As the Oklahoma City Thunder lose for the 4th time in a row (102-94 to the Denver Nuggets) and fall to 4-7 since the start of the season, everyone is trying to figure out what’s gone wrong for them so far. Carmelo Anthony is one popular figure to point the finger at.
Despite his 28 points in the loss and being the team’s leading scorer, Anthony seems, just like George, to embody the problem of the Thunder’s approach: Surround Westbrook with All-Stars while gutting the team’s depth and getting rid of must-have role players.
And while one player setting screens or not doesn’t win games on its own, it puts a spotlight on a problem. The Thunder were slightly dysfunctional last season, and perhaps always, but the idea of having one star with everyone else working for him makes sense. Meanwhile, adding a player who hates working besides holding the ball to this team while shedding other meaningful parts, surprise surprise, is causing problems with the team’s offense. The Thunder are 19th offensively (105.2 points per 100 possessions), and rank 22nd in 3-point percentage, 26th in free throw percentage and 24th in assists.
Anthony has always shied away from setting screens, but on a team that needs the pick and roll with Westbrook to get the offense going (more on that in a couple of lines), having Anthony slide to get the ball at every opportunity is neutering the offense.
Instead of giving Westbrook space to work with the ball and forcing teams to put a small player on Anthony, they’re making it easy for teams to defend a group that should be unguardable a lot of the time.
And as always with the Thunder, it comes down to offense scheme and patterns. While Paul George is saying that the team will be OK, and that it’s a matter of the players not making adjustments, it has to be on Billy Donovan too. The Thunder don’t seem to have a system, falling back to isolation offense time and time again. Anthony is second in the league in ISO plays per game (6.6), and all 3 Thunder players are in the Top 20 so far. Sure, when you have talent you need to utilize it, but the Thunder are setting themselves up for failure with their offensive laziness.
There’s plenty of time to fix things, and last season the Thunder were only 16th overall offensively, so maybe the semantics here are a bit misleading, as stats can be. However, the eye test of seeing a player like Anthony fall into the same patterns he’s always blamed of falling into just makes it feel like someone didn’t do enough thinking when putting this team together.