I have seen Paul George go head-to-head with LeBron James twice in the Eastern Conference Finals. He didn’t win, but George and his Indiana Pacers sure made those loaded Miami Heat teams uncomfortable. That was when we realized George was one of the most complete players in the league. A true two-way superstar. As Zach Lowe says a “Boss.”
Fast forward to the summer of 2017 when the Indiana Pacers traded George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Everyone thought the Thunder won the trade. Except Oladipo and Sabonis flourished in Indiana and George struggled in OKC. To be fair, everyone on OKC kind of struggled last year. Carmelo Anthony, all of a sudden, became awful and was a bad fit, they lost Andre Roberson to injury and their defense suffered.
George had his moments, but it was a tough year for him. In the second half of the season, he struggled with an elbow issue, which caused his shooting percentage to plummet. His last game was Game 6 in Utah, and it was a disaster. The Thunder lost, and George had five points on 2 of 16 shooting. Yikes!
Everyone assumed George would leave OKC in the summer for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. That did not happen, as George decided to stay in OKC. He and Russell Westbrook had become close, and George declared they hadunfinished business. George signed a four year deal for $30 million per year, with a player option in the third year. It was a massive win for OKC, but could George live up to it and become the player he once was?
Before the season started, George was often left off the best players in the league conversation. Some of it was him being lost in Westbrooks shadow, some due to playing for a small market and some to his poor playoff performance.
This season he is putting the league on notice again on just how good of a player he is. He had a bit of a slow start due to a nagging foot injury, but since he has been healthy, he has been a “boss.” George has finally become the ideal second banana to Westbrook, and when Westbrook went down with an ankle injury, George showed he could carry the load.
For the season George is averaging a career-high 24 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. All of these are career highs. He is only shooting 41% from the field, and 35% from three, part of that was the slow start, and part of that is handling a more significant load. George is shooting 20 times a game, a career-high, including nine threes a game (also a career high). It should be noted that OKC is a terrible shooting team, so as one of their only good shooters, George has the ultimate green light from deep.
Dig deeper, and you’ll see George has the lowest turnover ratio of his career and the highest rebounding ratio of his career. An already complete player is becoming more complete. So how is he doing it?
George has exceeded both on and off the ball this season. He has been slightly better spotting up ranking in the 78th percentile, but he is not far behind as a pick and roll ball handler ranking in the 74th percentile. Few players are this highly ranked in both. A lot of his improvement in the pick and roll has been his passing. His assist ratio is in the 86th percentile.
Even more impressive, despite his poor shooting percentage, he has been an above average shooter from three, midrange and finishing at the rim. George leads all small forwards in RPM with an outstanding 3.37 offensive RPM. To overcome some poor shooting, George is getting to the line 5.2 times per game. He is drawing shooting fouls and fouls on the floor at an above average rate. George is even crashing the glass this year. He has been doing it all for the Thunder. Watch this.
This is where George has been excellent. As in first team all-defense awesome. George is one of the rare defenders who is good both on and off the ball. He is versatile, he can switch, he can lock down the teams best offensive option, and he can play the passing lanes like few else. This season George’s defensive RPM is 2.45, which is second among small forwards. George ranks in the 78th percentile defending spot ups, and he is in the 63rd percentile defending pick and roll.
What is more impressive, is George is in the 94th percentile in steal rate. He has always been a steal master, and he does it without too much gambling or fouling. George is also getting blocks at a high rate, ranking in the 87th percentile. Defensive rebounding he is in the 97th percentile. That is as complete of a defensive player you will find. A true menace who can ruin a teams offensive possession at any time. He is a big reason the Thunder have the best defense in the league. It is scary to think what they will be like when Roberson gets back.
It plays like this that make George so special on defense.
Add it up, and George is having an all-star season. Even in the loaded west. He is also a big reason that the Thunder may have homecourt in the first round once the playoffs start. Heck, they could be as high as the two seed. Goerge is reminding the world he is a true two-way force, who is one of the best twenty players in the league.
He is in line to make an All-NBA team. The rare player, who can be the first banana, but can also thrive in a second banana role. The boss that is Paul George is back, and there are few players I would rather watch. Everyone should be on notice; I wouldn’t want to play George or the Thunder in the playoffs.