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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