Take a bow, Sam Presti.
The Oklahoma City Thunder general manager put a bow on what’s been a rollicking off-season, trading reserves Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the New York Knicks for fading star Carmelo Anthony, wrapping up Anthony’s unfulfilling six year stint in New York and going all-in for what could be a last stand for the Thunder as we know them.
The Thunder get a once fearsome scorer whose reputation has been tarnished a bit by the Knicks ineptitude. Melo had the bad luck of playing in the shadow of LeBron James while being almost the antithesis of James as a player. It’s easy to forget that Carmelo finished 3rd in MVP voting back in 2013, and he was consistently considered a top 10 player as recently as 3 years ago.
With 14 years and almost 39,000 total minutes on his tire treads, it should be no surprise that Melo’s not quite the offensive force he was in his heyday. Luckily for him (and OKC), he won’t be expected to be “that” Melo.
Coach Billy Donovan will have his hands full finding minutes and touches to keep both Melo and new Thunder wing Paul George engaged and content. I’ve written at length about how Paul George improves the Thunder, so let’s look at Anthony’s fit.
The “modern” NBA is trending smaller and faster, and Anthony should thrive in the power forward slot between Paul George and Steven Adams. Anthony at the 4 spot can stretch the floor (since 2012, he’s been a 36.9 percent three point shooter) or attack from his favorite zone, the elbow extended. Screen action with Russell Westbrook exploding off of a Melo pick then finding Anthony rumbling down the lane or in space for open 17 footers should give coaches cold sweats. He can also still feast on most small forwards, so the Thunder can go jumbo by sitting Roberson and bringing in newly signed Patrick Patterson.
While Melo has never been a strong defender, deploying him with the likes of defensive ace Andre Roberson, George, and Adams should at least mitigate any impact due his uninspired defense. He’s strong enough to hold his own against most bigs in the post, and he can help OKC keep pace on the boards. The 5.9 boards a game he averaged last season was the third lowest average of his career; he spent the three previous seasons averaging 7.6 rebounds per game.
Simply put, having Melo on the court with Westbrook and George gives the Thunder the most potent core this side of the Golden State Warriors. With the summer of 2018 a dark unknown (Westbrook still hasn’t signed his massive extension, and Paul George is set to enter unrestricted free agency), Presti is tossing caution to the wind; if he has to pivot and rebuild next summer, so be it. For the immediate future, the Thunder spent the summer getting deeper and more versatile, and Melo gives them another legitimate offensive option that should unlock a whole different level of offensive force for OKC.
For the Knicks, bringing in Enes Kanter and McDermott marks the beginning of the Kristaps Porzingis Era. Here’s what Kanter and McDermott can do: score the ball. Kanter is a bit of a throwback, a big who’s impeccable footwork and great hands makes him a terror in the post and as a pick and roll finisher. McDermott has struggled with consistency, but the man can shoot, hitting 39 percent of his threes since he’s been in the NBA.
Offensively, Kanter roaming under the rim while Porzingis works from free throw extended out to the three point line should work just fine in spots, but Kanter as a reserve will shine in New York. His high motor offense and dizzying array of post moves should delight the Madison Square Garden crowd. McDermott has shown that he’s learning to cut and move to find space off-ball to get his hair trigger quick shot off.
Here’s what neither of them can do: defend. They’re simply not quick twitch guys. Kanter is decent as a burly post defender, but speedy ball handlers blow by them both. And really, does it matter? Moving Melo signifies that the Knicks, as much as they may not admit it, are rebuilding. They own their own pick in what’s shaping up to be a top heavy 2018 draft, so I’m sure the Knicks brass will be fine with the Kanter and McDermott hemorrhaging points.
For most of Anthony’s career, he’s been the lone star, flanked by quality starters and role players or over the hill former stars. Plug Melo in an environment with other true NBA studs, give him a point guard who can collapse defenses and a wing who spaces the floor and draws double teams, and there’s a chance Melo has the most efficient, impactful year of his career. Will it be enough to challenge the mighty Warriors?
The season can’t get here soon enough, so we can put this theory to the test.