Space becomes a commodity with new lineups

Yeah, sure you had to pinch yourself in order to remember that Carmelo Anthony and Paul George are a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, one thing you don’t have to freak out about this season is space.

It’s going to be plenty. No more teams building a wall and forcing Russell Westbrook to beat four defenders — he did — and no more just super bad shot selections because defenses played 5-on-1. You think the Thunder’s space was nice with Kevin Durant? Adding in a third superstar changes the game.

Last season, this is what we saw, Westbrook barreling into the paint and getting to the rim. He does it surrounded by a hoard of defenders. That’s all well and good. However, when you have no real offensive help. Let’s be honest, Victor Oladipo was about as consistent as a pathological liar. While Westbrook often did not have any perimeter help — The Thunder ranked 30th in three-point shooting — his ability to get to the rim is second to none.

As we see here in this still against Miami, four defenders leave their players to defend Westbrook. He scores on the drive. However, they know two things: 1) With Westbrook attacking the rim, there aren’t as many reliable shooters on the floor for Westbrook to kick it out to. It’s just Alex Abrines, Andre Roberson and Jerami Grant. 2) Westbrook gets on that one-track mindset to just go up when he’s attacking. His drive-and-kick numbers last year were career lows.

So, where is Westbrook going to go with the ball? He goes to the rim and scores. Oklahoma City won this game on the back of Westbrook.

It’ll start with George and Anthony hanging out on the perimeter. No more leaving players like Alex Abrines open in the corner. When two players of that talent are on your roster, defenses can no longer game plan for only Westbrook. That three-man wall you see in the image above will be forced to hold their ground because if you’re going to leave Paul George or Carmelo Anthony open, the Thunder’s chances just improved considerably.

Westbrook will have to give the ball up more. While that tunnel vision is known on Westbrook and mentioned above in point No. 2, his sometimes flawed method of barreling into the paint without the regard of his teammates standing alone on the outside, looking in. However, if we go back to the previous year with Durant in tow, the MVP found his teammates open a lot of the time. More points were created due to the lesser attention on him.

Paul George is a career 37 percent three-point shooter. Last season alone, the former Fresno State Bulldog nailed 39.3 percent of his treys. While Melo is not nearly as efficient as George, Melo’s 35.9 percent three-point shooting last season would have ranked him fifth last season. If you compare last year’s numbers to this season, last year’s roster shot 32.7 percent from deep. Even with the others removed, the average still remained at 37.7 percent. Now, let’s add in a one-on-one guarded George and Melo: the Thunder’s average jumps to 34.8 percent. That would be good enough for 20th in the NBA, a whole 10 teams jumped.

It starts with Westbrook’s ability to drive and not be attacked by five guys. It starts with George and Anthony doing their jobs and puling defenders away from Westbrook. The Thunder are on the verge of something great and it starts at becoming more efficient on the offensive end.

If the Thunder can do that, this offense could become a flying death machine, rivaling those in Miami.

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