What will playoff Melo look like?

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For the last several seasons, Carmelo Anthony has had to sit back and watch the playoffs unfold from the comfort of his own home, but this year will most likely be a different story. The Oklahoma City Thunder is currently sitting in the fourth spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Barring any sort of situation where the Thunder just decide to lay down and take naps at half court in their nine remaining games, they look destined to be playing into the postseason. This would be Anthony’s first time to make the playoffs since 2013, and it would give him an opportunity to prove that he’s still got it at 33 years old.

The lore of Olympic Melo has been hanging over this team since the day Anthony was traded back in September. Everyone knew he would be most efficient alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George if he could resurrect his style of play from his time with Team USA, and that’s what they expected. When Oklahoma City struggled to capitalize on this new dynamic early in the season, we realized that was not going to happen anytime soon. That next-level Melo expectation quickly jumped up to the playoffs, and with that deadline approaching, we’re still wondering if he’ll be unleashed.

One of the most impressive basketball performances I’ve ever seen happened when Anthony scored 37 points in only 14 minutes in a 2012 Olympic game against Nigeria. He was absolutely unstoppable and shot 10-of-12 from beyond the arc. My extremely probable theory is that Nigeria somehow brought in Black Panther’s heart-shaped herb from Wakanda, and Anthony got a hold of it. The 2016 games in Rio were also a stage for Melo when a 31-point game on 52.4 percent shooting came at the expense of Australia.

Playing in the Olympics with a roster full of other superstars steered him away from his signature scoring form of holding the ball and staring into the defender’s soul before jab stepping him to death. He was able to do a lot less play making and a lot more play benefitting. Melo was on the receiving end of a good amount of drive and kick situations, which has now become his eventual place on the Thunder.

Melo has had to transition from being completely in control of the offense to being the third option for Oklahoma City. The man who once led the league in scoring currently averages 16.6 points per game, his lowest in his regular season career.

Another interesting factor of Melo’s new role is that he really doesn’t have any one aspect of his game that exclusively belongs to him. He could utilize various skills in his arsenal to get the job done in Denver and New York, but with the Thunder it seems like everyone else pretty much owns those skills.

Westbrook is in charge of the isolation game. Steven Adams handles business in the post. Even three-point shooting, which seems to be Melo’s most prevalent impact on this team, can often be taken over by George. This is why his part in the playoffs will probably be in the supporting cast rather than the main character.

He has proven to be a weapon from outside that can really add cushion to the score or keep the Thunder from being blown out. That will really come in handy against the Rockets or the Warriors and their high volume shooting. Oklahoma City has been picking up rhythm in the home stretch of the regular season, and Anthony has been shooting 45.5 percent from three over the last eight games ever since he sat out of the Portland game to rest on March 3rd.

“I feel really comfortable with him shooting the basketball from behind the line,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.

Even if Melo was doing nothing but standing there, he would still provide the floor spacing that the Thunder have struggled with in the past. He’s taking shots further out than he ever has in previous years, shooting from an average distance of 17.1 feet. He can get really hot really fast, and no self-respecting defender would leave a shooter as dangerous as Anthony out on the perimeter, so driving lanes will open up for everyone else.

“This is why we wanted to join forces and come together for these type of moments and to gear up for the postseason,” Anthony said last week.

If Melo does decide to turn it up a notch in the playoffs and spend more time with the ball, he could seriously benefit from Oklahoma City’s screen-heavy style of play. Switches will give him the mismatch advantage almost every time where he would have a relatively easy way to score or make opportunities for assists.

After 15 seasons in the league playing for three different teams, Anthony’s game has certainly evolved over time. He’s in a completely different situation now than he was the last time he went to the playoffs, but his goal remains the same. The guy wants to win and will do whatever he can to help this team make it far.

Will we get to see Olympic Melo this year? I doubt it. He’s probably fresh out of heart-shaped herbs, but he will definitely provide the supplemental components the Thunder need to make a serious run in the playoffs. No matter what that ends up looking like, he will surely be a key ingredient in Oklahoma City’s success.

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