The Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off the free-agency shocker of the summer, trading for Paul George. The former Indiana Pacers star had been linked to Boston, Cleveland, and the LA Lakers in recent weeks.
OKC, however, wasn’t even in this conversation.
The most-exciting thing about this deal is that it pairs triple-double machine Russell Westbrook with one of the game’s best all-around forwards.
But does this make the Thunder a far-better team? Will it raise their championship odds?
Let’s find out by discussing what exactly George does for OKC, and if the Thunder will be hurt by giving up Victor Oladipo and Domantas Saboins.
George Replaces Durant as the Thunder’s Second Superstar
When the Thunder lost Kevin Durant last year, it obviously took away any chance they had at a championship.
Westbrook became the second-ever player to average a triple double and carried OKC to victory. The team finished with a respectable 47-35 record; but they were clearly overmatched in the first round of the playoffs, losing in 5 games to the Houston Rockets.
In comes George, who may not totally replace what Durant is capable of, but he’ll be close. He averaged 23.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 1.6 SPG last season. George also shot 46.1% from the field, including 39.3% from the three-point line.
George’s 3-Point Shooting Helps Immensely
Last year, OKC was tied for the league’s worst three-point-shooting team. They and the Orlando Magic both shot a dismal 32.7% from beyond the arc.
George now does two things in this department for the Thunder:
1) He shoots very well from three-point territory at 39.3%.
2) His presence helps create more open looks for McDermott, which were in short supply.
Westbrook doesn’t Have to Shoulder a Heavy Burden
Westbrook had a season for the ages, averaging 31.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 10.4 APG, and 1.6 SPG. People criticize his shooting, but Westboork’s 42.5% mark (34.3% from three) was partly because of all the attention on him.
The good news is that he no longer has to carry this squad. PG will draw plenty of attention and, again, create more open looks for his teammates.
This Becomes a Stronger Defensive Team
We’re not saying that Oladipo wasn’t a good defender. But bringing George in allows OKC to slide Andre Robertson – a lock-down defender if ever there was one – to shooting guard.
These moves create the following starting 5:
- Westbrook at PG
- Robertson at SG
- George at SF
- Taj Gibson at PF
- Steven Adams at C
This is a long, athletic, scrappy lineup that’ll make scoring highly difficult for the opposition. Sure, there’s no incredible rim protector here. But Gibson and Adams are both stout position defenders, while Westbrook, Robertson, and George are good at forcing turnovers and bad shots.
What Exactly does OKC Lose?
Oladipo is obviously the big loss for the Thunder because he averaged 15.9 PPG and 4.3 RPG last year. The 4-year veteran also shot a respectable 36.1% from three-point territory. Another good thing about Oladipo is that he’s a solid defender.
But the problem here is twofold:
1) He’s not a star like Paul George.
2) He’s making $21 million per year.
Combining these two factors, OKC almost wins by getting an above-average starter who’s making $21 million off their roster.
As for Domantas Sabonis, the 11th-overall pick in the 2016 Draft had an okay season, averaging 5.9 PPG and 3.6 RPG. But the rookie struggled to find his stroke, hitting just 39.9% from the field and 32.1% from three-point range. Sabonis may develop into a good player, but it’ll take 2-3 seasons.
Thunder Pursuing Rudy Gay
On a side note, ESPN reports that the Thunder are currently interested in signing free agent forward Rudy Gay.
The 11-year veteran would likely come off the bench, due to George playing the same position.
But he’d be a great offensive addition after averaging 18.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 2.8 APG for the Sacramento Kings last year. Gay shot 37.2% from the three-point line, which would also help OKC upgrade in this spot too.
Thunder Championship Odds for 2018
Oklahoma City opened the summer at 80:1 odds of winning the NBA title. Now, they shift to 40:1 odds at the major Vegas sportsbooks after signing George.
The Golden State Warriors are expected to be the first seed again, while the Houston Rockets (via Chris Paul trade) will fight with the San Antonio Spurs for the second seed. With Paul leaving the Clippers, and Gordon Hayward’s fate with the Utah Jazz up in the air, this leaves the fourth spot open for OKC to slide into.
Assuming the Thunder have a strong season, then it gives them a better chance of re-signing George and Westbrook – both of who will be free agents in 2018.