The Thunder have won five of their last six games and nine of 12, finding a rhythm that was missing early this season, and their new-found success seems to have everything to do with players, Carmelo Anthony in particular, accepting roles that fit the team best.
In Friday night’s 120-117 win over the Hawks, for example, Anthony played mostly off-the-ball, becoming primarily a catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter and a screen-setter.
Anthony “showcased the kind of offensive player coach Billy Donovan has been envisioning playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George,” ESPN’s Royce Young wrote. Norman Transcript’s Fred Katz tweeted of ‘Melo, “He got it tonight. Something he was doing more often was taking advantage of the other team's willingness to switch. Came over and muscled on-ball defenders into switches, dragged them to the high post. If he's willing to set those screens, it'll make the offense better.”
Anthony finished with 24 points on 8-of-19 shooting, including 7-of-12 from deep, and Donavan said it was exactly the kind of game he wants to see from Anthony.
“One hundred percent,” Donavan said, per ESPN. "I give him a lot of credit because this is different for him, and he's really been open-minded about trying to do whatever he can do to help the team. And as a coach you really appreciate someone that's been in the game such a long time and established himself as a 10-time All-Star, 14 years in the league, one of the all-time greats, that he's willing to look at ways that he can do things a little bit differently to help our team."
A humble Anthony told reporters after the game, “It’s just a matter of accepting that role. That’s all it is. Realizing this is how it’s gonna be, these are the type of shots I’m going to get, this is the kind of offense we’re going to be running and accepting that and working on that role. That’s something I’ve kind of been doing over the past week, allowing myself to accept that role, doing what I gotta do to make this team win.”
He got it tonight. Something he was doing more often was taking advantage of the other team's willingness to switch. Came over and muscled on-ball defenders into switches, dragged them to the high post. If he's willing to set those screens, it'll make the offense better. https://t.co/CfWgTGQ51A
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) December 23, 2017
George agrees with his coach in terms of ‘Melo’s optimal role with the Thunder.
"He's one of the best in the league, and statistically over his career at catch-and-shoot,” George said of Anthony. “He's definitely a weapon. I know it's different for him, he been so used to midrange and playing off the block and elbows, but he's a huge threat on catch-and-shoot.”
The adjustments seem to be paying off. Per ESPN, Westbrook – after shooting about 38 percent through the first two months of the season – is 47 of 76 from the floor and 12 of 17 from 3-point range over the last four games, “as efficient as at any point in his career.” That includes banging the game-winning trey Friday against the Hawks.
Next up for OKC is a visit to Utah on Saturday night and then a home date against the Rockets on Christmas Day.