For all the handwringing over Russell Westbrook’s stat-chasing and shot selection, and over Paul George’s occasional listlessness, an even bigger problem has spent the season lurking in Oklahoma City. A Melo problem.
That particular problem was on full display during last night’s Game 2 loss against Jazz, in which George, Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony shot a combined 0-of-14 from the floor in the fourth quarter. Melo contributed four of those misses, including three from three-point range.
The problem isn’t just that Melo is missing shots, although it definitely is that, but that he’s not doing anything else of note on the court either. George is most often playing lockdown defense on the other team’s best scorer, and Westbrook is caught up in his full-tilt orchestration of the game. Melo, meanwhile, is only tasked with setting himself up for catch-and-shoot threes in the corners and as a trailer in transition.
These circumstances should be a good thing for the Thunder. If you had been asked to imagine how Melo might tank OKC’s season last summer, you probably would have pictured him demanding the ball on the block at every opportunity and sourly grinding away possessions with his jab step. If you had been asked to imagine a way he might lift the Thunder to another level, you probably would have pictured him putting his ego aside and taking shots as they come to him. He’s mostly been doing that, but the shots just aren’t falling.
Last night’s game was begging for someone on the Thunder to step up and hit a game-breaking shot, and Melo flubbed his three chances. Imagine how the arena would have reacted, how things might have gone differently, if he’d hit this one:
Or this one:
Maybe you think it’s unfair to ask a 33-year-old scorer who is past his prime to be the one who comes up with heroic shots when he shares the court with two All-Stars. But that’s what he’s there to do! Melo has, admirably, reshaped his game to be exactly the kind of spot-up shooter who can swing a few playoff games with clutch shooting. Going forward, there won’t really be anything standing in the way of him becoming just that. He just needs the shots to fall.