Carmelo Anthony has been traded from the New York Knicks to the Oklahoma City Thunder to form a new superstar trident alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George. While it’ll undoubtedly be interesting to see how this pans out, there are already a series of possible positives and negatives that come with this blockbuster trade.
The first question that Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan has to answer is how he’ll line up the Thunder as the season passes. Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams are undisputed starters going back as last year, while Anthony and George will seemingly receive starting berths alongside André Roberson, per the Thunder’s media day.
Theoretically, this is most balanced starting five for the Thunder, with one of George or Anthony at the power forward position and the remaining player taking up small forward duties. However, both Melo and PauL George have voiced out their discontent at playing the 4 full-time in the past. Neither player enjoys the defensive requirements of the role, as well as having to bang down low with players often bigger than them.
If Donovan ever starts Anthony and George at the 2 and the 3, this would relegate André Roberson to the bench. Roberson is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and has proved as much in the last couple of Playoffs, but his incredibly limited offensive skillset would practically render him useless coming off the bench.
Additionally, a wing duo of Roberson and one of Anthony and George would boost OKC’s defense. All three players can lead a switchable defense and both wings are capable of helping out the power forward who wouldn’t be in his defensive comfort zone.
The other biggest concern is that the big three of Westbrook, George, and Anthony are three of the most ball-dominant players in the league. According to Basketball Reference, Westbrook posted a historically high 41.7 USG% (usage percentage) last season, while Anthony and George were in the NBA’s top 20 with a 29.1 USG% and a 28.9 USG% respectively.
With all three on the same team, they won’t be able to get as many touches on the ball. Hierarchy, position, and time on the team indicates that Westbrook will be the player who has the ball the most, but it remains to be seen how George and Anthony adapt after being the leaders in Indiana and New York the past few years.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor suggested that this trade will allow the Team USA version of Carmelo Anthony to make it into the NBA. In other words, OKC’s new no. 7 would be less ball-dominant and be an elite off-the-catch shooter (Anthony had a 42.6 catch-and-shoot 3P% last season, according to the NBA) who can also take over in isolation situations. However, it’s worth noting that “Team USA Melo” plays for less minutes (23.3 minutes/game in the Rio Olympics, according to USA Basketball), is on the best international roster in the world, and plays against lesser opposition during just a couple of months.
On the other hand, Paul George’s struggles with not having the ball in key moments are well-documented, and this is when he played for Indiana where he was actually the best player on the team. George lashed out in the 2017 Playoffs for not having taken the last shot in Game 1 against Cleveland, but since entering the NBA, George has the dismal recognition of going 0/15 in go-ahead shots in the last 20 seconds of the game, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.
As mentioned earlier, Oklahoma City’s current starting lineup (Westbrook, Roberson, George, Anthony, Adams) gives them a switch-heavy defense, possibly one of the best in the league. Westbrook and Anthony aren’t the best defenders, but they can hold their own when motivated. And they should be motivated. Meanwhile, Roberson, George, and Steven Adams are all some of the best defensive players in their respective positions.
This lineup is also tailor-made to combat Golden State, the Thunder’s biggest rivals, especially if Adams is swapped out for the incoming Patrick Patterson. The only Achilles heel would be Roberson’s poor free throw shooting, but Oklahoma City now have the manpower to sub Roberson out for a positive player in those situations. In a late game situation, a flexible lineup could easily consist of Westbrook, George, Anthony, Patterson, and Adams.
Westbrook, George, and Anthony have all been the sole superstars on their teams up to this point. This has made them deal with double-team, triple-team, and trap situations. Now, this is no longer an option for opposing teams. If you double up on Melo, this leaves Westbrook or PG13 open to do damage and vice versa.
The added firepower of Carmelo Anthony and Paul George will also allow Oklahoma City to not crumble when Westbrook is benched. In last season’s Playoffs series against the Houston Rockets, Houston outscored OKC by 58 points in the 46 minutes Russell was on the bench. According to the NBA, Oklahoma City’s offensive rating (points scored/produced per 100 possessions) was a measly 97.4 for the entire season when Westbrook was off the court.
Although the ISO-only mentality is a relic in today’s league, it’s still a highly valuable skillset in clutch situations. Carmelo Anthony’s isolation scoring ability is undoubtedly elite. This is a man who scored 50 points on only jump shots. Per the NBA, Melo scored on 47.3% of his isolations last season, just below Kevin Durant and above LeBron James.
It’s tough to predict how anything will pan out in the NBA, but Carmelo Anthony’s trade will bring some positives and some negatives. It’s up to the organization, the players, Billy Donovan, and Melo himself to determine what the end of this blockbuster story will be.