Every time I tell myself I’m not going to be surprised anymore by what happens during this NBA offseason, I end up being surprised again. Paul George has been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. When all the attention was on the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, and Houston Rockets to trade for Paul George, the Oklahoma City Thunder came in from nowhere and stole him right out of Indiana.
Saying they stole him is an understatement. The Thunder only had to give up Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to get George. That’s a small price to pay for one of the top players in the league.
The trade to acquire Paul George is a high-risk, high-reward move. It’s high-risk because George has made it clear he wants to go to L.A. and play for the Lakers after his contract expires. The only other team we’ve heard of him being willing to commit to long-term, is the Cleveland Cavaliers, and that was only if LeBron James stayed. Will the reigning MVP be enough to get Paul George to commit?
This move is high-reward because the Thunder are giving themselves a chance to compete for a championship. They’ve now given Russell Westbrook help on both sides of the ball. Westbrook no longer has to do everything on offense. He doesn’t have to take or create as many shots. This is really good for Westbrook on the defensive side. Westbrook struggled as a defender last season, most likely because he was so tired from doing everything on offense. Now that Westbrook won’t have to do everything offensively, he’ll be able to conserve his energy for when he needs it most.
Often times last season, we would see Westbrook give everything he had for four quarters. The problem was, when they got to the fourth quarter, he couldn’t sustain the high level of play because he had given everything in the first three quarters just to keep his team in the game. Paul George allows the Thunder to preserve Westbrook for when they need him most. They no longer need to have Westbrook on the floor at all times.
One of the biggest problems for Oklahoma City last season, was when Westbrook went to the bench, they couldn’t score. Adding Paul George to the roster allows them to keep a star player on the floor at all times, but also be able to give another star some rest. When Westbrook is tired, George can run the offense. When George is tired, Westbrook can run the offense.
Can they coexist?
Much like we’ve been wondering about Chris Paul and James Harden being able to make it work, we have to wonder if Russell Westbrook and Paul George can make it work. With the Rockets, their problem is having two ball dominant guards. Westbrook is a ball dominant guard, but only because he had to be. I don’t think there will be a problem with these two. I see it working similar to how things were when Kevin Durant was in Oklahoma City. Either player can handle the ball and run the offense. Either one can create their own shot, or they can create a shot for the other.
Work left to do
The Thunder still have some work left to do if they want to be true contenders next season. They should start by finding a way to sign Andre Roberson. They need Roberson’s defense. A defense that consists of Roberson, Paul George, and a more fresh Russell Westbrook will be something opposing teams have to watch out for. Each player can guard multiple positions, which will help slow the opposing offense.
After resigning Roberson, Oklahoma City needs to find a bargain player or two who can come off the bench and contribute for them. Enes Kanter may be moved into the starting line-up, which would give them even less help off the bench. Kanter was one of the bright spots on the bench for the Thunder last season. One of their biggest needs from the bench, is a player they can trust to run the offense. They didn’t really have that last year. It was all Westbrook.
As things sit right now, I think Oklahoma City will be an improved team from last season. After earning the 6th spot in the Western Conference with just Russell Westbrook, I think adding Paul George moves them up a couple spots. I can see them winning somewhere between 50-55 games. The bench still concerns me, but the fact that Westbrook now has another star to help him out should get Thunder fans excited. Will this move put Oklahoma City above San Antonio or Golden State? It’s too early to early to tell for sure, but it definitely makes them more competitive in an already loaded Western Conference.