THUNDER BOTTLE UP MELO’S GAME
When OKC traded Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second round pick for New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, many questioned whether his addition to the Thunder would make much difference in the Western Conference. At best, Melo could be a wildcard, bluechip player to pair with Paul George and Russell Westbrook, teaming together a new “Big Three” of sorts. On paper, thats a nice start to a playoff contending team. I’d take that team over a lot of teams in the NBA. Definitely not the Warriors — but on paper, there are just as talented as the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and even the Cleveland Cavaliers.
You’ve got the reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook, coming off one of the greatest individual NBA seasons ever, averaging 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. We all are witnessing Russell Westbrook’s prime right now. He turns 29 this season, and he’s probably more explosive now then in his rookie season. The main doubt in Westbrook’s game is if he has that “special stuff” I like to call “Championship DNA”. KD left Russell at the altar in OKC and won a ring in his first year with the Warriors, although this does not prove Russ is a guy without Championship DNA. Everyone is looking forward to see if Russ is a guy that can assimilate and play basketball with other stars that need the ball, and for good reason — this year that ia his challenge.
Then you have Paul George as a new cornerstone of the franchise, taking KD’s spot, and at a potential one-year rental. He plays the same position, and he comes in only one season after Durant left, truly a steal by GM Sam Presti. Paul George comes with his own baggage — the Eastern Conference battles with Lebron, the injury, the comeback, and now the trade. He also has a lot to prove, considering he wants to be mentioned with the Lebrons, Kawhi’s, and Durants at that three spot. Recently, Paul George has come under fire from those who claim this Thunder role would be good for him as he can be the “Robin” to Westbrook’s “Batman”. This is a backwards compliment, and should be taken as disrespect for a guy of Paul George’s caliber. And that is because Paul George is a proven two way star in this league. Basically saying he’s automatically “Robin” on the Thunder means you don’t have faith in Paul George to get it done in the playoffs. So like Westbrook, George has a lot to prove this year.
Melo comes in with considerable less at stake, and thats because most media pundits have written off Melo and his style of play years ago. Its really sad with the type of media coverage Melo garners these days, he’s the least fortunate star of the 2003 Draft, only one trip to the Western Conference Finals, the forced trade to New York that insured he got paid but gutted his supporting cast, and all the trials and tribulations on and off the court that made Melo a superstar and cultural icon. His hashtag “Stay M7LO” embodies his lifestyle. He embodies the guy most kids that play ball on the East Coast want to be — after Lebron.
Many people, including myself have stuck by Melo through thick and thin. We notice that Melo is a great player, scorer, rebounder, mid range jump shooter, and even a slick passer as well. He can do a lot to help a team win, and is deserving of all of his accomplishments — the national championship with Syracuse in 2002, the three USA gold medals, the all star appearances, and the great run he had as a New York Knick. Make no mistake, Amar’e Stoudamire made the Knicks watchable, but by the time Melo got there, Melo carried the Knicks on many nights. He could iso-score any time, had a clutch gene, and most importantly he always hit timely open threes on a reliable basis to make those teams look competitive.
This is why it bothers me now when I watch the OKC Thunder play basketball. And the main problem is that the Thunder are not using Melo correctly. Russell Westbrook gets his shots, Paul George gets to go iso, but my guy Melo is chop liver. Billy Donovan was a great coach in college, winning back to back championships with a front court that consisted of Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, and Al Horford. But his NBA coaching schemes have been questionable at best. When is Melo going to get some early plays to get him started early in the game? When are we going to see some low post iso opportunities for Melo?
I don’t care how crazy its seems, but the problem for Billy Donovan is as clear as day to me. He has to go through Melo first because Melo needs to be your alpha for any team. Let Melo’s calm confidence in his new supporting cast guide you and the offense. Do not confuse this with trying to score through Melo everytime, but teams have to fear Melo as the first threat they need to address. Having Melo as the third option simply will not engage a player of Melo’s potential. The way Melo is being used right now has bottled up his game. He’s watching Russ and Paul George eat and take initiative on most plays. He only gets the ball when he’s cold for maybe a glimpse of an open three. If the OKC want to reach their full potential by the playoffs, get Melo involved early and often. You have to consider rethinking from the way OKC plays now into turning them to the Melo show; finally equipped with a “super team” like a Lebron or Kevin Durant.