OKLAHOMA CITY — Carmelo Anthony laughed.
To him, it was the only possible reaction after being asked how he’d feel about coming off the bench with the Thunder.
Anthony has played 976 games, starting each one. He is a 10-time All-Star. He is a former scoring champion.
But Anthony is no longer the biggest star on his team. He no longer is even considered one of the two best players on his team, joining reigning MVP Russell Westbrook and four-time All-Star Paul George.
After being his team’s top scoring option for nearly all of his 14 years in the NBA, Anthony faces the challenge of playing alongside two other players accustomed to dominating the ball, with the three Thunder stars having all finished in the top 20 in the league in usage rate last season, and Westbrook setting the league’s highest mark in history.
“The only issue we’re probably going to face is the chemistry early, of getting to know one another, not trying to make it all happen all in one game, and understand that this is a process, that this is a marathon,” Anthony said. “It’s going to take a little time for us to jell … but at the end of the day it’s basketball. I didn’t want to come here to try and outshine Paul or Russ.
“We’re willing to make it work, and I think we’re going to make it work.”
Even if Anthony’s offensive numbers go down, plenty of shots will still go up. He didn’t leave New York, and waive his no-trade clause to be a role player. He came to be a major part of a championship contender.
“I don’t want to take the load or have to do it scoring 30, 40, 50 points every night, but I score. That’s what I do. I can’t take that away from me. I do that very well,” Anthony said. “I didn’t come here to just be a rebounder. I came here to bring my skill set to this team and fit in.
“For the most part, I just want to do what I do best within the confines of the system and what coach wants, alongside Russ and PG.”
Coach Billy Donovan confirmed Anthony will start at power forward, where the Thunder expect Anthony will benefit from more open looks than he has ever had in the NBA.
As a stretch-four, Anthony is being looked at to be one of the team’s top perimeter threats, having made over 42 percent catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season.
“You don’t score the amount of points he’s scored throughout his career if you don’t have the ability to be able to figure out how to flow in and out of different kinds of systems and styles,”
Donovan said following the team’s first practice on Tuesday, “I saw things today offensively where they’re trying to play unselfish, try and do the right thing, and Paul’s going in one direction, Carmelo’s going in the other, and the ball goes out of bounds. Intentions are good, but they’re going to have to learn to play off each other and communicate.”
Anthony has played alongside Westbrook and George, with Team USA, and each believes the experience provides a base from which the new teammates can start.
George, 27, said he believes his youth and versatility may help the 33-year-old former Knick look even better than he has in years past, by taking on tougher defensive matchups.
“[We’ll] leave Melo just to do what Melo does best and that’s put points on the board and be a matchup problem on the offensive end,” George said. “Take that pressure off him defensively where he doesn’t have to exhaust himself chasing smaller guys or defend the primary guys on most nights. We’ll work well together.”
The Thunder stars aren’t looking at the challenge they’ve created. They’re staring at the solution to the unsatisfying ends to each season.
“We get criticized a lot for being friendly and not being able to do it alone, [but] honestly in this league it’s hard to do it alone,” George said. “Russ averaged a triple-double and couldn’t get out of the first round. … You need guys of that stature and that level to be able to help and create something special. It’s just that era, where you got to face teams that are gonna have two or three guys that can take over games. … You have to have that to compete in this league.”
For so many years, Anthony has been criticized for doing too much offensively.
That much might not change.
“I’ve dealt with it all of my career,” Anthony said. “Put a team like this together, the burden gets heavier and heavier.”
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