Oklahoma City Thunder received an early visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past last week when Carmelo Anthony arrived in town for the rival Houston Rockets game, and it gave them a glimpse of how their present might be, if not for a shrewd offseason move by general manager Sam Presti.
Oklahoma City fans gave Anthony a rousing cheer when he was introduced prior to the game, which proves OKC fans are more forgiving than a lot of professional fans — or maybe they were just excited to see him in a different uniform.
Anthony delivered his best game for the Thunder, except he was wearing red, not white and blue. He went 1-10 from the field, bricked non-corner 3-pointers and was a sieve defensively, which should give Thunder fans flashbacks to Anthony’s performance in the playoff series loss to the Utah Jazz.
The Thunder cruised to a 98-80 victory over the Rockets without Russell Westbrook, who was nursing a sprained ankle. Dennis Schroeder — who the Thunder received from Atlanta for dumping Anthony’s contract — was again dynamic filling in for Westbrook, and he has been the perfect complement to Westbrook and George, operating as the primary point guard for bench units and playing alongside the two stars during crunch time.
The Thunder are 7-1 since moving Jerami Grant into the starting lineup at power forward, Anthony’s old position. Grant represents the antithesis of Anthony’s game. The versatile athlete is perfect for the modern NBA because he can switch from defending frontcourt players and perimeter players during pick-and-rolls. On consecutive possessions against the Rockets, Grant forced Anthony into a long mid-range miss and then stayed in front of point guard Chris Paul as Paul missed a 3-pointer.
After a rough start to the season, the Thunder has found its footing as a versatile defensive team that is still awaiting the return of lockdown perimeter ace Andre Roberson and now has an exciting second unit led by offseason additions of Schroeder, center Nerlens Noel, shooter Alex Abrines and rookie Hamidou Diallo.