The NBA is better off if the new trio stays together on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Last season, it was the Russell Westbrook show for the Oklahoma City Thunder. That had its share of fireworks, and Westbrook’s MVP season was a banner one individually. He dove, ducked, dipped and dodged his way through opponents to make OKC viable, but it took every ounce of him to get to the postseason. Then they just ran out of gas and lost in five games to the Houston Rockets, who got better in the offseason with the addition of Chris Paul.
It’s been a big-time roster reboot in the last few months for the Thunder, though. They got an All-Star wing in Paul George in exchange for Victor Oladipo, who was an awkward fit, and Domantas Sabonis, who was a project, but General Manager Sam Presti had more work to do. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski nearly broke Twitter when he reported that the Thunder acquired Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott (and a 2018 second-round pick). Whenever you get two All-Stars to complement an MVP, that’s not too shabby.
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Suddenly, Oklahoma City looks like a bonafide top-tier Western Conference squad. With Carmelo and George being able to lighten the load for Westbrook, he should have much more energy and be healthier for the playoffs. The key is the now multiple offensive capabilities for Oklahoma City, which was primarily a Westbrook-only offense last season.
Russ is a dynamic player who is relentless. With Melo and George, he now has teammates who can both score and create for others consistently. Anthony has always been one of the more gifted scorers in the Association, and he should flourish with a better roster around him.
He’ll have mid-post opportunities with George and new addition Patrick Patterson occupying defenders on the perimeter. Also, athletic big Steven Adams should have more room for rim runs and pick-and-roll dunks. To make a long story short, the Thunder’s new big three makes them legitimate competition for the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
When the Thunder have had other pieces around Russ, they’ve been tough to defend. With their current roster, Oklahoma City should be less reliant on athleticism and stingy defense to win games. A potential death lineup of Russ-PG-Melo-Patterson-Adams could wreak havoc on both ends for the next few years, for example.
The obvious elephant in the room is whether or not Westbrook will sign a massive contract extension, which would prevent him from becoming a free agent next offseason. Both George and Melo can become free agents after next season as well. The Los Angeles Lakers are a trendy pick to make a splash in the summer of 2018, but I’m not sure how many young pieces would be on the way out to bring in players like Westbrook and George.
I’d love to see the Thunder retain their new core for a few years. It makes for a compelling small-market team that isn’t a traditional power like the Lakers. In turn, a potentially great rivalry between them and the Warriors would be fantastic to watch for the foreseeable future.
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