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