The craziest offseason in NBA history just got a little crazier with yet another major boom Saturday.
The New York Knicks dealt perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a future draft pick, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Carmelo Anthony is expected to join Thunder for start of training camp on Tuesday, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 23, 2017
Anthony will join the Thunder only a few months after GM Sam Presti signed small forward Paul George earlier this offseason to support reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook.
In a league where every team seems to be fighting for runner-up to Golden State, Oklahoma City’s aggressiveness is quite refreshing.
Presti and the Thunder are taking a major risk if Oklahoma City can’t find a way to at least make the Western Conference Finals.
Anthony and George could both opt out of their contracts in the summer of 2018 leaving the Thunder’s franchise where they found it barely a year ago. A one man show.
Meanwhile, Westbrook — the model of “loyalty” in the NBA — has signed the $207 million extension the Thunder offered him this summer locking him in for the foreseeable future.
Russ still ain't signed that extension? pic.twitter.com/fIg2Kn7ncC
— CHAMPIONSHIP MEK (@_YoMek) September 21, 2017
The biggest questions for the 2017–18 Thunder all surround team chemistry. Oklahoma City has to find a way to mesh three of the NBA’s top nine isolation scorers from a season ago.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 23, 2017
Westbrook had an entire offense and team revolving around him in his MVP season. Kanter and center Steven Adams even made a concerted effort to make sure Westbrook grabbed as many rebounds as possible, ensuring he would average a triple double.
Needless to say, that strategy wasn’t conducive to winning in the postseason. The Thunder bowed out gracefully to the Houston Rockets in the first round in five games. Which left many wondering if Westbrook would be the next superstar to depart from Oklahoma City if the organization couldn’t find him more help.
With Anthony and George on the wings, Westbrook will have to play a lot more under control and through the progression of the offense, much like when Kevin Durant was his partner in crime.
Westbrook led the league in clutch-time scoring with 247 points, but prior to 2016–17 he had not been a very good clutch player.
Westbrook has to figure out a balance between deferring to his supremely talented teammates and still finding a way to take over games late.
The good thing for Westbrook is the numbers show Anthony and Paul are well equipped to play off the ball. Anthony shot 42.6 percent from three-point range on catch-and-shoot attempts, according to NBA.com, and George shot 42 percent on such instances.
Whether or not the shot-hungry tandem wants to play mainly off the ball is another story.
While the three superstars are figuring out a way to mesh together, there’s still an imbalance on Oklahoma City’s roster of one-way players that ultimately won’t be helpful against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Players like Adams and forward Andre Roberson lose their value defensively against the Warriors because it’s been proven you need players on the floor with the ability to score and defend.
Roberson was an integral part of the Thunder’s game plan against similarly talented opponents. His ability to defend shooting guards, small forwards, and even power forwards made it easy for Westbrook to operate in the closing minutes without having to defend an opponent’s best player.
Against elite Western Conference competition like the Warriors, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs, Roberson becomes a liability. The career 26 percent three-point shooter can be ignored by defenders and often times forces Oklahoma City to play 5-on-4.
MVP runner-up James Harden teamed up with former L.A. Clippers star Chris Paul this offseason and will have a lot to say about who becomes the top challenger to Golden State out west.
And let’s not forget San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who has improved his game every season since entering the league.
Oklahoma City’s talent level has risen since we last saw the team in the postseason, but it’s still below Golden State, Houston, and San Antonio out west.
If Oklahoma City settles in at the 4-seed, and can’t get past the Rockets or Spurs once again, it’ll be interesting to see if Oklahoma City’s new “Big 3” leaves their fans with nothing next summer.