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Sunday, September 24, 2017

How Good Are the New Look Thunder?

After acquiring All-Star Paul George without giving up much, Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti has reportedly traded Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second round pick to the New York Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder now have a "Big Three" consisting of 2017 NBA regular season MVP Russell Westbrook, four-time All-Star/three-time All-NBA Third Team selection Paul George and 10-time All-Star/six-time All-NBA Second Team or Third Team selection Carmelo Anthony. This trio is not going to make anyone forget James-Wade-Bosh, Garnett-Pierce-Allen or other Big Threes that won at least one championship but if each Thunder All-Star understands and embraces his respective role then the Thunder could emerge as the second or third best team in the West, with a puncher's chance to beat the Golden State Warriors if the Warriors suffer injuries and/or complacency.

It is well documented that I do not believe that George or Anthony is equipped to be the best player on a legitimate championship contender. In fact, I recently wrote, "It is very unlikely that Anthony will ever be the best player on a championship team--and at this stage of his career he probably would not even be the second best player on a championship team."

However, George is an excellent two-way player. He certainly could be the second best player on a championship team, provided that he accepts that role as opposed to believing that he can be or should be running the show.

Similarly, even though Anthony is miscast as the first option or perhaps even as the second option on a championship contender, he is potentially quite well-suited to being the third option on such a team. Anthony was the best player on an NCAA championship team based largely on his superior ability but in the NBA he has generally performed at his best when he has not been required to lead and/or not been required to be the team's best player; Anthony has never displayed the leadership skills or all-around skill set necessary to carry a team to a title but he could be a tremendous third option for a contending team, because this would be similar to the role he has quite successfully filled on more than one occasion for Team USA during FIBA play: score a ton of points while his more talented and versatile teammates draw double teams and cover up for his defensive deficiencies.

Next season, Thunder opponents are going to be primarily focused on containing Westbrook and secondarily focused on dealing with George. Anthony is going to be checked by the third best wing defender or by a slow-footed power forward when the Thunder go small. Anthony will see fewer double teams than he has ever seen outside of FIBA play. If Anthony takes/makes open shots and quickly passes the ball when he is not open then his efficiency should climb, even if his scoring average falls a bit.

Anthony's defense has always been bad but the Thunder can employ lineups that will hide him to some extent. Also, with the pressure to score 25-plus ppg removed from his shoulders, perhaps Anthony will display at least a little more commitment on defense.

Phil Jackson and George Karl--two respected NBA figures who witnessed Anthony up close for years--have both offered scathing indictments of Anthony's work ethic and competitiveness. Playing for the Thunder as the third option is Anthony's best--and, perhaps, last--chance to shut up his critics by playing a key role for a championship-contending team.

I don't expect a miraculous transformation from Anthony but playing for the Knicks was a toxic situation and Anthony should relish the opportunity to distance himself from that and to prove that he can be a key contributor to a winning franchise.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:47 AM



At Monday, September 25, 2017 10:29:00 AM, Blogger HP said...

Hey David, great write up as always!

I'm cautiously excited about this team come playoff time, if only because while Paul George didn't have it in him to play at a franchise player level during an entire regular season, his level of play (and stats) jumped quite a few notches during the great dance.

Anthony as a 3rd option would make me excited if this was 2014, but nowadays I wonder if he'll have as big an impact as some people I've talked to seem to believe. Maybe in small ball line ups he'll shine as a 4.

In your opinion (and maybe this is something you want to sabe for the season preview), which of the SA/Houston/OKC trio do you see giving the Warriors the bigger challenge?

Hope everything is well.

At Tuesday, September 26, 2017 4:09:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Anthony is a guy that needs the ball in his hand to be affective. He's a ball dominant player/Hugh usage guy just like Westbrook(regardless what his assists per game says) and to an extent Paul George. I believe Anthony will have to learn how to be affective without dominating the ball. I don't believe you can rely on him being a reliable defender.

The team around Westbrook is better though. The thunder front office got Paul George and Carmelo Anthony without having to give up much.

At Tuesday, September 26, 2017 10:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we look back at nba history, except for a few rare occurrences in a down year in the nba and/or with a stacked team, only top 20 players all-time have led teams to titles. To say Melo will never lead a team to a title, even though he did in college as a freshman which is very impressive, isn't really that bad. Making it sound like he's not that good. He definitely has his issues, but a shoe-in for the HOF.

I also think Melo did almost lead his team to a title in 2009, when they lost to the LAL in WCF 4-2. That's probably one of the few series I'd say Kobe had a better cast than the opposing team's best player did, though not by much. Kobe definitely outplayed Melo in that series, but DEN had a real opportunity to steal game one and were up late in that huge. If they win game one, the whole complexion of that series could've changed.

With all that said, it's still very hard to see Melo be this 3rd option scoring 16-18ppg and focusing a lot on defense. He has still a great skill-set, but it doesn't complement RW/George that much like Ibaka could with KD/RW. This reminds me of 2008 BOS a little, but KG's skills could complement the other AS very well, and BOS had a budding AS in Rondo, as well. OKC's big 3 definitely have a lot of talent, though. They should obviously be better than last year, and at least have a chance now. Melo does seem to want to shoot jumpers more than anything else, so he should get the chance to do this as a spot-up shooter some.

At Thursday, October 05, 2017 7:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that Anthony could do well in small ball lineups as a 4 if he accepts his role (i.e., does not isolate too much on offense and at least puts forth some effort on defense).

I still like the Spurs as the second best team in the West and as the team best equipped to challenge the Warriors. OKC does not have enough depth and chemistry could also be a concern. Houston does not pose a threat to GS and would be fortunate to take a game if the teams meet in the playoffs.

At Thursday, October 05, 2017 7:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your second point is the key one: OKC acquired two All-Stars without giving up much, which is quite a feat considering how talent-bereft the roster was last season.

What OKC needs from Anthony defensively is consistent effort and game-plan discipline. No one expects him to be a stopper but Anthony as the necessary physical skills to be a competent defender.

At Thursday, October 05, 2017 7:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Anthony has had a very good career overall and that he will likely be inducted as an HoFer but I would argue that, relative to his talent and to reasonable expectations, he has not maximized his potential either individually or in terms of team success.


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