Once Bitten Twice Shy: Is OKC’s future secure with Paul George and Russell Westbrook?
Written By Daniel Haynes
That was the word used to describe many basketball fans and pundits after news broke on June 30, that Paul George had been traded to Oklahoma City Thunder with Indiana receiving Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. It was a move that sent shockwaves through the NBA free agency market, particularly as it was no secret that George expressed interest in going home to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers. It was also one of the biggest shake ups of the free agency frenzy as OKC was not tabled to make any serious moves outside of trying to furnish 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook with reasons to sign an extension and stay with the Thunder. In comparison, it was probably almost as big as finding out that Kevin Durant was departing OKC for the Golden State Warriors last season. However, since George becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018, many predict that OKC will once again be without a second superstar or possibly without Westbrook.
The question is however, how can George and Westbrook work together: both players are ball dominant and Westbrook is coming off of a phenomenal season averaging a triple double with 31.6 points off 42 percent shooting, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game. Last season George averaged a career-high 23.7 points on 46- percent shooting with 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. If the two were to work what would the Thunder gain? For starters Westbrook could finally rest.
Last season, Westbrook had to do it all, from rebound the ball and take off running down the floor, lead the fast break, and play almost to playing with the inhuman like motor we’ve all come to know, love and sometimes hate. Whether it was in the open court or half court, guarding Westbrook was impossible especially with his ability to get to the paint and finish at the rim either with a thunderous slam or smooth layup. The signs of him being tired came when he started settling for contested jumpers and started throwing up ill-advised three point shots.
He averaged 34.6 minutes per game last season and despite this number looking at Thunder games told a different story. Every time Westbrook sat down, his team needed him to get back out there. The Thunder’s net points per 100 possessions was plus 3.5 when he was on the court and a minus 12.5 (making them the worst team in the league per 100 possessions) when he was on the bench. This was especially exposed in the playoffs against the Houston Rockets.
Now with George on the team, Westbrook can take a rest. He can sit on the bench and catch his breath without worrying about having to go back into the game since his team couldn’t survive without him. Would we see the same numbers from Westbrook? No but at the same time the Thunder’s offense won’t be painful to watch with him on the bench.
The addition of George also gives the Thunder a boost on the defensive end. Last season the defensive leaders for OKC were Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, and despite Westbrook being a former Pac-10 DPOY, him taking on the offensive load caused his defense to suffer. In George, the Thunder have a legitimate defensive stopper who can not only take on tough assignments but score. Defensively he is versatile and added with the combo of Roberson on the wings and Adams in the paint, Westbrook could focus solely on offense knowing full well that the defensive stopper in George is backing him up.
Finally, when it comes to the offensive side of things George can create his own shot and doesn’t need Westbrook to create them, unlike some of the Thunder cast last season. However, George also functions as spot-up shooter and is willing to work as a threat from behind the arc where most of his threes come on set up passes. Given the fact Westbrook lead the league last season in assists per games off the drive, having a three-point threat in George who functions as a catch and shoot option, makes OKC offense interesting.
With George on the team coupled with Westbrook should things work, it would be a wonderful sight to watch, especially if Westbrook learns from his past experiences with Durant. If both George and Westbrook leave next off season, the Thunder would have lost four superstars in James Harden, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook- the latter two are MVPS. Until then two things are certain, 1: the Thunder are in a position to contend for higher seeding, and 2: this season will be something to watch and Thunder fans can’t wait.