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Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder poses for a photo during media day at Chesapeake Energy Arena on September 25, 2017 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 

At first glance, Sam Presti and the Thunder pulling off yet another surprising trade, this time swapping Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick for 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, seems like fool’s gold. There’s only one ball, and Anthony, Paul George (whom the Thunder acquired earlier in the offseason) and reigning MVP Russell Westbrook all used prolific amounts of it last season: Anthony had a usage rate of 29.1 percent, his lowest in a decade but still a top-20 figure in the league. George’s was 28.9, also in the top 20, and Westbrook’s, famously, was 41.7 — a single-season NBA record. Anthony isn’t what he once was and his Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since 2013; George’s Indiana Pacers and Westbrook’s Thunder washed out in the first round. There’s plenty reason to question whether this will work. But Oklahoma City isn’t just any rebuilding project, and that makes its needs unique.

It’s hard to evaluate the revamped Thunder by looking at these players as they existed on other teams. A player’s role can change drastically when going from a bad team to a contender (e.g. Kevin Love). More important is how they’ll fit on a Thunder team gunning for the Western Conference Finals and beyond. And unlike most teams adding star players to a modest roster, there’s a template in the team’s recent history for how the fit might go: The Kevin Durant-led 2015-16 Thunder went up 3-1 on the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals.

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Westbrook, starting center Steven Adams and standout perimeter defender Andre Roberson are all holdovers from that team, and George will likely be asked to fill a trimmed-down Durant role. Anthony, meanwhile, has a surprising amount in common with another former OKC standout: Serge Ibaka.

This takes a bit of explaining. Ibaka’s defense has slipped recently, but he’s still a good defender overall and blocks shots at a high rate. Even in the 2016 playoffs, when Ibaka was no longer the fierce rim protector he was in earlier playoff runs, he held the Warriors to 40.8 percent shooting on attempts he defended in the conference finals. Meanwhile, Anthony can string together a few high-intensity defensive plays, but he has never shown the ability to do that over a season or even a playoff series. Big advantage for Serge. But Anthony has traditionally been a very good rebounder for his position and excels at Ibaka’s other major contribution: floor spacing from a “big” position.

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Anthony had an effective field goal rate of 58.6 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers last season, better than known sharpshooters like Kevin Love and in the top half of players with at least 200 attempts. (This is more impressive than it sounds, because the ranks of players who are asked to take 200 spot-up jumpers is a heavily self-selected group. Anthony will obviously hold the ball more than Ibaka, but he’s also a better ball handler and passer. The who-does-what balance will be crucial, which it doesn’t take deep analysis to see. But at minimum, Melo walking into a spot-up shooting role — the role he played so well for Team USA — will help the Thunder no matter what else he does, simply because he’s a good enough shooter to space the floor. And the Thunder desperately needed spacing.

As a team, the Thunder had an effective field goal rate of 48.4 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers last season, third-worst in the league. The season before, they were middle-of-the-pack at 52.2 eFG, despite Ibaka underperforming and bricklayers like Roberson, Kyle Singler and Randy Foye eating up a lot of looks. Now they add Anthony, George was even better last season at 60.1 percent eFG and Patrick Patterson (55 percent eFG). The Thunder didn’t just address their need for shooters — they course-corrected their recent tendency to address shooting deficiencies with players who canonly shoot, Anthony Morrow or Alex Abrines.

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The bigger question for Oklahoma City is depth. The Thunder rotation was already perilously thin, and trading Kanter and McDermott for Anthony replaces two young players with a 33-year-old forward. But even that is offset by the ways Anthony and George fundamentally change the makeup of the roster. Last season, the Thunder scored 10.6 fewer points per 100 possessions when Westbrook sat, making role players like Roberson or fellow defensive standouts such as Jerami Grant much less valuable than they would be on a team that was competent offensively. So the fact that Anthony and George carried their respective offenses with fairly limited rosters should mean that Roberson, Grant and other role players can focus on their strengths rather than their deficiencies.

And that gets to the core of why the Westbrook-Anthony-George team-up isn’t quite like other recent collections of stars, Golden State notwithstanding. The core of a contending team was already in place but was gutted by Durant’s exit in free agency and general roster turnover. The Thunder were a good team with a few specific, extreme holes in the roster. Trading for Paul George filled a bunch of them, and trading for Melo has emphatically closed the rest. 

In the early going of the 2017-18 season, Anthony is the leading scorer for the Thunder at 22.9 points per game. 

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Carmelo Kyam Anthony is an American professional basketball player for theOklahoma City Thunder of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Anthony attended Towson Catholic High School and Oak Hill Academy before playing college basketball at Syracuse. In Anthony’s freshman season, he led the Orangemen to their first and only National Championship and was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Anthony then entered the 2003 NBA draft where he was selected with the third overall pick by the Denver Nuggets.

Since entering the NBA, Anthony has been named an All-Star ten times and an All-NBA Team member six times. While playing for Denver, he led the Nuggets to the playoffs every year from 2004 to 2010, winning two division titles in that span. In 2009, Anthony led the Nuggets to their first Conference Finals appearance since 1985. In 2011, he was traded from Denver to the New York Knicks just days prior to the NBA trade deadline. On January 24, 2014, against the Charlotte Bobcats, Anthony set the Madison Square Garden and Knicks’ single-game scoring record with a career-high 62 points.  Anthony is also one of six players to record at least 24,000 points, 6,000 rebounds, 2,500 assists, 1,000 steals and 1,000 3-point field goals.

Anthony has been a member of the USA Olympic basketball team a record four times, winning a bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics and gold medals at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Summer Olympics. He is the United States Olympic men’s national basketball team all-time leading scorer,  leader in rebounds and games played.

In Denver, Anthony was a spokesman for the Family Resource Center and helped organize a Christmas party, entitled “A Very Melo Christmas”, for less well-off children. In Baltimore, Anthony hosts an annual 3-on-3 tournament, known as “Melo’s H.O.O.D. (Holding Our Own Destiny) Movement 3 on 3 Challenge” and is helping fund the revitalization of a local community center for local youth. Anthony opened “The Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center” in Baltimore on December 14, 2006. He contributed $1.5 million to the Living Classrooms Foundation, a non-profit organization that “provides innovative hands-on-education, job-training and community service programs for over 35,000 children, youth and young adults in the east Baltimore community.”

After the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, Anthony donated $35,000 to relief efforts. He donated $1,000 per point scored against San Antonio and Houston on January 8 and 9, 2005 respectively.  Anthony also committed $3 million toward the construction of a newly planned basketball practice facility at his alma mater, Syracuse University. According to the NBA’s official website, “Anthony’s gift represents one of the largest individual donations to Syracuse University Athletics and is also believed to be one of largest by a current professional athlete to the school they attended.” The practice facility will be called the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center. For charitable contributions totaling $4,282,000, Anthony was listed as number eight in “The Giving Back 30 List of Largest Charitable Donations by Celebrities in 2006”.

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Paul George (born May 2, 1990) is an American professional basketball player for the Oklahoma City Thunderof the National Basketball Association (NBA). He is a four-time NBA All-Star and has been named three times to the All-NBA Team and NBA All-Defensive Team.George played high school basketball for Knight High School before playing two seasons of college basketballat Fresno State. He was selected by the Indiana Pacers with the 10th overall pick of the 2010 NBA draft, and earned NBA All-Rookie Second Team honors. He was named the NBA Most Improved Player in 2013, when he also earned his first All-Star selection. George suffered a broken leg in 2014 while competing for a roster spot on the United States national team for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. He missed most of the 2014–15 season, but recovered to become an All-Star again in 2016.

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Russell Westbrook III is an American professional basketball player for the Oklahoma City Thunder of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He is a six-time NBA All-Star, and a two-time NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, winning consecutive awards in 2015 and 2016. He is also a six-time All-NBA Team member and led the league in scoring in 2014–15 and 2016–17. In 2017, Westbrook became one of two players in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season, along with Oscar Robertson in 1962. He also set a record for the most triple-doubles in a season, with 42. He was subsequently named the 2016–17 NBA Most Valuable Player.Westbrook played college basketball for the UCLA Bruins and earned third-team all-conference honors in the Pac-10. He was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, who thenrelocated to Oklahoma City six days later. Westbrook has represented the United States national team twice, winning gold medals in the 2010 FIBA World Championship and the 2012 Olympics.