The Oklahoma City Thunder have decided to push all their chips into the middle of the table this year, and for good measure. It’s not just the teams in the West that are playing catch up to the Golden State Warriors, but the entire league. When the Thunder traded for Indiana Pacers star Paul George, and then won the year-long sweep-stakes for Carmelo Anthony, their cards suddenly appeared much greater on the flop.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) October 4, 2017
The biggest concern for the Thunder: will there be enough ball to go around to satisfy a three-headed monster? Track records would suggest no, but if you’re familiar with Melo’s work as a Team USA member, then you know he can perform beautifully as a second, and sometimes, a third option. That must be the mentality coach Billy Donavon instills in Melo for the Thunder to have success this year. Accept a lesser (but still important) role to achieve greatness.
For Melo, coming to terms with a new role can be difficult grasp, but necessary. Yes, it would be the first time he’d take a backseat playing in the NBA, but the fact that he has shown he can play on a team where he isn’t the main attraction should make this transition easier.
The reality Melo must wrap his head around is the fact that Billy Donavon is not about to take the ball out of the hands of Russell Westbrook, the reigning MVP. Westbrook loves playing downhill, and when you pair that aggressiveness with his explosiveness, he becomes impossible to stop. Westbrook creates an abundant amount of open shots for his teammates by putting continuous pressure on a defense, meaning Melo will have consistent open looks he is not accustomed to.
Despite the three-point looks Melo will get because of Russ, his biggest contribution to the Thunder will be his post up game. A skill set OKC has never once had. Yes, Kevin Durant could post up, but by doing so, you took away KD’s best attribute, his three-point shot. With Melo, he brings every aspects of offense to the game, he can shoot threes, he has a mid-range game, he posts up, and he can take over the game on any given night. He brings a consistency factor they lack since losing KD.
So, what does Melo do for this team with the ball not in his hand? He spreads the floor in a way that rivals the Warriors. Something the team has been missing since James Harden. The way Westbrook was able to attack the basket last year, with no legit three-point threats, was miraculous. Now that he has George and Melo, the paint will go from looking like Time Square on New Year’s Eve to rush hour traffic in Montana.
The last thing Melo brings to this team is that he is a closer. Last year when the game was on the line, OKC had one option: give the ball to Russ. Everyone in the world knew where the ball was going and it made them easier to defend in the waining moments. This year, the Thunder will have the luxury of George, Westbrook, or Melo in the final minutes of a game, and now have two players, Russ and Melo, to give the ball to for the final shot. Sadly for PG-13, he is not really a clutch player and has never made a buzzer-beater, so this now gives Coach Donavon multiple options on a final play call.
This team doesn’t have the reputation for being a defensive minded team. Melo and Westbrook love to take it easy on the defensive end of the floor so they can funnel all of their energy towards scoring. Adams, Andre Roberson, and George are exceptional defenders, and both Melo and Westbrook can be good when they want to be, so it will be up to Donavon to buy in on that end of the floor to win in the playoffs.
With the new style of play in the NBA, the offensive side of things have become more important. Centers and power forwards are asking to shoot threes and fans love it when they get to witness a good ol’ fashion shoot-out. With this big three together, they should be able to give the Warriors and Houston Rockets hard-fought scoring battles when they play head-to-head. The Thunder will be a force to be reckoned with this year, and their fan base is hoping for a strong playoff showing because this could be the only year they get to witness these guys together.