After a few days in Oklahoma City, the role of Carmelo Anthony is already a topic of discussion.
Of course, the 2017-18 Thunder is the best team that Anthony has played with on paper. Playing alongside Paul George and Russell Westbrook will allow opportunities for each to thrive and show the best of their capabilities.
I do think he has very, very good vision. And I think he put that on display with Team USA at points in time.
-Billy Donovan on Anthony’s passing.
The specter of “there aren’t enough basketballs to go around” continues to loom large over the organization. How can three ball-dominant players co-exist in a way that the Thunder can achieve their full potential?
Some of these questions were going to be there even if the Anthony trade did not occur. With a shorter preseason and less time to gel with his teammates, detractors of Anthony’s game — or what they think Anthony’s game is — will prosper until actual basketball begins.
Everyone knows about the scoring Anthony will provide. His 24.8 points per game over his career speaks for itself. Thunder GM Sam Presti highlighted an underrated facet of his game — his passing.
Even head coach Billy Donovan raved about his passing ability at Thunder Media Day.
“Carmelo, even the last two years playing against the Knicks, watching film, he’s really a smart player,” Donovan said. “He knows how to play. I think he’s got a good feel of how to play. I do think he sees the floor.”
Westbrook is a proven passer. George has shown the ability to play off the ball and within an offense. Anthony’s passing can be an advantage for Oklahoma City if Donovan allows the offense to flow through him similar to Enes Kanter with the second unit.
With a few weeks until the regular season starts let us imagine how Anthony’s passing can benefit the Thunder, broken down by player or position.
Steven Adams/Center Position
Right off the bat, Anthony demands so much attention with the ball in his hands. With the athleticism and talent on this roster, Oklahoma City will have plenty of opportunities for fast breaks.
Steven Adams is a player often mentioned as one who will benefit the most with more spacing on the floor. Anthony’s ability as a passer can flourish with an athletic big like Adams running the floor after steals or up-tempo possessions.
Adams has the ability to do damage off of high pick and roll. On possessions where Anthony finds himself with the ball and Adams begins to screen the high defender, the New Zealander will have clear lanes to the rim.
Last season around the 15th game mark, opponents had scouted the Thunder and took away Adams’ lob opportunities from Westbrook, as well as crowded the paint effectively taking Adams out of the game.
The factor of Adams being schemed out of games is less likely given the talent increase. The lane will be open for Adams to feast down low.
Another huge facet of Anthony’s game is his willingness to get physical on the block. With his size, he has the ability to bully smaller fours and threes with ease. This attention from the defense allows the backside to be wide open under the rim.
“Floor spacing” will be a phrase you will hear countless times this season. The transition from last year’s Thunder squad to this year’s is incredible.
With this roster having a nice balance between defenders and scorers, the fast break off of turnover possessions will be plentiful.
The attention that Anthony garners from defenders in desperate attempts to get back on defense allows shooters to find lonely spots in the corner. Anthony’s vision is impressive when he has capable shooters at his disposal.
“I do think he has very, very good vision,” Donovan said. “And I think he put that on display with Team USA at points in time.”
His vision is really impressive when you see examples of him passing across the three point area once the defense collapses onto him.
Alex Abrines, George and others will have open opportunities once Anthony drives towards the hoop.
This is where the fun begins. Considering both player are high-usage rate/iso-centric players, there are some who are hesitant to call the basketball marriage between Anthony and Westbrook an immediate success.
But there is too much talent and too lofty of goals for these great players to not figure it out. Once the reigning MVP and Anthony can learn how to play with one another effectively, the highlights will come.
When you have such talented offensive players that demand so much attention, they are generating good shots for other people.
-Donovan on Anthony’s passing
Typically, Westbrook enjoys dumping the ball off to another player and remaining at the top of the three point line. This was the case when Kanter and Westbrook shared the floor. Expect some half-court possessions with Westbrook dumping it off to Anthony on the block to happen.
Once Anthony asserts himself on the block and influences the defense towards him, Westbrook will have a lane to the basket.
“When you have such talented offensive players that demand so much attention, they are generating good shots for other people,” Donovan said after practice. “The ball is moving well right now and we need to keep that going.”
Simply put, Oklahoma City will have a plethora of opportunities to not only bring out the best in their new Big Three, but also showcase the talents of their role players.
Guys like Adams, Abrines, Jerami Grant — who showed he is more than capable and willing to shoot the long ball — and Patrick Patterson can thrive on a team with multiple stars.
If Oklahoma City is going to have success deep in the postseason, Anthony’s passing in harmony with the rest of his team can have a lot to say about it.
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