You can’t win in the modern landscape of NBA basketball without at least three top tier talents, and even then, you need a LOT of things to swing your way if you’re going to be successful. In the off-season, the Thunder made the moves they thought would put them in title contention. They traded away Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in exchange for Paul George, and said goodbye to Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to welcome Carmelo Anthony into the fold. So, with the All Star break come and gone, and with just a tick over 20 games to go before the post-season begins, how has this all worked out – and more particularly – the Melo element of the new look Thunder?
Chemistry was always going to be something that took time to develop. And since a rough and rugged first month of basketball, things have been pretty good. Sure, there have been a number of poor games, poor shooting nights and matchups that just haven’t worked. At times, it’s been clunky and static – but as the stars of OKC have worked together, they’ve managed to iron out a number of the wrinkles.
Russ is still averaging a near triple-double with George and Melo flanking him. Paul George was an All Star and is having the best three-point shooting year of his career – on more attempts – and then we have Carmelo. Anthony has been the star who has had to adjust the most in this experiment. In his 16th season in the league, he has been asked to shoulder less and less of the offensive burden, has moved away from his isolation style of play and scoring dominance and has embraced the ball movement, spot up shooting role for which he is best suited on this roster.
I think that, more than anything, says a LOT about Carmelo Anthony.
It’s clear Russ and George were on the recruiting trail before the season started. They managed to get Anthony to waive his no-trade clause and to open up his list of options to include the Thunder. It was a wise choice. Now that Melo is finding his feet (and let’s not forget that after playing basketball a certain way for nearly 30 years, there is going to be a HUGE adjustment!) after 50 or so games, he has turned out to be quite a difference maker and indeed the “third star” that OKC needed to compete (along with the continued emergence of Steven Adams, but that’s a story for another day!).
One of the best spot up shooters in the league, Melo is getting accustomed to that role, shooting more spot up shots and attempting more long range shots that he has before. This is deliberate as it opens up the lane for Russ to work his magic and won’t allow teams to clog the paint, which is also why Steven Adams is continuing his improvement. He has also bought into the ball movement system, regularly making the extra pass to a teammate in a better position to score the basketball – something he had struggled with in the triangle at New York. As a result, his “production” in terms of points and shot attempts has declined, but his value has increased.
There are many incarnations of “Melo”. We have Cornrow Melo – the young, take the league by storm, score at will assassin who toiled away in Denver for numerous seasons. We have the New York “Coming Home” Melo who got to be the franchise star for his hometown team. There’s also “Olympic Melo” the long range scoring, paint patrolling bully who is too big and strong to be guarded and a match up nightmare for opposing forwards. And of course, who can forget the iconic “Hoodie Melo” who has made such a lasting impression that when he was traded to OKC, the fans greeted him at the airport in hoodies! (Gotta love Thunder fans!!!) But this year, we are seeing “Thunder Melo” and it’s been fascinating, at times frustrating, but fantastic overall.
The change of game style was not only essential, it’s been effective. His presence has been professional and passionate, not petulant. He is having fun again, and his energy has been contagious. The Thunder believe they can win it all, and some big wins over the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers back up that line of thinking. And Carmelo Anthony is a huge reason for this. We all loved Enes Kanter (and Doug McDermott) but we needed Carmelo Anthony. We needed him then and we need him now, and next year too. The chemistry and hard work this team and these guys have undertaken to become a contender is STILL a work in progress and will only get better with time.
We also need Melo because he seems to have formed a great relationship with Russ, Adams, George and Billy Donovan. This helps when trying to keep Paul George after this season. George has always said he wants to win and he wants to play on a contender with a great supporting cast and somewhere he has fun. This Thunder team provides all that and more – yet another way the addition of Carmelo Anthony has been a boon for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
I honestly believe that Carmelo Anthony’s legacy in OKC will be huge. He is closer to winning a title than he has ever been before (which would sit nicely alongside his College championship and gold medals), he is a key component on and off the floor for the Thunder, and he’s a role model for the younger guys on the roster like Terrance Ferguson, Josh Huestis and Jerami Grant.
It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been practical. And the Thunder have never let “perfect” get in the way of very, very good.