With Golden State winning its second NBA title in three seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder could have played it safe this offseason. Kept a low-profile. Surrendered to the Warriors. Waved the white flag.
Oklahoma City did none of that. Instead, the Thunder added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, who averaged 23.7 and 22.4 points per game, respectively, last year. Throw in a five-year contract extension for reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, and the Thunder are all-in this season.
But will OKC’s Big Three work?
Maybe, maybe not.
“I’m a little skeptical, just because of the fact that even if they play small with Carmelo at the 4, boy, that’s three guys that are used to pounding the ball,” NBA on TNT analyst David Aldridge said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I don’t say that in a bad way. Some guys can play without the ball, and some guys need the ball. These are three guys that have consistently kind of needed the ball to be at their best. Somebody will have to take a backseat and say, ‘Okay, I won’t shoot as much.’”
But who will be that somebody? Russell Westbrook (31.6 points per game) led the NBA in scoring last season, while George finished in the top 15 and Anthony finished in the top 25.
“You would think that would be Westbrook,” Aldridge said. “Maybe it will be. Maybe he takes six or eight fewer shots this year than normal and becomes a distributor. But frankly, I think that’s not the best Russell Westbrook. The best Russell Westbrook is attacking, getting to the front of the rim, converting through contact, and going to the foul line a lot.”
Indeed, Westbrook, 28, averaged a triple-double last season, while George, 27, displayed a nice all-around game as well. Might it be time for Anthony, who turns 34 next May, to yield to his younger teammates?
“Carmelo could, at this point of his career, (defer),” Aldridge said. “His catch-and-shoot numbers last year were actually pretty good. He’s not bad at it. He could do it. The question is will he feel comfortable doing it? Will he feel comfortable deferring in the last two minutes of a game to get Paul Georg shots or get Russell Westbrook shots. Again, against most teams on most nights, it’s not going to matter, but when you play elite teams that know how to guard people, that’s when you see the rubber hitting the road on a lot of these things.”
Either way, Aldridge is happy that the Thunder – and the Rockets, who added Chris Paul – are trying to challenge the Warriors.
“They all know Golden State is the best team,” Aldridge said. “But there’s a difference between knowing that and still trying to field as competitive a team as possible, and knowing that and just kind of giving up. Thankfully for the competitive fiber of the league, that didn’t happen.”
The Thunder open the season at home against Anthony’s former team, the Knicks, on Oct. 19, and host George’s old team, the Pacers, on Oct. 25. Both games tip off at 8 p.m. ET.