James Harden might think it's easy, but assimilating Carmelo Anthony into a collection of players on the cusp of NBA glory the previous year is probably a lot harder than the 2018 MVP realizes. While Melo doesn't bring Dwight Howard-levels of buffonery, he did chortle pretty loudly at the idea of coming off the bench last season in Oklahoma City. So the news from ESPN's Tim MacMahon about how coach Mike D'Antoni is thinking of fitting all the pieces together could be a cause for alarm:
One big reason why Melo might be in the running for Sixth Man of the Year is how crucial P.J. Tucker is to Houston's success. He just happens to play the same position where D'Antoni wants Melo: power forward.
Though best known for his outrageous affinity for sneakers, Tucker is that rare player who can hold it down on the block, despite standing just 6-foot-5. With the thighs of Chuck Hayes and the tenacity of Pistons-era Dennis Rodman, it was a marvel watching him out-hustle the Warriors for boards and stymie would-be drivers in last season's Western Conference finals.
However, even with Tucker holding it down as the starting four, moving Eric Gordon into the starting lineup might mean the Toyota Center's scoreboard explodes from overuse:
That postseason number is a lot better, but the triumvirate of James Harden, Eric Gordon, and Chris Paul in the backcourt and along the wing together is pretty small, regardless of how fiery Gordon and Paul play defense.
How well they defend, after finishing sixth in defensive efficiency last season (following rankings of 18th and 21st on that end the previous two seasons), is also more of a question mark after defensive coach Jeff Bzdelick surprisingly retired in September, compounding the personnel loss of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute.
But D'Antoni says they're going to be even better on defense this season, telling The Athletic after Tuesday's practice, “We gotta get up to one or two defensively.” Harden mirrored that same opinion: “I think a huge part of that was [during] the first part of [last] season, we were trying to figure out where defensively we wanted to be great at, and halfway in the season we were third in defense," he said. "We’re more than capable of it. We know what we want to do, so we just have to go out there and play harder, communicate more.”
They'll certainly have an easier time defending if Melo is on the bench.