Do the Thunder have too many players in the frontcourt to keep Carmelo Anthony? While Melo opted into the last year of his contract, that hasn’t stopped OKC from beefing up its bigs rotation. After reportedly re-signing Jerami Grant to a three-year, $27 million deal, the Thunder are also said to be adding Nerlens Noel on a two-year deal for the veteran’s minimum. The second year of Noel’s contract is reportedly a player option.
Grant averaged 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game for OKC last season, finding his calling as more of a small-ball big as opposed to a perimeter player. Noel’s career has been mostly stuck in carbonite as he languished in Dallas for the last year and a half. Noel played in only 30 games in 2017–18, and was widely expected to leave the Mavs this summer. Let‘s grade both signings for OKC.
The grade for Grant probably would have been a little higher if not for the Noel signing, but now part of me is a little skeptical on how OKC plans on using Grant. He probably showed the most potential as a rim-running five last year. The five-man group of Grant, Melo, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Andre Roberson had a net rating of 33.5 in a brief 42 minutes together. A lineup of Grant, Steven Adams, Russ, PG and Roberson—which could end up starting together if Melo is moved—played only 36 minutes together last year. That group had a 6.3 net rating, but had no spacing offensively and was unsustainably good on defense.
Grant is not a bad player and letting him walk would have been difficult. But OKC is short on wings who can shoot, and the money on Grant possibly could have been better spent elsewhere. Remember, the Thunder have a skyrocketing payroll with or without Anthony on the roster. Though OKC was capped out, perhaps its resources could have been somehow allocated into bringing in a shooter, maybe with the taxpayer mid-level. If the Thunder are still willing to to bring in someone like Tyreke Evans and really don’t care about the financial ramifications, then Grant is a luxury they can afford.
I like this signing a little bit more than Grant. Noel is coming in at basically no risk to the Thunder, with a minimal impact on their salary cap. I think it’s a good sign Noel wanted to rebuild his career with a contender instead of seeking a payday with any other club. Sure, teams probably weren’t lining up to hand Noel big money, but it’s a positive for OKC that he seemingly values winning and culture to help get his career back on track. Noel can provide a lot of what Grant does at center at a fraction of the price. He’s athletic enough to hang with small-ball lineups, and he should provide a good roll option for OKC ball-handlers. Noel is far from a perfect player. And the concerns about his attitude are fair. He has no more time for halftime hot dogs. But if the Thunder can coax a committed performance from someone determined to rebuild his career, it’s a no-brainer to bring in Noel to be a backup for Adams.