As another NBA chapter nears, it’s time for our season previews. Will the Thunder’s super-team be enough?
Expected Conference Ranking: 3rd
Best Move of the Offseason: Either getting Carmelo Anthony for free or getting Paul George for free. They’re both great. These were the two best moves of the entire offseason and the same team got both of them. I don’t care if he trades Russell Westbrook for Brock Osweiler tomorrow, Sam Presti is the Executive of the Year.
Worst Move of the Offseason: I don’t even know. I guess it would have been nice if they changed their team name to something less lame than “Thunder?” There really aren’t even nits to pick here. It was kind of a perfect offseason.
Their Offense: Is going to take a long time to figure out. People are assuming that Anthony is going to morph into Olympic ‘Melo and just take jump shots. But, and this is much more of an indictment of George than it is an endorsement of Anthony, Carmelo is probably the second-best offensive player on this team right now. And more than that, he’s certainly the better fit next to Westbrook.
George is the player who probably ends up subjugated here. He wants to isolate, he’s just not as good at it as Anthony. He has also quietly shot 38 percent from three-point range since returning from his devastating leg injury. And that was playing next to Monta Ellis. He’s going to get Bosh’d here.
Anthony, meanwhile, is going to be turned into his most devastating self. He’s going to be Westbrook’s pick-and-roll partner without ever having to roll. He’s not athletic enough for that anyway, but Steven Adams is. Anthony will pop off of the screen, confusing the defense enough for Adams to steal lob points. Defenses used to be able to cheat back on screens against the screener’s man when Westbrook called for one because they knew neither player involved was shooting a three. That’s no longer the case.
Again, it will take time to sort out the pecking order, but it’s going to be beautiful when it does happen.
Their Defense: Awesome. When they get it right, it is going to be awesome. Westbrook has always been too aggressive a defender for his own good. With Andre Roberson, George and Adams backing him up? That won’t be a problem. He can freelance as much as he wants.
Patrick Patterson is one of the best small ball centers on defense in basketball. Carmelo is the worst defender in this team’s rotation, and he’s not even that bad when he tries. The numbers won’t bear it out until the end of the season, but this is a top-five defense in the NBA when the playoffs roll around.
Their Bench: Patterson is the name that matters, but quietly, so does Raymond Felton. The jump at backup point guard from Semaj Christon—the worst player in the NBA—to Felton—an actual NBA player—might be worth two or three wins by itself.
Best Case Scenario: The championship. They have three stars. That is always in play when you have three stars. Even with the Warriors’ Megazord looming.
Worst Case Scenario: They lose in the first round, George and Anthony leave as free agents.