Kevin Durant and the Melo Treatment
When the Oklahoma City Thunder started the 2012-13 NBA season, they had one goal in mind, hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy as World Champions. Expectations couldn’t have been higher having come up short last season in a 4 games to 1 NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat. Scott Brooks and his young team were hoping that experience would help propel them over the hump this year much like it did to Lebron and co, who lost in the Finals the year before claiming their title. After another successful regular season, one that saw the Thunder win 60 games and claim the top spot in the Western Conference, the path was clear. Run through the West and set up a potential (and likely) rematch with the Heat.
Enter Patrick Beverley
In Game 2 of their first round matchup vs the Rockets, with the Thunder trailing 42-41 and 5:34 left in the first half, OKC guard Russell Westbrook slowed down to call a timeout. At that moment, Patrick Beverley of the Rockets was going for the steal when he and Westbrook collided. The collision hit hard on the Thunder star’s knee. Westbook tore his meniscus and was forced to have surgery. His season was over. The pressure now fell solely on the shoulders of Kevin Durant. The superstar would have to lead the Thunder to the promise land by himself.
The Thunder would go on to defeat the Rockets 4 games to 2 and advance to a second round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that presents a ton of problems. They are big, they defend, they rebound and they don’t go away easy. Not many people gave the Westbrook-less Thunder a chance to win it all, but they are still good enough to get past the Grizzlies right? They weren’t. The Thunder fell to the Griz 4 games to 1 and exited the playoffs on their home court. So who does the blame fall upon? Lets look at the superstar leader of the team in Kevin Durant. In game 3, an 87-81 loss, Durant missed two key free throws with 15 seconds left that would have cut the Grizzlies lead to two. In game 4’s 103-97 loss, Durant shot 2 for 13 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Not the clutch performance fans in OKC have come to expect from their leader. Then came game 5. Durant lead the Thunder with 21 but shot just 5 for 21 from the field and missed what would have been the game tying shot with seconds remaining.
Enter the critics
The criticism that players like Carmelo Anthony or even Lebron James endured while in Cleveland, was non existent. Instead, many members of the media praise Durant. They give excuses for him and admire the “weight of the franchise on his back” heroics. Now I am not going to sit here and say that the loss of Westbrook shouldn’t impact Durant, that’s absurd. In the nine games Durant played without Westbrook, his field goal percentage, three point percentage, and even free throw percentage all dropped dramatically below his season average. It was clear that he took on a role unfamiliar to him and could not handle the load. With Westbook gone, the Thunder became one-dimensional. The offense almost always ran through their best player Durant and rightfully so. This became easier to defend, especially when no one else stepped up. No one helped fill the void that was left when the number two option went down. There’s no more James Harden on this roster. No one to step up and help out Durant who saw constant pressure. The media acknowledged this and seemed to give Durant a pass on this postseason. But where is the similar pass to another superstar on the island himself?
Enter Carmelo Anthony
Ever since game 3 of their first round series vs the Celtics, the Knicks are just 2-5. They’re field goal percentage is awful and they can’t seem to get into a rhythm. They find themselves down 3 games to 1 in their second round series with the Pacers and are almost certain to get knocked out. All the pundits and fans put the blame on Carmelo Anthony. They say he shoots too much, he is not efficient, and he is not a winning player. Carmelo is constantly fighting off the “haters”. Those who say it cannot be done with him. I’m sorry, did I miss something? Isn’t Carmelo Anthony in the same position that Kevin Durant was in this postseason? Forced to carry the load on his back, provide the offense for his team with no help. Where is Carmelo’s number 2? JR Smith? JR Smith is the most inconsistent player in the NBA and even if he wasn’t in the midst of a terrible cold streak, is not good enough to be a number 2 on a championship caliber team. Carmelo Anthony is getting no help from his supporting cast and much like Durant, is facing a big, physical, defensive team in the Pacers. The Knicks offense, like the Thunder, is one-dimensional, it runs through Melo. Still despite this, Melo is giving his all and putting up respectable, not great, but respectable numbers. The similarities are there, yet the treatment of the superstars is different.
No, I am not defending Carmelo Anthony, I am simply pointing out that if we criticize one superstar for coming up short, then we should criticize them all. Look, no one can do it alone. As was the case with Lebron in Cleveland, Kobe without Shaq and before Pau, Pippen without Jordan, and yes, Kevin Durant without Westbrook. But when you are widely considered as the second best basketball player in the world, you should be able to carry your team past the Memphis Grizzlies.
Perhaps its time we give Kevin Durant the Melo Treatment.