Over the course of just a few short hours before the sun had even risen on Saturday morning, the Los Angeles Clippers went from being an eighth seed in the Western Conference to the potential favorite to win the 2019-20 NBA championship.
The Clippers made an extremely aggressive play in order to form a tandem of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, shocking the rest of the NBA by sending a record number of future first-round picks to the Thunder and subsequently signing Leonard to a four-year deal.
Although it had been unbeknownst to the public at the time, Leonard had been recruiting George after Kevin Durant decided to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, and George had told agent Aaron Mintz to push for a deal that would pair the two superstars together.
After years of rumors suggested George would eventually end up with the Los Angeles Lakers, the veteran now finds himself playing on the other side of town. In joining Leonard and the likes of Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley, George will be presented with his best opportunity to win an NBA title.
Here are three bold predictions for Paul George in his first season with the Clippers, once he gets healthy after multiple shoulder surgeries.
3. Career-high shooting percentages
For as elite a player and scorer as Paul George has become, it might seem surprising that he is barely shooting above 43 percent from the field for his career.
Of course, George’s usage rate increased tremendously throughout his tenure with the Indiana Pacers, and he and Russell Westbrook were really the only two legitimate shot creators for the Thunder last season.
Often, a player is more efficient when their usage declines. George should be no different. He has become a more deadly 3-point shooter throughout the years, and the Clippers will have plenty of scoring options from the perimeter and on the block.
Because of all the floor spacing, the tremendous ability of Montrezl Harrell to work in pick-and-roll and the fact that both George and Leonard are excellent in isolation, everyone in the rotation is going to get plenty of good looks.
As a result, George will post career-high numbers in terms of field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
2. Defensive Player of the Year
Although it would be hard to argue that Rudy Gobert did not deserve Defensive Player of the Year honors this past season, Paul George had a very strong claim to the award. He led the NBA in steals (2.2) and anchored a Thunder defense that led the NBA in takeaways.
George has tremendous defensive instincts, with quick feet and quick hands supplementing his length. But the scariest part is that George could be an even better defender on this Clippers team.
LA’s potential starting lineup of Beverley, George, Leonard, Maurice Harkless and Ivica Zubac would hands-down be the best defensive unit in the league. Beverley, George and Leonard are three of the very best individual defenders at their respective positions, and they are a nightmare for ball handlers because of their incessant pressure.
Because of all the length and talent defensively, George will once again lead the league in steals, and this time he will also capture that elusive Defensive Player of the Year award.
1. NBA Finals MVP
Is there any team in the league that is more well-rounded than the Clippers? They keep essentially the same pieces that they had when they made the playoffs last season. While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has promise and Danilo Gallinari is an underrated scoring wing, LA replaced those guys with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard … not a bad swap.
The Clippers still have tons of depth and versatility. Guys like Beverley and Landry Shamet can shoot the 3, while Lou Williams and Harrell were two of the best bench players in the NBA this past season.
The Clippers have size, shooting and balance, and they figure to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. There is plenty of reason to believe that they will be NBA champions come next June, and George stands as good a chance as any at being named MVP.
Of course, Leonard just put on one of the most historic postseasons in NBA history en route to winning his second Finals MVP. But given how George has performed in the playoffs at points in his career, he might establish himself as the best two-way player in any given series.
Leonard may have the higher profile, but it will be George who racks up the individual accolades in addition to the team success.