Expectations were set astronomically high when Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti launched blockbuster deals over the summer to obtain Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Having already inked Russell Westbrook, the reigning NBA most valuable player, to an extension, the consensus was that the Thunder — thanks in large part to Presti’s business acumen — won the offseason.
But while the Thunder currently occupies a top-four seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, the team has just a 5 percent chance of being crowned champion, according to The Post’s NBA title chances. Why? It might have something to do with only one of those marquee additions paying off.
George earned a spot in the All-Star Game and is making a strong case for defensive player of the year. Conversely, Anthony has largely floundered, averaging career-worst marks in scoring (25.2 points per 100 possessions), facilitating (6.4 percent assist rate), shooting (50.2 percent true shooting percentage, 76.4 percent from the free throw line) and efficiency (12.7 player efficiency rating).
Seemingly all of those regressions were put on display Sunday when Anthony missed four critical three-pointers and turned the ball over once during the final five minutes of the team’s loss to Portland. Since the all-star break, Anthony’s production has continued to crater, calling into question whether he should even be starting for Coach Billy Donovan.
|Carmelo Anthony, 2017-18||Assist rate||Assist-to-turnover ratio||Rebound rate||True shooting percentage||Usage rate|
|Before the all-star break||6%||1.1||10.2||51%||24%|
|After the all-star break||5%||0.7||9.3||48%||20%|
“Listen, Carmelo didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but he’s shot the ball well his whole entire career,” Donovan said after Sunday’s loss. “You know what I mean? I felt really good about the shots that he got.”
That kind of antiquated logic keeps franchises from moving forward from suboptimal, legacy-driven situations.
At his introductory news conference in late September, a reporter asked about the possibility of the 10-time all-star taking on a reserve role, to which Anthony openly laughed. It goes without saying, but that would be a clear departure for the veteran: Anthony led the Syracuse Orange to a national championship as a freshman, then went on to start all 1,047 games he has played in the NBA. His 25,314 career points rank No. 22 all time; he’s a surefire Hall of Famer.
That said, it would be in Oklahoma City’s best interest to consider bringing Anthony off the pine.
In the 513 minutes the team has played with Westbrook on the floor and Anthony on the bench, according to NBAWowy, Oklahoma City has an offensive rating of 111.1 and a defensive rating of 101.5, which would rank fifth and second, respectively, if maintained over an entire season. The team currently ranks ninth in both metrics.
Westbrook, for obvious reasons, garners a lion’s share of the offensive possessions when he’s on the floor. Anthony has cultivated a career out of needing to have the ball in his hands, which isn’t tenable with Westbrook running the show. And since Anthony isn’t a knockdown perimeter shooter, he mostly idles while Westbrook runs the offense. But when Westbrook sits, Anthony can lead the second unit. With Westbrook on the bench, according to NBAWowy, Anthony’s personal usage rate spikes from 23 percent to 40 percent, and his true-shooting percentage jumps from 50 to 53.
|2017-18 Thunder||Minutes||Points per 100 possessions||True shooting percentage||Points allowed per 100 possessions||Opponent True shooting percentage|
|Westbrook and Anthony on court||2,093||115.0||55%||109.9||57%|
|Westbrook on court, Anthony off court||513||111.1||56%||101.5||55%|
|Anthony on court, Westbrook off court||161||105.8||53%||95.7||52%|
Furthermore, Oklahoma City’s bench unit ranks in the bottom half of the NBA in offensive rating, scoring just 104.2 points per 100 possessions. Of the most effective two-man offensive units involving Anthony, both feature him paired with a reserve player.
Dwyane Wade, another future Hall of Famer, has accepted a reserve role in Miami. It would be wise for the Thunder to do the same with Anthony.