Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti stole Paul George from the Indiana Pacers for virtually nothing.
With all due respect to Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, that package shouldn’t have been enough for the Pacers to accept. It’s like trading George for a bag of skittles. How Presti did it is the biggest question, and it makes you think if that was really the best offer Kevin Pritchard received. Spoiler alert — it wasn’t. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, the Boston Celtics offered the Pacers three first-rounders, Jae Crowder and a second starter. Granted, none of the picks were Brooklyn’s, Los Angeles’ or Sacramento’s… but come on.
Most of us aren’t insiders. We don’t know what’s going on with these executives. Maybe Indiana was getting weak offers for George and didn’t want to wait any longer. Since he’s expected to be a rental, his value drops as the clock ticks, and the proposals would only get worse. We know what George is capable of doing. When he’s healthy, he’s an elite defender who can get to the rim, shoot threes and serve as a secondary ball-handler. And that’s exactly what he’s going to be with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
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He’s two full seasons removed from that horrific leg injury he suffered, and his most recent campaign saw him play with an efficiency we’ve never seen. George posted a career-best 23.7 points a night with an effective field goal percentage of 53.4, which was also a career-high. That’s marksmanship translated to the free throw line where — you guessed it — he shot better than ever at 89.8 percent. George’s natural scoring ability propelled him to his fourth All-Star appearance, and he’s precisely the kind of player that Russell Westbrook needs alongside him.
A big problem with the Thunder this year was their reliance on Westbrook. It worked throughout the regular season, but he fizzled out in the playoffs. His supporting cast was decent, but not up to par with the other playoff teams. Oklahoma City had no playmakers and no perimeter shooting, and that’s a recipe for disaster. George is serviceable as a rebounder and facilitator, but scoring and playing defense are his two best traits.
He can score from almost anywhere, but the only thing Westbrook cares about is his spot ups. According to Synergy, George shot 41.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, and he has the volume to match. Because he’s not so ball-dominant, the Pacers can find ways to get him involved indirectly, and he attempted 4.8 catch-and-shoot threes a night last year with Jeff Teague helping run the show. Oladipo, the guy brought in to be Russ’ wingman, connected on just 36.9 percent of those looks and was shooting 4.4 a night. George is just better suited to play in Oklahoma City than Oladipo is. A mediocre shooter isn’t going to thrive when his the majority of his looks are late-in-the-clock-jumpers that he has no business shooting.
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While a lot of George’s value comes with playing off Westbrook, the Thunder finally has someone they can trust with shouldering the offense when Russ sits. Last year, Billy Donovan did a remarkable job managing the minutes of his players, but, try as you might, your team just won’t be much better when Westbrook takes breaks. When he went to the bench, the Thunder saw a 10.6-point drop off per 100 possessions, 111.5 down to 100.9. George remedies this. And he knows what it’s like being the go-to guy who doesn’t consistently have guys he can rely on while he takes a breather.
Although we have yet to see just how much lighter Russ’ load will be, it’ll be lighter nonetheless. Not having to go so hard so often offense means Westbrook can spend even more time locked in on the defensive end, and that’s an area where he played extremely well. Overall, the Thunder were 10th in efficiency. Westbrook was eighth in defensive win shares (4.6) and second in defensive box plus/minus (plus-4.7). For a guard, that’s a ridiculous impact. Now, with George, the Thunder are going to have two elite defenders on the wing (Andre Roberson is the other), and that’s a solid tandem to have given the influx of talent moving out West.
The addition of Paul George was exceptional — mainly because the Pacers parted ways for seven cents on the dollar. Now, Russell Westbrook finally has legitimate help. Oladipo and Sabonis were solid role players, but George is a star who can just do more. Oklahoma City, however, still has other holes they need to fill up. The bench is less-than-stellar, and perimeter shooting is still an issue, but at least they have another selling point.
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