Paul George re­port card

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Berry Tramel btramel@ oklahoman.com

Our Thun­der a Day in the Month of May se­ries be­gins Sun­day with Paul George, who ar­rived last June in a trade from In­di­ana and be­gan his new du­ties as Rus­sell West­brook’s fel­low su­per­star. Here are the 2017-18 grades for PG13:

De­port­ment

AGe­orge landed in OKC with his agent al­ready hav­ing made known PG’s long­ing to play for the Lak­ers. Such a script could have made for a tense sea­son in an emo­tion­ally-frag­ile mar­ket that lost Kevin Du­rant two sum­mers ago. But George han­dled the topic su­perbly, say­ing good things about the Thun­der and Ok­la­homa while never go­ing over­board, which would have been re­ceived with much skep­ti­cism. George and West­brook seemed to de­velop solid chem­istry, even to the point of play­ing paint­ball to­gether a few days ago in LA. Thun­der lovers can at least have some hope that George stays, which is all you can ask af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son.

Stam­ina

AGe­orge played 79 games and av­er­aged 36.6 min­utes per game, fourth in the NBA. A team with oc­ca­sional depth is­sues needed such de­pend­abil­ity. And George of­ten played ex­ten­sively with the bench unit, giv­ing the Thun­der scor­ing punch when West­brook rested. Did the heavy load wear down PG? Maybe. March was the only month in which he shot less than 40 per­cent (38.3) and less than 30 per­cent from 3-point range (29.3), and the only month in which he scored less than 20 points a game (18.2). But George was ex­cel­lent in five April games.

Ball se­cu­rity

DEx­ces­sive turnovers al­ways have plagued George. Two years ago with the Pac­ers, PG was fifth in the NBA in turnovers. Only point guards should fin­ish that high in mis­cues. This sea­son, it wasn’t so much George’s num­ber of turnovers. His turnover per­cent­age — ba­si­cally how many turnovers com­mit­ted per 100 pos­ses­sions used by a player — was 12.2, which was down from his In­di­ana av­er­age of 13.6. The prob­lem was the type of turnovers com­mit­ted by George. Lack­adaisi­cal passes. Aim­less drib­bles. George is fun­da­men­tally sound in so many ar­eas but seemed to have at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der when it came to ball­han­dling.

De­fense

AWe had heard that George was an ex­cel­lent de­fender. But you can’t re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate George’s de­fense un­til you see it night af­ter night. He’s a ver­sa­tile de­fender, guard­ing mul­ti­ple po­si­tions. And

“It was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me, as much a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me as it was for him try­ing to fig­ure out how to play with me,” George said. “So I thought we both grew to­gether on try­ing to get that chem­istry.”

George never has been his team’s pri­mary ball­han­dler — last sea­son in In­di­ana, it was Jeff Teague — but this sea­son he touched the ball 5.1 fewer times per game than in 2016-17. He drib­bled the same amount (2.28 drib­bles per touch) but had the ball for slightly less time, 2.8 min­utes per game com­pared to 3.2.

More than that, though, George played for the first time with West­brook, who dom­i­nates an of­fense like few play­ers in the league. West­brook av­er­aged 96.1 touches per game this sea­son com­pared to the 76.6 Teague av­er­aged in In­di­ana last sea­son.

“For the first time in his ca­reer, Paul (was) find­ing out what it’s like George is the best kind of wing de­fender — he gets a ton of steals with­out do­ing all that much gam­bling. George was sec­ond in the NBA in steals, 161, and sixth in steal per­cent­age, 2.8, which es­ti­mates the num­ber of op­po­nents’ pos­ses­sions that end with a steal by a player. George guards big chunks of the court with his wing­span — hands al­ways spread, ready for de­flec­tions. George was tied for third in the NBA with de­flec­tions, 4.0 per game.

Play­offs

CBe­fore Utah se­ries, George un­pre­ten­tiously nick­named him­self Play­off P. But George was not great in those six games against the Jazz. His Game 6 was be­yond bad — 2-of-16 shoot­ing, five points, six turnovers. the

to play a role as a player off the ball, un­der­stand­ing off-ball move­ment, place­ment, cut­ting,” Turner Sports an­a­lyst Brent Barry said. “If Paul George was 2 for 7 when he was in In­di­ana, the next five pos­ses­sions, he’d find ways to ad­vance the of­fense, whether that be him scor­ing or whether that be with the ball, mas­sag­ing the ball, he’d be mak­ing a play and get­ting him­self into the rhythm of the game.”

When it worked, re­ally worked.

And, ESPN an­a­lyst Jeff Van Gundy said, “No one talks about fit when they play well.”

George scored more than 30 points 10 times, and the Thun­der went 10-1 in those games, the lone loss on a buzzer­beat­ing 3-pointer in Denver.

OKC was 8-3 when both George and West­brook scored 25 or more points, in­clud­ing wins against play­off teams Golden State, Toronto, New Or­leans and Philadel­phia, and went 15-6 it PG’s over­all post­sea­son num­bers were solid, with 24.7 points a game and 36.5 per­cent 3-point shoot­ing. But those were bol­stered by mon­ster per­for­mances in Game 1 and Game 5. Against the Jazz, the Thun­der needed more con­sis­tency from its su­per­star.

Three-point shoot­ing

AThe Thun­der shot 35.5 per­cent from 3-point range, its best shoot­ing since 201213 (37.3 per­cent). OKC was dead last in the NBA a year ago, at 32.6 per­cent. The Thun­der can thank George for the im­prove­ment. He made a team-best and a ca­reer­high 40.1 per­cent of his deep balls. More than 45 per­cent of George’s shots were 3-point­ers, also a ca­reer high, and that was fine with Billy Dono­van.

when George scored at least 25 and West­brook at least 20.

Now, the Thun­der waits to see if it gets a chance to im­prove on those num­bers.

The week af­ter OKC’s sea­son ended, ESPN’s Ryen Rus­sillo said on his pod­cast that a source he trusts told him George is “gone” this sum­mer. In an ap­pear­ance on Thurs­day’s “Af­ter­noons with Mar­cel­lus & Travis” ra­dio show in Los An­ge­les, ESPN’s Chris Haynes said that a source close to George “wouldn’t be sur­prised” if George re­signs in OKC.

There’s a long sum­mer of wait­ing ahead. But there have been glimpses of what could await George if he re­turns.

“We’ve had the high mo­ments where we’ve seen what we can be,” George said.

“That’s the con­sis­tency part of just get­ting an iden­tity as a group. I think we’re close. I think we’re close to ac­com­plish­ing some­thing big­ger here.”

TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN] [PHOTO BY BRYAN

Paul George, left, guards the Spurs’ Tony Parker dur­ing a game in March.

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