4 min read

Thunder Blame Game: Melo or Billy D?

At this point, you’re aware of the ongoing discussion surrounding Carmelo Anthony, his effectiveness, and role on this Thunder team moving forward. There have been a number of analytical deep-dives and think pieces on the matter, some of which make a great deal of sense and should be read. However, I’ve decided to skip the statistics and approach this from what I believe to be a common sense standpoint. Here’s to a successful attempt at that.

The Melo drama has reached a fever pitch recently, as he’s been confoundingly unreliable at critical junctures of important ball games. He missed game-clinching free throws in Boston, has gone 0-of-9 from three over the last two contests, and I’ll soon get into his shenanigans against Portland. He’s far from the only problem plaguing the Thunder right now but he’s easily the most controversial. All the hoopla has produced two prevailing schools of thought:

A. It’s all Melo’s fault

B. It’s actually Billy Donovan’s

Regardless of which belief you subscribe to, it’s difficult to deny the team has an existential crisis on its hands. Melo went 3-for-13 in Sunday night’s loss to Portland, shot 0-for-3 in crunch time, committed a killer turnover in the final seconds, then missed the shot that could have sent the game to overtime. Making matters worse, Jerami Grant watched the last 6:25 from the bench after dropping 17 points in 19 minutes and played well enough to deserve the opportunity to close. When asked for an explanation afterward, Donovan defended his decision to go with Anthony by saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Yeah but it’s Melo.”

There’s a degree to which I understand the sentiment because, sure, some guys just deserve to be on the floor regardless of how they’ve played leading up to crunch time. Russell Westbrook could be 0-for-20 and I’d still want him out there over Raymond Felton. You’d never say “Yeah, let’s go with Josh Huestis over Paul George here.” Steven Adams is very much the same way — you’d be insane to prefer the ol’ Dakari Johnson approach under any circumstance. But does Melo demand that same respect? At this point in his career, I don’t believe he does. It’s not remotely close to the same thing.

In Melo’s case, the argument could be made that sometimes he’s the third most viable option at power forward on any given night. Grant has been a revelation in stretches and I’ll die here on the I Promise Patrick Patterson is Actually Good hill. That’s not to say that either Grant or Patterson is more talented than Melo (because they’re not), but it does speak to the level at which they can simply fit better depending on the place and time. Best does not always equal better — the game is far more nuanced than that. He should be on the court when he’s playing well but shouldn’t be an unimpeachable part of what the Thunder is trying to do. He’s a luxury to be enjoyed when the experiment is working — which, depending on the match-up, sometimes really does. (15 points on 3/4 3P, +21 against Toronto, for instance.)

I should add — If I lost you at “Grant and Patterson are sometimes more valuable than Melo,” just ask yourself: Would they do this in the final minutes of an important game?

No, probably not. He was 3-of-10 when he rose up for the first look, a shot he took with a 3-point lead and 15 seconds on the shot clock. For insight on the second attempt, check out Westbrook’s body language in the bottom right corner. Neither one of Grant or Patterson even thinks about those shots and likely gets the ball in Westbrook or Paul George’s hands.


When determining who to blame for the predicament the Thunder currently finds itself in, it’s best to understand there’s always plenty to go around and then find the point at which Donovan and Melo’s responsibilities intersect.

For Melo, that’s realizing he’s not in Oklahoma City to take the important shots in important moments. It may also be coming to the sobering understanding that there’s yet more sacrifice to be made, because like he said in January, “I knew this would be a full sacrifice for me, not a half sacrifice.” He’s made a valiant effort at changing the way he plays, perhaps it’s time to welcome a reduction in how much he plays.

For Donovan, he must make the logical decision on a nightly basis and play the hot hand at power forward. He must let go of the idea that Melo is a superstar (he’s not), accept the idea of Melo as the Thunder’s fourth-best player (Adams is third), and understand that Father Time, although fighting lengthy battles with LeBron James and Tom Brady, is and will remain undefeated. Start Melo, finish with Melo, do whatever you have to do, just don’t make him beyond reproach. You can give the guy the respect he deserves without giving him unlimited benefit of the doubt.

(I also find it hilarious that Billy D, known tinkerer, has become a lightning rod because of his sudden onset of rigidity. Life is weird, man.)

These days Melo is just Melo — not ME7O, know what I’m saying? Not embracing that distinction is what both men are guilty of and I presume things won’t change until one of them changes their mind. How far they are willing to bend will likely determine the Thunder’s fate when it matters most. The time for positive adjustments is quickly running out.