OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder know the myths of “Olympic Melo.”
It’s the term fans use to describe newly acquired OKC star Carmelo Anthony’s change in style during FIBA play. But it’s also become the NBA’s version of Sasquatch. You’ll find it in the magical lands where the best players in the U.S. team up to run other countries’ best out of gyms, but once coming back to real basketball life, it’s never actually been discovered, even if many insist on its existence.
Anthony goes from ball-dominant in the NBA to efficiency-dominant during the Olympics, from dribble-happy to swish-happy. It runs counter to his earned reputation as a ball-stopper. Granted, it’s far easier to knock down shot after shot against Nigeria than it is against the Golden State Warriors.
Still, it’s worth noting the way Anthony sticks to his strengths when he’s on a team with talent that he recognizes as elite — even if he’s never actually implemented that style into his NBA habits.
The Thunder are hoping he will.
The team did not speak directly with Anthony before agreeing Saturday to a trade that would send center Enes Kanter, forward Doug McDermott and the Chicago Bulls' 2018 second-round pick to the New York Knicks in exchange for the 10-time All-Star. Anthony moving to power forward, handling the ball less, becoming the third option — all of which seem like inevitabilities — is a natural understanding. That’s the Thunder's hope, at least.
But Anthony picked Oklahoma City knowing the circumstances. He’s aware that reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, someone who actually might like shooting more than he does, still presides over the team. He just so happens to know four-time All-Star Paul George. He and Westbrook played an integral role in convincing Anthony to come join them in Oklahoma. He knows the deal, and he waived a no-trade clause to come to OKC en lieu of the big names already present, en lieu of the small market.
It was a basketball opportunity, and he took it.
Anthony already has somewhat of a support system in OKC.
Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver, who has held that title with the organization since 2010, is a former Syracuse assistant coach who recruited Anthony to ‘Cuse when the now 33-year-old was just a teenager. The two still keep in touch, though Weaver was a more integral part of this deal in vouching for Anthony’s character and willingness to make it work in Oklahoma than he was in pulling off Anthony Recruitment 2.0.
Anthony's eagerness to to come to this situation shows even more how far star clustering has gone, how the price of having one superstar is now having two or three of them since it seems nearly impossible in today’s environment to hold onto one without somehow acquiring a second, how Anthony figured he’d go somewhere where even he couldn’t argue he’s the first option in an attempt to win.
Anthony’s effectiveness has eroded over the past couple of years, but calling for his demise is far premature. Most of the troubles come from NBA Melo impeding the possibilities of Olympic Melo. If the Thunder can rediscover Olympic Melo, who hasn't showed up since the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, and plop him into an NBA match, they could give him a second act.
The largest change for Anthony in coming to the Thunder may not be the decreased shots; it might just be decreased time with the ball. But if he’s willing to accept that his job as the primary or even secondary option to create on the wing is behind him, then Olympic Melo can arise. And the traits of Olympic Melo — the quick-shot dominance, the gravity on the perimeter — still very much exist.
Anthony sank just under 26 percent of his pull-up 3-pointers last year, according to NBA.com’s SportVU data, but he remained one of the league’s most dominant catch-and-shoot threats from range, sinking nearly 43 percent of his 3.5 attempts a game. That was within a Knicks offense where he commanded most of the attention.
Imagine how much more difficult he will be to guard when he’s playing power forward more consistently, something he hasn’t always been willing to do in the past. Imagine the troubles he can cause for the opposition when George or Westbrook is in the middle of the floor instead of 2016-17 Knicks creators Derrick Rose or Brandon Jennings or Ron Baker.
The traits of Olympic Melo can shine as long as he lets them. The Thunder will try to bring them to Anthony’s surface while simultaneously attempting to shun the occasional inefficient play.
It’s never worked on an NBA team before. But then again, Anthony has never played on a roster quite like this one with the perspective of 14 NBA seasons behind him. The Thunder are taking the optimistic view.
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as a host of the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.