You’re Billy Donovan, head coach of the Thunder. You’re in the third year of a five-year, $30 million deal that was designed to both lure you away from the college game and provide some stability for a franchise that had been facing the loss of Kevin Durant to free agency.
All that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that you might very well be coaching for your job over the next four days — there have been rumblings that a premature end to the Thunder’s postseason run will mean a premature end to your time in OKC.
With that in mind, there is but one thing to do: Throw in the towel on Carmelo Anthony.
We’re not saying cut back his minutes. We’re saying glue him to the bench, and firmly. Anthony has been a useless offensive player in this series against the Jazz thus far, averaging 12.8 points on a measly 36.9 percent shooting, including 21.4 percent from the 3-point line. He has committed five turnovers against just two assists, both of which came in Game 1.
Yes, you read that right: Anthony has not had an assist for four games. Maybe you’ve gotten used to that in Oklahoma City.
But before this year, his only with the Thunder, Anthony had played 739 games with the Knicks and Nuggets since 2007 and had registered just 28 games without an assist. This season with your team, he has logged 20 assist-free games out of 79. That's a jump of 3.8 percent of his games without an assist to 25.3 percent.
And again, he has not had one assist since Game 1.
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That’s not the big issue, though. For the Thunder, the issue is defense, and how you’re able to handle the Jazz without Anthony on the floor. With Jerami Grant, you can switch everything off screens and harass the Jazz far more effectively. With Alex Abrines, you’re obviously slapping a defensive weakness onto the floor.
But look at how the Jazz handled Abrines in Game 5 — rather than sticking with their offense, they tried to seek out whomever Abrines was guarding. It’s smart to exploit a mismatch, but too much focus on finding the mismatch can lead a team out of its offensive rhythm.
The sample sizes are miniscule, obviously, but still show the problem. If you’re Donovan, you have to recognize that.
In five games, Abrines has an offensive rating of 112.1 points per possession and a defensive rating of 100.5. For Grant, it’s 110.6 offensively and 101.4 defensively. All of the Thunder starters are in negative territory when it comes to net rating in this series, but Anthony is the worst: 97.7 points per 100 possessions offensively, 109.5 defensively.
This is not entirely new, either. Since late February, the Thunder have been better with Abrines or Grant in the lineup. Anthony’s net rating was 2.7 after Feb. 24; Abrines’ was 3.0, and Grant's was 4.9.
Since bringing Anthony on board in Oklahoma City, it’s been a struggle to find the right role for him. He has played virtually all his possessions as a power forward, but he can’t defend the position, does not rebound (5.8 per game) and does not stretch the floor as a 3-point shooter (35.7 percent for the year).
There have been repeated calls for Anthony to move to the bench, which likely would have been a much better spot for him. You run the risk of wounding his professional pride that way, so the Thunder have opted to skirt the issue and keep trotting out Anthony with the starters.
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But, listen, Billy: You’ve got nothing to lose now. There’s no reason to fear Anthony’s wounded ego. It’s Game 6 on the road, and without a win, everyone could be gone. Paul George could bolt to LA or Houston. You could find yourself at the nearest Kinko’s shining up your resume.
Don’t worry about Anthony. He could be bought out and land softly elsewhere. He is still a useful scorer if put in the right role, and a respected professional. But you never found that role, and professionalism be damned, he’s not useful to you at the moment.
Save yourself. Possibly even save your team, or at least get them to a Game 7.
Put Anthony on the bench. And leave him there.