to shoulder the burden of game planning for 3 future HOF’ers that have amassed more All-Star appearances [20] than any other locker room contingent in the NBA vs piecing together wins with a roster overflowing with rookies and players on rookie contracts?

Pleeeeeeez.

The team just added a player that has never averaged less than 20 pts/gm his entire career, and is one of the deadliest shot-clock-winding-down assassins ever....

The Trickle Down Effect

Just the news that Carmelo Anthony was coming to Oklahoma City raised the hopes of every Thunder fan, but that only scratches the surface. Wait til we witness how he raises the game of every player on the team.

And I mean every single player.

No disrespect to the reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook, or early summer trade acquisition and 4-time All-Star, Paul George, but the list includes you too. (trust me, this isn’t news to either of them. Russell? I think you just witnessed his satisfaction with Melo’s arrival.)

When it comes to intensity, Westbrook has no equal, and George is without doubt one of the best two-way players in the game today, but even that dynamic duo was facing a formidable challenge keeping the Thunder productive for a full 48 minutes in a tough Western Conference. Carmelo will help.

Not that Raymond Felton and Patrick Patterson signing free agent contracts didn’t help buoy a young bench; they did. Any time you can add a player with Felton’s experience (12 yrs) that still has juice left and an intense hunger to win, it is a huge plus, as does adding a veteran like Patterson that finished last season with the third highest net rating (10.9) among bench players that averaged at least 20 minutes per game. The Toronto Raptors, Patterson’s former team, was a better team when he played than when he didn’t. 42-23 with, and only 9-8 without the Kentucky product in their line-up.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder-Media Day Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

But we are talking about a Thunder supporting cast that went from top 5 good when Westbrook was on the floor to Brooklyn Nets bad when he sat.

Even after adding Patterson and Felton, that rag-tag supporting cast from last season is still a concern for Thunder fans. However, now that Anthony has come to town, they may be overlooking the trickle down benefit this three-headed All-Star Frankenstein’s monster Presti has put together will have. Sure, there has been discussion about how the extra spacing should help Steven Adams all summer — and it will, immensely — but how about the others? Namely, Alex Abrines.

The rookie from Spain posted an extremely respectable 40.9% catch and shoot average from beyond the arc last season. A number good enough to match Steph Curry’s mark and fall just a tenth below Lebron James. Any time you find your name mentioned with Sports Illustrated’s number 1 and number 3 players in their top 100 list, you are walking in tall cotton, but what may bring Abrines season into sharper focus is comparing his number with SI’s number 64 choice and fellow rookie, Devon Booker. Booker, who finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting, finished the season at 35.5%, 5.4% behind Abrines. And even more impressive, Abrines’ effective field goal percentage topped Bookers by a whopping 10.5%, 59.3 to 48.8.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder-Media Day Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

As the Thunder’s best 3-point threat last season, Abrines faced either faced an opponent’s first or second best perimeter defender, depending on whether Russ was playing or not. Abrines was already going to benefit with those two defenders now focused on Westbrook and Paul George; how much more might he benefit when the third best perimeter defender must shift his focus to a perimeter threat like Carmelo Anthony?

Think about it - a defense is constantly dealing with Westbrook blowing past the perimeter defense and trying not to overplay it at the risk of leaving George or Anthony wide open. Then, between Melo and George spreading their defense from here to kingdom come, Steven Adams will be barreling down the lane untouched and setting off car alarms in the Cox Convention Center’s underground parking lot with earth shattering dunks.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

A defense can stand only so much of that until they adjust. When they do, Donovan rotates Abrines for Robertson and the defense is left hoping the young Spaniard can’t hit a wide open practice shot.

And those are just two of the Thunder’s young players. The same principle applies to the entire roster and we haven’t touched on how another super-star of Melo’s stature helps these same youngsters in practice.

Most Thunder fans should remember Lance Thomas, a hard-working kid from the injury riddled 2014/15 season. The little pit bull out of Duke was a kid whom the Thunder traded to the Knicks on January 5th, 2015 along with their 1st round pick in the 2016 draft to the Cavs in a 3-team deal that brought Dion Waiters to the Thunder.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the kid made good in the Big Apple. After being waived two days after the trade he signed two 10 day stints three days later and parlayed them first, into a end-of-season deal, and finally a 4 yr $27M contract.

And who did he thank in one of the more touching Player Tribune articles ever? Carmelo Anthony.

It was a dream, of course, being in New York and being on the same team as you. But I also knew it would probably all be very temporary. I did everything I could — in every minute of practice and every second of floor time I got — in order to stick around. I was vocal, I was physical and I just tried to play my heart out.

And you noticed.

You didn’t have to — I was a nobody. Guys on 10-days come through all the time. You had no reason or obligation to look at me twice, because I might have been gone the next day anyhow. But you noticed how hard I was working and you encouraged me to keep grinding. Yeah, we both grew up Knicks fans with Brooklyn roots, but that wasn’t why we clicked. It didn’t have to do with skills, either. The reason we identified with one another, I think, was that we both approached the game of basketball in a similar way.

And when I did make it into games with you, knowing how precious those minutes were to me, you didn’t hesitate to include me in the flow of the offense, or to give me a defensive assignment that would allow me to shine. Basically, you put me in the best possible position to succeed.

(emphasis mine)

How much do the words of Lance Thomas defy the negative narratives we have heard over and over about Carmelo Anthony? This truth vs various defamation tales should remind Thunder fans of another player’s struggle for respect from the national media.

The important point for Thunder fans to draw from Thomas’s letter is that Carmelo Anthony, 10 time All-Star and future Hall of Famer, is also a willing mentor. He’s approachable and the young players that gravitate to him will not only improve their skills, but will soon begin to emulate his confidence.

A Rising Tide

Last season, Westbrook, like Carmelo and Paul George, took on the role of leader, big brother, mentor, friend, confidant, and number one cheerleader practically all by themselves. It’s a heavy burden to carry and, over a 6 month season, those extra off-the-court as well as on-the-court responsibilities can extract a heavy mental toll.

The face of a man whose wife gave birth just weeks after a grueling NBA season.

Now the Thunder have 3 stars to shoulder that load as well as two more veterans. The more one-on-one time a teacher can have with a student, the better, and with Presti’s additions this summer, there is a virtual cornucopia of mentors for the young members of the team to learn from.

Take the Thunder’s number 21 pick in the 2017 draft, Terrance Ferguson. Without doubt, his development will accelerate having not just Westbrook, but also Paul George and Carmelo Anthony as well showing him the right way to do things. Liken it to a young physics student having equal access to Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, or Steven Hawking while preparing for a final exam.

High School Basketball: McDonald's All-American Games Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

There is an aphorism commonly used in economics that applies very neatly here: “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Per Wikipedia:

The aphorism "a rising tide lifts all boats" is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy, and that economic policy, particularly government economic policy, should therefore focus on the general macroeconomic environment first and foremost.

Sam Presti may have considered this when he took the risk and traded two players on long contracts for one star with only a one year guarantee. That move raised the Thunder’s “boats” high enough to catch Raymond Felton and Patrick Patterson’s attention. Their signings increased the momentum and when those boats rose high enough and grew bright enough for someone among the lights of Time Square to see, it only made good sense to add that last piece.

The Swag

Carmelo has his doubters out there, no doubt, but Lance Thomas isn’t one of them:

Thank you for being the face of our franchise, and for bringing that New York swag back to the Garden.

Thank you for helping me through tough times and giving so much of yourself as a teammate in ways that nobody will ever know about.

And finally, thank you for being a role model to so many young players who, like me, dreamed of being like you.

We all know that Melo is confident, some would even say he is cocky, but it’s that confidence oozing from every pore combined with that God-given shooting touch that has made him one of the most effective clutch shooters of all time. Thomas called Anthony’s confidence “that New York swag” and Anthony gave OKC a taste of it during first press conference in a Thunder uniform on media day:

Ouch Erik Horne...mega-ouch even...welcome to Melo’s verbal version of “Killigan’s Island”...

Obviously, there are a couple of ways to look at Carmelo’s “Who me?” response. There is the negative: “See, see, that’s the Anthony we’ve all heard about. Not a team player.”

But then there’s the positive.

What should we expect from him after a local beat writer asks a 10-time NBA All-Star that has survived seven years of Big Apple media scrum about becoming a role player? The survival rate is higher swimming in piranha infested South American waters than dealing with the New York media, and let’s face it, the man hadn’t had time to shake the jet lag from the flight in before one of his new hometown writers is benching him.

Bench Carmelo Anthony?!?

To his credit, Carmelo took the high road. Rather than getting upset and returning insult for insult, he shrugged it off and made a joke, and did it in such a way that left Horne with some degree of dignity. Melo could have said, “Hey P, this guy, or this clown, or this whatever said.” Instead, he said, “they”, “They say I gotta come off the bench”. He even apologized to Horne for laughing but he was right. Many writers, yours truly included, speculated about Anthony becoming a sixth man, Erik Horne was just the unfortunate one to say it out loud.

My understanding is that local writers gather together, discuss what is the really tough question of the day, and draw straws to see who asks it. I guess Erik lost, but by letting Horne off the hook, Carmelo shined and by apologizing, even made Erik’s job better... pretty classy.

In retrospect, my own thoughts and the question itself were ill-timed and silly. Melo’s role is something for Melo, his new teammates, and the coaching staff to work out. Carmelo knows that and just like those times when it is time to hit the big shot with the clock winding down, Melo remained as cool as the other side of the pillow. There was no need to get nasty, he knows what he brings to this team and that swag combined with that touch is already drawing some big names to the Thunder bandwagon. Some I’ve always liked...

And some, not so much.

At times, Stephen A. is a world-class blowhard, but he makes a very good point with that unique Stephen A. deliver of his and brings us back to my original premise that Carmelo Anthony makes every player on this team better, even Russell Westbrook. What the First Take host forgot was that Russell Westbrook along with Paul George make Carmelo Anthony a better player as well.

When Stephen A. was gushing about the Warriors not being able to gang up on Russell and Steph Curry having to “man up on the brother,” he failed to mention that same principle also applies to Paul George and his buddy of 14 years, Carmelo Anthony. Melo has faced double and triple teams his entire career and still averaged 20 pt/gm. Paul George faced double and triple teams last season and still averaged 23.7 pts/gm. Russell Westbrook averaged 31.6 pts/gm, 10.4 asst/gm, and 10.7 rebounds and walked away with the MVP trophy last year while seemingly facing the entire NBA every night. Now they are all set free.

One on one coverage will be the norm and, when teams dare to double team, there are two equals to kick the ball to and make them pay.

I’m just surprised that there is any doubt about this team succeeding. Boston made it work, Miami made it work, Golden State made it work twice, first with 3 and then with 4 marquee players. That old, “there’s only one ball” argument didn’t fit those cases. Why would it apply now?

Since his arrival, Carmelo has already said it more than once: these three are professionals. It’s not about who is the first, second, or third option. It’s about who is open and who is hot. It’s about enjoying playing together and it’s about winning.

It doesn’t matter what team the Thunder plays, two of these players will be facing opponents second or third best defender and not their ace or double-teams. Even taking less shot, their numbers will take care of themselves because their efficiency ratings will rise.

That’s why super teams generally meet expectations. These star players have spent an entire career saying it’s not their numbers that count, it’s all about winning. When they become a part of a team with peers of similar talent, it leaves them little choice but to put their money where their mouth is.

“Hoodie Melo”

Other than Presti’s bold trade to bring Paul George to Oklahoma City, Hoodie Melo has been the talk of the 2017 NBA Summer and Anthony talked about the phenomena on media day:

SBNation’s Whitley Medworth chronicled the evolution of the NBA’s newest cult hero and wrote:

Hoodie Melo was created after fans began to see him constantly wearing a hoodie while working out, mostly with Chris Brickley. Brickley has become the go-to workout guru for many NBA athletes including Anthony, Kevin Durant, and C.J. McCollum.

Hoodie Melo works out at 2 a.m. Hoodie Melo doesn’t miss. Hoodie Melo makes LeBron Jameslook like a mere mortal.

Hoodie Melo is faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. He can leap tall buildings with a single bound. Look! Out on the court! It’s a ghost. It’s a machine!!! NO!!! IT’S HOODIE MELO!!

Sorry, I got caught up in the “Hoodie Melo” craze there for a moment.

Hoodie Melo isn’t a fad, he’s a symbol of re-dedication and a symbol of the commitment to excellence that Carmelo made to himself at the end of last season. The past two years have been rough ones for Anthony and his family. Negative comments from former President Phil Jackson, combined with the Knicks missing the playoffs the past four years, had taken their toll and Anthony was ready to move in a different direction.

The first step was to get in shape. No matter where he started the season, Hoodie Melo was going to be ready.

Before - Melo’s comments on this Instagram are telling. These are the words of a man on a mission.

After - The change in just 6 weeks is obvious. According to the New York Post, Carmelo’s goal was to get down to his rookie playing weight. It is unclear whether he made it or not, but he clearly looks much more like the Carmelo Anthony the Denver Nuggets traded than the beleaguered Super-Star that has missed the last four playoffs.

Carmelo’s next goal was to sharpen his game and when he brought Hoodie Melo with him to the highly publicized scrimmages at the Life Time Sky Club Gym in Manhattan this summer, a legend was born.

Carmelo makes the Thunder better, the hoodie is helping Melo be better, thus Hoodie Melo makes the Thunder that much better... I’m in.

I’m just glad Carmelo went with the hoodie. It would have been a lot tougher to buy into “Beanie Melo.”

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Anthony, whose father is Puerto Rican, and has family there, started a relief fund in hopes of raising $1 million dollars to aid the victims. I just made my $10 donation and challenge other Thunder fans to do the same. When Carmelo arrived in Oklahoma City he got a small taste of what the people here are about. This is a great chance to show him what the Oklahoma Standard is all about.