Predicting the Oklahoma City Thunder Future with Paul George

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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21: Paul George of the United states looks on during the final match of the Men's basketball between Serbia and United States on day 16 at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The 2017 NBA Most Valuable Player, Best Male Athlete, All-NBA First Team, Best Style Fan Award, and Game Winner of the Year are all awards that have been earned by Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star point guard, Russell Westbrook. He doesn’t just dazzle fans with his extravagant outfits such as the Brodie jersey, but also through producing gaudy numbers. After the nasty breakup that saw Durant move on towards the Warriors, Westbrook had a huge chip on his shoulder. He knew that it was up to him to carry the team back into the playoffs despite the lack of star-power and reliable scorers around him.  In 2017, he overcame that challenge, pushing the Thunder towards a #7 seed.

Westbrook doesn’t just dazzle fans with his extravagant outfits such as the Brodie jersey, but also through producing gaudy numbers. After the nasty breakup that saw Kevin Durant move to Golden State, Westbrook had a huge chip on his shoulder. He knew that it was up to him to carry the team back into the playoffs despite the lack of star-power and reliable scorers around him.  In 2017, he overcame that challenge, pushing the Thunder towards a #7 seed.

Russell Westbrook – Triple Double Machine

To achieve this, Westbrook went to great lengths to ensure that he and his team can play all 82 games at an elite level. The versatile playmaker surpassed NBA legend Oscar Robertson by logging his 42nd triple-double game in a season, the most in NBA history. He also joined Roberston in a company for being the only two players to average a triple-double for an entire season. His contributions held major power for the Thunder, as they went 33-9 when Westbrook gets a triple-double. The Thunder were 13-25 when he doesn’t. Though there were times where teammates allowed Westbrook to gain rebounds for stat-stuffing, it should not alter how hard he played. His perseverance and tenacity on a nightly basis allowed for tighter team cohesion during the season. Players would try to emulate his passion for the game and take that extra step needed to win ball games.

However, we are now approaching the 2017 season and the organization knows it requires much more than one player averaging a triple-double. We have seen the rise of super teams, where players are flocking to stronger teams that possess the talent to get to the next level. For example, a month ago, we witnessed the trade of Chris Paul to the Rockets, which would unite him with All-Star James Harden. Two years ago, the Spurs added power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to join forces with All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. In a constantly evolving league, it will take more than one superstar to win a championship, as we have observed over the last five years.

Acquisition

On July 1st, the tides entirely changed with a trade conducted by both the Indiana Pacers and the Thunder. The Thunder traded the Pacers both Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for four-time NBA All-Star Paul George. This trade heavily favors the Thunder, as adding George will provide a sense of balance and extra scoring ability. He averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists this season. George is a two-way player that will not only provide consistent scoring ability but contain opposing star players. He will be tasked with Western Conference All-Stars such as Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard. His presence with the Thunder is also beneficial because it could later spike interest from other elite players to join him and Westbrook in the future.

Predictions

If Westbrook produces slightly similar results to last year, they can perform better than last season. Last year, the Thunder grabbed the 6th seed and lost in five games to the Houston Rockets. Westbrook could be seen with fatigue late in the fourth-quarter as he was truly the only reliable scorer throughout that series, which the Rockets exploited.

During the stints where Westbrook was hot, the Rockets would go after Andre Roberson, who is offensively deficient and fouled him. This would later turn into a pair of missed free-throws and another disappointing possession. With Paul George, they have a second go-to scorer that can cause trouble for opposing defenses and take a load of stress of Westbrook’s shoulders.

Under the Thunder’s offense, George can especially thrive because of Westbrook’s to draw so much defensive attention. Westbrook can create the catch-and-shoot 3 point opportunities for George, which is what he excels at. He shot at a clip of 42% on such shots and score on all parts of the floor. With this tandem playing at a very high-level next season, the future is bright. They have the ability not only to retain their 6th seed but even capture a fourth seed, which could bode well matchup-wise. The automatic top three seeds will most likely be the Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets. I see a possibility of a Timberwolves and Thunder matchup as both four and five seeds.

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