On Saturday, the sports world at large, and specifically our Golden State Warriors, were engulfed in an heroic war of words against some idiot. Our intrepid team wrote a bunch about that.
But that drama just was not enough for the basketball gods, and so they treated us to a blockbuster trade as well: the New York Knicks sent megastar Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter, Dougie McBuckets, and a draft pick.
While we had more pressing Warriors-related matters to attend to yesterday on Golden State of Mind, that doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions! After spilling our guts about the trade in Slack, we went ahead and spilled more of our guts into this Reaction Roundtable. Please read this instead of watching the terrible NFL.
For the New York Knicks, this might be an addition-by-subtraction situation. If this makes them worse in the very short term, it’s still to their benefit, as they can now focus on dismantling the A-Frame House that Phil Jackson was contracted to build but slept through half the job, using Kristaps Porzingis as the inarguable centerpiece for whatever comes next.
As for the Thunder: well, I started talking about the Knicks first because I still don’t know what to make of this OKC team. In Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, you have two distinct and transformative singularities. Typically you’d ask the question, “How does this player fit into the puzzle?” But neither Carmelo or Russ are puzzle piece players. They’re like if you’re working on a puzzle with a few people at one end of the table and someone else decides to spin a top at the other end of the table. Now there are two tops spinning next to an unfinished puzzle and Billy Donovan is nervously skittering around the table hoping that it doesn’t collapse into chaos.
But you know what would be pretty fun? Walking into a room expecting to see a completed puzzle and instead you’ve got these tops spinning everywhere. It might not always work, but it’s definitely not going to be boring.
How one evaluates the Carmelo-to-OKC trade really depends on what your expectations are. Are you asking if the Thunder are going to be a better and more exciting team or are you asking if they’re a team that can compete with/knock off the Warriors?
The Thunder are, obviously, a better and more talented team with Carmelo. That GM Sam Presti was able to add Anthony and Paul George while only having to give up Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and Enes Kanter was tantamount to highway robbery. Those players, paired with Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, and free-agent acquisition Patrick Patterson make for a collection of talent that’s slightly beneath the Warriors and, depending on what Melo contributes, could be the second best in the Western Conference. While Westbrook carried the Thunder to the 6th seed in the West last season, this season they should definitely be seen as a prohibitive top 4 Western Conference team and a tough group to match up against.
But if you’re trying to answer the question “does this put the Thunder at the Warriors level?” or “Are the Thunder now a team that could beat the Warriors in the playoffs?” I would say that this doesn’t change anything and the Thunder still aren’t that team.
We throw around the notion of “there’s only one ball” too easily, but this does apply with the new Thunder roster. Westbrook, George, and Anthony were all in the top 25 of usage rate last season; these are players who command an offense and it runs through them. Westbrook also ranked near the top in terms of time of possession and seconds per touch, while Anthony and George ranked high among forwards. These are stats that skew towards guards having higher numbers so it’s worth looking specifically at forwards for Anthony and George.
While Westbrook did pass a great deal last season (I mean, he averaged double-digits in assists), both Anthony and George were middle of the pack even amongst forwards. For the Thunder to get the most out of these players, which they will need to do to compete with the Warriors, the ball needs to move around and not be stagnant.
One can find more evidence that these players are ball stoppers when you consider that all three players ranked in the top 20 last season in terms of pull up field goals attempted. Westbrook, Anthony, and George are all prone to taking shots that don’t involve much creation and ball movement. When the Thunder were pushing the Warriors to Game 7 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals, they moved the ball and stretched out on the court. I wonder if the talent that Presti has collected for this Thunder team can really do that and play like that.
Because the traits (and strengths) of these players overlap so much, I don’t know if the Thunder will be set up to get the most out of George and Anthony by having them play with Westbrook. I also have my doubts about head coach Billy Donovan’s ability to blend these somewhat disparate pieces together and whether the Thunder will be strong enough defensively. George is a good defender but I have my doubts about Westbrook and some serious questions about Anthony on that end of the floor.
It really shouldn’t surprise me that the Knicks literally traded Melo away for Kanter and a handful of nothing, but I’m still blown away by the package they accepted by OKC. I was never a big fan of Melo’s game, but he has to be worth more than this, right?
The Thunder on the other hand got a little more interesting. I agree with my fellow GSOM staffers that the chemistry and fit looks iffy at best. But considering the teams that Melo wanted to be traded to, I would think he had to have known that there was a necessary role shift coming in his career. Every destination he had on his list pegged him as the Chris Bosh and/or Kevin Love of a superstar trio.
If he’s able to embrace being a spot up shooter from the corner, he could very well be a nice addition for Westbrook to kick out to when defenses collapse on his drives. It’s worth noting his shooting percentage from downtown was pretty mediocre the past 2 years and has been inconsistent throughout his career, but he’s still a much more attractive option than watching Roberson brick shots off the side of the backboard. Needless to say, if the ball drops in his favor this year like it did 3 seasons ago (40% 3PT/56% TS), OKC may end up being quite a bit more dangerous on the offensive end.
Defensively they’re still a sieve, so I don’t think we have anything to worry about when the postseason rolls around.
The Thunder have obviously made some very good deals this summer bringing in first Paul George, and now Melo, for basically spare parts. But buyer beware. From someone who watched a lot of Melo on the Knicks, it is not going to be smooth sailing.
He was basically poisonous in New York, chasing off anyone who might threaten his throne. He demands touches and shots, and will never accept being a third option on offense — which he will have to be in OKC with Paul George wanting plenty of touches too.
He has only ever played like “Olympic Melo” for brief periods when surrounded by veteran ball handlers, such as Billups or Kidd. Russell Westbrook is not going to bring out the best in him. His rebounding and shooting percentage at close range, once a real plus, have fallen off. He’s ageing, and not gracefully.
If there was ever a case of “there’s only one ball”, a team featuring Westbrook and Melo is going to be it. The Thunder have a lot of talent, and will doubtless cause teams problems. But none more so than the ones they will pose themselves.
For the Knicks, it’s a chance for Porzingis to shine. Dolan will forever poison the culture there, but there will be a real boon from freeing themselves from the Melodrama that had engulfed their franchise.
First things first: Sam Presti deserves a gold star. The Thunder were sitting on two horrible contracts with Enes Kanter and Victor Oladipo. It’s quite possible they would have given them both away for free, if such a thing were possible. That they managed to not only get rid of them, but get Paul George and Carmelo Anthony back in the process, without giving up any future building blocks or taking on horrible contracts? Brilliant. Then again, Presti gave Kanter and Oladipo those terrifying contracts in the first place, so applauding him is akin to lauding someone for escaping the handcuffs they put on themselves.
While the trade clearly makes the Thunder better, there are some hidden concerns. First, it likely pushes Patrick Patterson out of the starting rotation. Patterson is not only one of the most underrated and underpaid players in the game, but a perfect fit in OKC. His ability to shoot threes gives the Thunder much-needed spacing, while his play on the other end helps solidify one of the league’s top defenses. It’s easy to say that the Thunder traded Kanter and Doug McDermott for Anthony, but really they traded Kanter, McDermott, and a significant chunk of Patterson’s minutes.
The Thunder will likely have a very good record, but I foresee serious issues when the playoffs start. Carmelo is an isolation scorer who’s not a great threat from downtown. Sound familiar? Yeah, that describes Russell Westbrook as well. The playoffs are a different animal: teams scheme their defenses to defend specific players and specific play types. As the Spurs showed last year against James Harden and the Rockets, there are ways to slow down isolation wings who don’t shoot particularly well from downtown, no matter how talented they are. That the Thunder now have two such players doesn’t really alleviate that issue. Ultimately, the Dubs can put Kevin Durant on Paul George, and then pack the paint and dare Westbrook, Anthony, and Andre Roberson to take low-percentage shots. Suddenly they’re not too scary.
As my time is short and it’s been briefly covered by my esteemed colleagues in this roundtable, I’m not going to waste time addressing the raging dumpster fire that is the New York Knicks. #Yikes. Can we talk some basketball strategy for a second? I’m referring to the good ol’ “Drive-and-Kick”.
We know Russ is a human jackhammer. His impatient, hyper-aggressive probing into the paint off of transition or pick and rolls unlock a simple but deadly series of events.
- Once the D collapses to prevent the drive and/or a OKC big rolling towards the rim, Russ can easily fling a pass to an open teammate. This quick pass is called the kick.
- That “open teammate” used to be Kevin Durant/James Harden. Since they could shoot or accelerate for posterizing jams, it put their defender in a “no man’s land”. It’s damn near impossible to stop those guys when the defender’s out of position and scrambling back to contest them after being lured in by a barreling Westbrook drive. Usually this would end in a high quality shot for Russ’s teammate.
- What made the action increasingly dangerous was that any one of those three players could rotate places to initiate the cruel conundrum. If KD or Harden couldn’t take the shot, they could restart the sequence as Russ vacated the middle. Drive. Kick. Rinse. Repeat. Russ, KD, and Harden stuffed the San Antonio Spurs into a body bag largely because of this action (sheesh, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to lose to OKC in the playoffs).
The OKC strategy hasn’t changed much since then, even with Harden traded and KD “liberated” (shout out the homie @stepfdelaghetto for coining that). The offense generally looked like garbage with Andre Roberson and Victor Oladipo in the “open teammate” role as they ran the gamut from “saboteurs shaving points” to “moderately useful” as offensive weapons.
I would warn the GSOM community to not let our hoop snobbery diminish our recognizing the overall effectiveness of this concept though. Let’s not forget that the strategy has yielded a lot of big time playoff victories for OKC, and would have broken us if not for Klay Thompson going supernova in Game 6 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Sam Presti has effectively replaced KD/Harden with PG13 and “Future Big 3 League MVP” Melo. These two Olympic Gold Medalists are offensive savants who are motivated to prove they aren’t washed up.
Folks, that’s problematic. Do you really think the Thunder won’t polish up that deadly, simple, tried and true offensive game plan? They will be very difficult to stop for the majority of the NBA if Melo and PG13 buy into reviving OKC’s drive-and-kick death machine.
Thank God we aren’t the majority of the NBA. Our depth, offense, and defense are LIGHT YEARS ahead of these cats. I have no doubt we will sweep the regular series from them for the third straight year in entertaining fashion. At least I truly do expect these games to actually remain competitive when the 4th quarter starts. Unlike last season.
Not much to add to the thoughts except that there is a mythical creature called Olympic Carmelo. This creature plays well off-ball, plays defense, moves the ball, plays the 4 when needed and is a strong complementary player. Some people think this creature only exists in the Olympics when the other players are Hall of Famers. Carmelo certainly hasn’t been Olympic with the Knicks, refusing to play the 4 (despite that being a natural position for him and his high post game), or adopt a motion offense (various varieties from D’Antoni, Fisher, Rambis, Hornacek and Phil Jackson).
There is also a mythical creature called Selfless Westbrook. This creature, when surrounded with bad players, is forced to stat-pad for triple-doubles, hog the ball and shoot a record number of shots at a historically low percentage. But when this creature finally has worthy teammates, he will become a force that amplifies his teammates in performance and morale.
This trade is going to answer once and for all whether Olympic Melo and Selfless Westbrook can exist in the NBA, or whether there were myths all along.
Hot damn, that’s good stuff. So: What does the GSOM community think?
Where does OKC stand in the Western Conference heading into the season?
This poll is closed
Contender for the top seed (aka "I’m either a cop or a troll")
2nd or 3rd seed, better than the Rockets and/or Spurs
4th seed: still not enough for top three, but good enough for home court advantage
5th seed or lower. Bums