Will Paul George Stay With the Thunder Next Season?
With Paul George becoming a free agent in 2018, many are now wondering what his future holds with the Oklahoma City Thunder. A team that is no stranger to losing superstars, the Thunder are looking to add support for their remaining star and league MVP, Russell Westbrook, in hopes of making a run at the NBA Championship. Can Paul George be the missing piece to help them overcome Kevin Durant and the defending champions, Golden State Warriors?
After averaging a triple-double on 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists, Westbrook proved to the league that he is more than capable of keeping the Thunder in playoff contention. However, Westbrook holds the highest usage percentage of any starting player in the league at nearly 41%, and his fatigue was evident in the Thunder's first round exit in the playoffs against the Houston Rockets. During that run, the Thunder posted an overall offensive rating of +2.7 with Westbrook on the court, and a rating of -60.1 off the court. This is due to the lack of weapons Westbrook had available to him, with Victor Oladipo shooting 24% from behind the arc, and Andre Roberson becoming a liablity at the free throw line--shooting just 14%.
Meanwhile, Paul George averaged 28 points per game, while shooting 43% from three-point against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Similar to Westbrook, George was unable to overcome the first round and ultimately lost in 4 games. It seems that George, who is among the top forwards in the league, would be a perfect fit for the Thunder who were in dire need of an offensive weapon. With Westbrook drawing in defenders as he attacks the basket, George can find space to shoot or create mismatches. Furthermore, the Thunder were able to rid themselves of Oladipo's bloated salary and essentially turn him, Domantas Sabonis, and Taj Gibson into George, Patrick Patterson, and Raymond Felton. Patterson adds another weapon from behind the arc, shooting 37% last season. While Felton doesn't add much in terms of productivity, his experience should help to better the performance of the second unit.
Paul George has also expressed that he may consider signing an extension with the Thunder, alongside Westbrook if they prove to be the ideal place for him. He stated in an interview with Sports Illustrated that the rumors involving the Los Angeles Lakers was slightly exaggerated and that it isn't necessarily a lock for him. While the Lakers are still most likely the favorite to acquire him next season, it makes sense that the 27 year old, George, would choose the team that gives him the best chance at winning, especially after already suffering a career-threatening injury. Perhaps the rebuilding Lakers would not be the optimal destination for him next free agency. As for right now, George is excited to start the season with the Thunder and make a run in the West.