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Thunder May Be Better, But Still Have A Long Way To Go

by Tyler Roaix

The Oklahoma City Thunder made headlines yet again this week, when they made a blockbuster deal to acquire forward Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks. In the trade, the Thunder send center Enes Kanter, forward Doug McDermott, and a 2018 second round draft pick to the Knicks.

The deal comes two months after Oklahoma City shockingly acquired All-Star forward Paul George from the Indiana Pacers, in exchange for guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis.

Rumors about Anthony have been swirling for months, but it was expected that he would land with either the Houston Rockets or Cleveland Cavaliers. But neither team could work out a deal the Knicks wanted.

The two trades were both shocking and smart moves made by Thunder General Manager Sam Presti. The team is now centered around what many basketball experts would say, are three of the top 20 players in basketball.

Let’s not forget that Westbrook, George and Anthony have a lot to prove. Westbrook wants to show that he can win without former teammate Kevin Durant. George is someone that many overlook as one of the game’s best players. Anthony is simply trying to prove that he can win, period. After all, with a player as talented as Anthony, it’s hard to believe he has been to the Conference Finals just once in his career.

This upcoming season may be the Thunder’s last shot for awhile to compete for a championship. Westbrook has confirmed that he wants to remain in Oklahoma City long-term, but has yet to agree to a contract extension. Anthony is only under contract for two more seasons, with no indication as to what he wants to do afterward. George is widely known as a player who wants to go to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers when he becomes a free agent, so OKC can’t rely on him staying after this season.

But we have to pose the question of whether or not the Thunder have a realistic shot at dethroning the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

Despite having three all-star caliber players, the Thunder are still a long shot away from the Warriors. Westbrook may be the reigning MVP, but you can’t expect him to average a triple-double again. Anthony is a great scorer but he is on the way down in his career. George has to prove that he can stay on the court after being just a year removed from a major knee injury. Plus once you get past those three players, they don’t have a lot of talent on their bench. The Warriors, on the other hand, are still the best team in basketball. Some say they may even be the best team of all time. Houston will look to challenge them after they acquired star point guard Chris Paul in the offseason. The Spurs will always be relevant with head coach Greg Popovic leading them. These are all teams the Thunder are chasing and have to somehow overcome if they want to win a championship.

Taking a closer look at the dynamic of OKC’s new “big three,” question arise as to how these three players will work together. Anthony and George both play small forward, so one will have to adjust to a new position. Not only that, but all three players are very similar in play style. According to Sporting News, Westbrook, Anthony and George all finished in the top 10 last season in points per possession in isolation. So it’s hard to imagine how you can take three players who are used to scoring and getting them to work cohesively.

At the end of the day, Thunder fans shouldn’t get overly excited about the team’s new look. Sure, they will be fun to watch. But ultimately, OKC will be lucky to make it past the Western Conference Semifinals. Golden State is better than them. Houston is better than them. San Antonio is better than them. They might finish high enough to finish with a top-four seed in the conference, but that’s about all fan should expect.