After an evening where the only NBA game was the miserable Lakers versus the even more miserable Chicago Bulls (seriously NBA, wtf? It’s 2017, not 1987!) tonight we get treated to a bonafide battle of two superteams.
This is a budding rivalry, made all the more intense by the animosity caused by Kevin Durant’s departure to Golden State. There are marquee match-ups across the court - Stephen Curry vs Russell Westbrook, Durant vs Paul George, and cupcake costumes versus any resemblence of human dignity.
But as the Thunder are discovering, just throwing talent together isn’t enough - you need to get the culture right to function as a team.
Carmelo Anthony vs Draymond Green
Today I’m going to focus on the contrast between the power forwards - Carmelo Anthony and Draymond Green - and their contribution to a team-first culture.
And it’s quite a contrast. Anthony entered the NBA amidst much pomp and ceremony, anointed as basketball royalty right from the start. Green was basically forgotten and ignored, slipping all the way to the 35th pick.
Their styles on the court are polar opposites. Anthony is a gunner - specializing in volume shooting at reasonable efficiency. He has never been known for such fripperies as passing or defense.
Of course, Draymond Green is all about defense and play-making. He quarterbacks one of the best NBA defenses in recent years that when it’s truly locked in operates as if all the players are connected on a string. He is the control center of the central nervous system and the heartbeat of the team.
On offense Green is a creator for others. He is quite simply one of the best passing and play-making power forwards of his generation.
Anthony loves himself some stats, specifically scoring ones, and even more specifically none of the advanced statistical efficiency nonsense - points per game is his trade. And let’s be clear, he is damn good at it. Never below 20 a game, he’s averaged 24.7 points per game for his entire career.
Green loves himself some four-point triple-doubles, and most importantly wins.
But it’s off the court where their contributions to winning, or not, really come to the fore. Let’s look at Anthony’s complicated and painful legacy in New York:
- He forced a trade in which the Knicks gave up all their young talent and draft picks because he was worried about not getting paid after the lockout.
- He steadfastly refused to play the way Coach Mike D’Antoni wanted, basically sabotaging his tenure until D’Antoni quit, at which point he promptly played pretty much the way his coach had wanted him to.
- He also helped the franchise chase off Jeremy Lin after the magical run of Linsanity threatened to eclipse his stardom.
- He repeatedly moaned about playing power forward, even though the team was better with him there, and he had a legitimately good season and a half from mid 2012 to claiming the second seed in the East in 2012-13.
- He chose maximizing his income over taking a big enough discount to get some proper teammates.
Phil Jackson may have been almost as bad as Isaiah Thomas with the poisoned chalice that is the GM of James Dolan’s franchise, but it take two to tango. And Anthony could tango to the beat of Madison Square Garden power struggles like the best of them…
1. Prob would've been a better idea to do this *before* picking up Phil's option.— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) June 28, 2017
2. Carmelo Anthony is undefeated in MSG power struggles. https://t.co/dV8SApnvID
This is Melo's championship— ☕netw3rk (@netw3rk) June 28, 2017
At least he reclaimed the Madison Square Garden scoring record from an even bigger chucker, and his hat game was always strong...
Ok so the #Knicks are bad but their hat game is strong pic.twitter.com/qvdoppAoh6— Patrick Murray (@PatrickMurray23) November 8, 2014
"That last play? I was too busy planning the overthrow of the bourgeoisie." pic.twitter.com/TF2GSsWkQ6— Bo Churney (@bochurney) December 18, 2013
BREAKING: @CNN is now investigating Carmelo Anthony's ties to Russia pic.twitter.com/PTrpgJ0kpQ— Evan Panczakiewicz (@evan_scott92) March 15, 2017
Contrast Green’s record in Golden State:
- He took less than the max on his first big contract, despite having only earned the minimum for his first three years.
- He doggedly recruited Durant, despite the fact it meant less shots and less shine for him.
- He regularly plays the smallball center position, sacrificing his body for the good of the team.
- He is a vocal leader on and off the court. No operating the shadows for Green; he’s all about leadership
- On the debit side, Green’s fashion choices lack a certain something. Like the second half of his trousers.
It’s not all about ME
Let’s be clear, the Thunder’s early season struggles are not all about Anthony. Their point guard may be able to do amazing things on a basketball court, but Westbrook is also petty as hell, and we all know he loves to stat-pad. He’s not a player who helps teammates maximize their value - just look at what his former teammates such as Victor Oladipo are doing without him. The Westbrook effect indeed.
But it is no coincidence that Oklahoma’s record sits at a pedestrian 7-9, while the New York Knicks, freed of melodrama, are exceeding expectations with a 9-7 start. For long-time Anthony watchers this comes as no suprise. The same thing happened when he left Denver. Sometimes there is such as thing as addition by subtraction.
Ultimately getting a superteam to gel doesn’t happen overnight. But you do need to have something to grease the wheels. Draymond Green isn’t just the oil, he’s the engine. Carmelo Anthony just isn’t that guy. There’s no ‘me’ in Draymond Green, whereas M and E are the first two letters of Carmelo Anthony’s well-known moniker.
Doubtless the Thunder will pick it up and prove a tough team in the playoffs - they have too much talent not to get it together. But unlike the Warriors they will likely always be less than the sum of their parts.
Later today we get to see these two polar opposites match-up on the court. I for one am glad we’ve got Draymond Green in our corner.