Will Melo Work in OKC?
The Carmelo Anthony drama in New York has been going on for a long time. The former New York Knick President of Basketball Operations, Phil Jackson, did everything short of kicking Carmelo Anthony’s dog to get rid of him. He bashed Melo any chance he could and openly talked about wanting to trade him, which was not easy because Phil had given him a no trade clause. This summer Melo made it be known that he wanted out of New York and he would only welcome a trade to the Houston Rockets. The problem was that the Houston Rockets did not have what the Knicks wanted meaning that we were getting closer and closer to an NBA soap opera of Melo reporting to media day for the Knicks.
Fortunately for Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder stepped up to the plate and made their second ridiculously amazing trade of the summer as they traded Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and the Chicago Bulls 2018 2nd round pick to get the 33 year old superstar. The Thunder are getting Anthony at a strange time in his career, the perception of Carmelo as a player is at an all time low. He has 2 years left on his deal, but there is an early termination option for Carmelo after this season. There are better players in the league than Carmelo for sure, but to get Carmelo for what the Thunder gave up is an absolute steal in my opinion. While I am not high on Carmelo Anthony as a superstar in the NBA, which you can read about here, he can still be quite valuable. On the surface the move looks like an absolute slam dunk, but there are some concerns if you are the Thunder.
The first is that you traded two players that were going to be part of your rotation that knew their roles for an aging star that has always been the go to guy on his team. We witnessed it with Kobe Bryant and the terrible Lakers teams, that some players have a hard time letting go of being the man. Carmelo Anthony is coming to the Thunder as the third option and there is a chance that he might buck at scoring less than 20 points per game and not getting 17-19 shots per game. Also, what happens the first time that he does not play a fourth quarter because the Thunder are playing some great defense and Patrick Patterson and Andre Roberson are both playing well? Does he accept that and understand his role or does he get upset and undermine the team?
The second is that Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Russell Westbrook could all walk away this summer and become unrestricted free agents. Carmelo, George, and Westbrook all have player options that allow them to skip that last year of their contracts. This could all be settled by the middle of October if Russell Westbrook signs the extension that the Thunder have offered him, but as of now he has yet to do that. If he chooses not to sign it and all three become free agents, it would be catastrophic for the Thunder franchise to lose all three of those players for nothing.
The third is that Carmelo Anthony does not really help you beat the Golden State Warriors. Anthony is not the type of player that can help you defend against the Warriors. His ability to score is unquestioned, but you do not want to get into a track meet with the Warriors. Anthony and Paul George give Oklahoma City what they were missing last year and that is players that can be the focal point when Westbrook takes a rest. However, I think that the Thunder have championship aspirations and you are not getting to the Finals without going through Golden State.
Despite all of these concerns, the Thunder had to make this move. Enes Kanter provided a valuable service for the Thunder with his ability to score off the bench and in the paint, but as I joked on twitter, Kanter’s best defense is his offensive rebounding. Billy Donovan famously mouthed to his assistant, "Can't play Kanter" due to his inability to handle the pick and roll of Houston in the playoffs. Kanter is the type of player that cannot give you minutes against every team in the league. His skill set is not going to always help you win. Carmelo Anthony can score and provide passable defense against any team in the league when he wants to. He is a legit scoring option that you can go to multiple times per game. In addition, Doug McDermott showed some great potential last season for the Thunder, but he does not move the needle for you in the way that Carmelo Anthony does. Anthony is instant offense and he is a great spot up player when he finds himself in that type of possession. He rated out in the 93rd percentile according to Synergy. You can see how efficient he was in this chart. The Thunder know this and they have watched Carmelo Anthony play in the Olympics, where he absolutely dominated in a supporting role. They had to feel confident that pairing Carmelo up with the league MVP and Paul George would help him to be willing to sacrifice personal stats for team success.
Carmelo Anthony is on a good team and the expectations for the Thunder are now going to be quite high. Anthony is a great player and it is time to see if he can play on a winning team. He is paired up with two great players in George and Westbrook and surrounded by quality rotation guys like Steven Adams, Patrick Patterson, and Andre Roberson. The Thunder look like a very good team and they have to feel good about the team they have been able to rebuild since losing Durant. While there are huge question marks and concerns, the Thunder’s Sam Presti made a gutsy move and it could cost him his job if they lose all three this summer, but that is the life of an NBA General Manager, you have to take risks for the benefit of your team and if you have the opportunity to add a player like Carmelo Anthony for a couple of rotation players, you have to do it. What a great way to end the NBA summer and turn our attention to the beginning of training camp.