If the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to be contenders in this NBA season, Paul George must take the next step and no longer find comfort in being a bystander.
Last season when the Thunder were facing elimination George went missing as Russell Westbrook would end up doing things alone against the Utah Jazz in game six of the Thunder’s 91-96 loss.
George had a bad night shooting, 2-of-16 from the field and 0-of-6 from three-point range for five points, while Westbrook would go on to shoot 18-of-43 for the night while also going 7-of-19 from three-point range scoring 46 points. It was a stark contrast to the Paul George that showed up in game five that saw the Thunder survive elimination to win 107-99 after the Thunder made a historic comeback in the third quarter erasing a 25 point deficit within that same quarter off the back of a Westbrook and George explosion. The third quarter explosion was what Thunder fans expected to see more of during the season, Westbrook was aggressive getting to the spots on the court he wanted to and more importantly playing like Russell Westbrook the Most Valuable Player. The most important part of the third quarter come back was George who was equal to the task and matched Westbrook’s aggression and production and eliminating the threat of Jazz star defender and big man Rudy Gobert who found himself in foul trouble thanks to some fantastic work in the paint by George.
The Thunder don’t get to game six without Geroge matching Westbrook in game five. Westbrook scored 20 points in the third quarter, but it was George’s 12 points that were the most critical points scored in the third quarter. Too many times before have we seen Westbrook having to go it alone and drag the Thunder over the line. In the Thunder’s round-one 2016/17 playoff series against the Houston Rockets, the Thunder were a minus 58 when Westbrook was off the court and a plus 15 when he was on the court. The Thunder made the decision to trade Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for George to fix that exact problem of the Russell Westbrook one-person show and in-game five of their round one match up with the Jazz the trade had paid off. Westbrook was no longer alone he had an All-Star by his side matching his aggression and production. Another example of George matching Westbrook and being his co-star instead of being the bystander was earlier in the season against the reigning champions the Golden State Warriors that saw the George and Westbrook led Thunder to blow out the Warriors 125-105.
George would go on to score 38 points on 11-of-23 shooting at 47.8 percent and 6-of-11 from three-point range. Westbrook would score 34 points on 13-of-26 shots. This was the first time the Thunder were able to see what they had in the partnership of George and Westbrook as Carmelo Anthony would end up getting injured early in the first quarter allowing the duo to find some rhythm together and show what they could do scoring a combined 72 points and prove too strong for the defending champions. This game would also demonstrate the power of the Westbrook George dynamic. Unfortunately for the Thunder and it’s fans these moments where just too few, and far between during the season it was either Westbrook exploding and dominating games or George getting hot from the field and making up for a poor Westbrook game, and there was a few as Westbrook was trying to adjust his game to his new teammates.
Too many times last season George was found to be too comfortable with being a bystander to the Russell Westbrook show. Could it of been because it was the start of their relationship and George didn’t want to find himself on the bad side of Westbrook? Possibly. I doubt it though Westbrook seemed to be going out of his way to make George feel at home and welcomed. The most prominent display of George fading to the back was in game six of the Thunder’s playoff series with the Jazz. In a must-win elimination game that could have taken the series back to OKC and put all the pressure back on the young Jazz would not eventuate as George would go missing shooting 2-of-16 for the game. The aggressive George that showed up in game five alongside Westbrook was a no-show, and the Thunder or more importantly Westbrook fell back into his old habits of going solo and putting his team on his back as Westbrook would go on to score 46 points on 18-of-43 shooting at 41.9 percent. Westbrook wouldn’t let his team go down without a fight, and he needed George to come with him, and he didn’t George fell back into his comfort zone of watching the Westbrook show at the detriment of the Thunder.
Coming into his second season with the Thunder George no longer has the worries of free agency or the speculation on if he is 82 games away from Los Angeles. This applies to the Thunder also who have done a fantastic job locking down its core for years to come with the re-signings of Westbrook, George, Adams, and Roberson thanks to the great work of general manager Sam Presti. George has felt the benefits of Presti’s work and so have the fans.
“For me, it comes to direction,” George said. “There’s no unsureness, no second-guessing what’s going on. I’m here; I’m committed, I’m part of this team. And now that’s all I can focus on, is getting better, trying to win games and ultimately winning a championship here.” George told Royce Young of ESPN
This Oklahoma City Thunder team can be great actually really great, but that depends on if Paul George is ready to become Russell Westbrook’s costar and not just a guy that gives you a big game here and there. George is a top ten talent in this league consistency can take him to the next level if George takes that leap the Thunder would be sure to do the exact same