OKLAHOMA CITY — Carmelo Anthony has been the No. 1 option for whatever team he has played on during most of his basketball career.
He knew that wasn't going to be the case when he arrived in Oklahoma City, though it's safe to say things haven't gone as he expected when he signed up to be part the league's next Big Three.
Playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Anthony and the Thunder are headed to the playoffs . He is the Thunder's third-leading scorer, yet at times it feels like he the fourth option behind center Steven Adams.
Anthony isn't complaining.
"Acceptance of what I have to do here and what is needed of me," Anthony said. "I think the other guys on the team, after they started playing with each other more and more, we started figuring out each other's game. We figured out what each other brings to the game."
He has said he wants to win, and he is not just talking the talk.
Late in a critical game against the Denver Nuggets a few weeks ago , Anthony chose not to re-enter in the closing minutes of regulation. Instead, he walked away from the scorer's table and let 24-year-old Jerami Grant stay in the game.
"I didn't want to break his rhythm," Anthony said. "A lot of guys when they have it going like that, especially role player guys, bench guys, that gives them confidence. You believe in those guys."
Anthony returned to action when the game went to overtime and his actions left little doubt where he is mentally. A likely future Hall of Famer, Anthony is one of the top 20 scorers in NBA history, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and former NBA scoring champion in 2013.
Not long ago, the thought of Anthony being out of a game at crunch time would have been dismissed as senseless. Now, he's 33 years old, no longer in his prime. He averages 16.2 points per game, by far the lowest of his career, and his minutes also are at a career low.
He's fine with it all because his goal is his first NBA title.
Anthony's teammates respect how he has adjusted.
"He's just an overall good guy," Westbrook said. "Does a lot of different things that goes unnoticed. His ultimate sacrifice is number one, and his being a team guy is always important as well."
Anthony has been an isolation specialist for most of his career, having the ball in his hand and his team clearing out so he can go one-on-one. This season, he has been at his best when taking advantage of the attention Westbrook and George have drawn.
"Those guys are finding me in transition, they're finding me in when guys collapse on the defensive end and we're just sharing the ball," he said. "I think when we share the ball and we move the ball, everybody feels a part of the game. The rhythm comes, the flow of the game comes because the rhythm is a lot different than what we (the Thunder) had in the past, so we've got to find ways, find that rhythm."
Anthony has had struggled at times finding his rhythm — he's barely shooting 40 percent from the field. Still, he has shown glimpses of being the prolific scorer he once was. In Sunday's win over the Houston Rockets, he scored 22 points on 7 for 14 shooting. He scored a season-high 29 points in a win over Cleveland on Jan. 20.
And there are times where his track record still matters.
In a loss to Portland on March 25 , Anthony missed what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds after Westbrook fouled out. Coach Billy Donovan was fine with Anthony having the ball in his hands.
"Carmelo is a proven scorer in this league and has made shots, big shots for a large portion of his career, and I've got confidence in him," Donovan said.
The coach also believes Anthony is a team player.
Donovan said he was fine with when Anthony chose not to re-enter the game against Denver "because to me, that's a sign of unselfishness — wanting someone else to do well."
Grant is averaging 9.4 points per game since the All-Star break in just under 20 minutes of action per game. Anthony is teaching him to be more assertive.
"Since I've been here, he's been with our group — me, him and Paul — the shooting groups," Anthony said. "Just talking to him and encouraging him to take a little bit more."
Anthony believes mentoring is as important as anything he does at this point in his career.
"I've been around for a long time," Anthony said, "and I want to give that insight and that knowledge to the young guys."
And capture his first NBA title along the way.