As if this NBA offseason hadn’t proven diabolical enough, on the eve of NBA free agency, the Indiana Pacers agreed to trade Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Donatas Sabonis.
This was the latest in this arms race of an NBA offseason, days after the announced trade sending Chris Paul to join James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
And now we have yet another fascinating discussion to be had going into next season: What does Paul George and Russell Westbrook look like?
There’s poetry to it from OKC and Westbrook’s side — after going one season without Durant, you’re now getting another one of the league’s top wing forwards. Once again, the Thunder have a perennial star duo that on paper gives them a chance to compete with the likes of anyone.
While the magnitude of a Westbrook/PG duo is similar in stature to that of Westbrook/Durant, the former offers a slightly different complexion. George’s strengths lie in his two-way versatility, not unlike Durant, but George isn’t the same kind of high-profile scorer. It’s feasible to insert George in the same offensive situations as Durant in the half court. He can operate out of pin-downs and two-man game sets, though he’s not as lethal in those areas as Durant. But in the big picture, I see George as a more suitable and intangible running mate for Westbrook.
That infamous conflict of lead alpha between Westbrook and Durant shouldn’t exist with this new pairing. This is Westbrook’s team, one that he put completely on his shoulders in his 2016-17 MVP season. Paul George is going to have a significant role on this team, obviously more so than Victor Oladipo, but it would be impossible for him to impose on Westbrook’s role as leader. I believe George’s game will make that pretty natural for him.
For the last three seasons, the Thunder have ranked top five in fast break points. Westbrook personally kept that trend afloat this past season even without Durant. OKC ranked top ten in pace in the 2016-17 season, where George’s Pacers ranked 18th overall. The style of the Thunder, which derives directly from the playing style of Westbrook, favors George’s abilities in the open floor.
Maybe even more important than George being able to co-exist with Westbrook is the luxury of having another All-Star to play through. OKC’s offensive rating was 107.9 with Westbrook on the floor and dropped to 97.4 when he was off the floor last season. The Thunder simply became putrid without Westbrook’s heroics, but now Billy Donovan can use George as the centerpiece in those moments, a role he has experience with.
Paul George has substantiated interest in playing for the Lakers. One of the conditions of George’s potential trade from Indiana was his willingness to re-sign with said team. George can still hit free agency next summer. In this scenario with OKC, even if it is a rental, he becomes part of the newest high-profile NBA duo, and possibly a dangerous playoff team.
This won’t just be an experiment for OKC to test out their new duo, but for George and Westbrook to become familiar with each other as competitive allies. Westbrook has a player option in 2018, making it possible for George to pitch Westbrook on the idea of continuing their campaign together in LA.
Or perhaps the next 10-12 months will give Westbrook an opportunity to sell George on the idea of laying roots in OKC. Either way, with every elite team boasting a star core, these two should remain linked for the foreseeable future.