At age 28 Paul George is having a renaissance season. Fit and healthy on a top five team in the league, PG13 is putting together one of the best two-way seasons in NBA history.
Paul George is in his 9th season in the NBA, and second with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In Indiana and even last year in OKC, George had been mentioned as only ever being a second or third option on a championship contender. There had always been flashes of his two-way talent, in 2013 and 2014 the Pacers pushed the champion Heat teams to six and seven games. But George was often the lone soldier on these Pacer teams.
The Pacers runs to the 2013 and 2014 Eastern conference finals were meant to be the building block for bigger and better things. Unfortunately for PG the 2014 playoff run was followed by a horrific injury early in 2015 while working out for Team USA. Breaking his leg badly in preseason, George missed 90% of the season as the Pacers failed to make the playoffs.
Pacers management made trades to try and improve the team but like most small market teams they couldn’t attract a top free agent to pair with their perennial All-Star.
After a first round sweep by Lebron and the Cavaliers in 2016, George had had enough and forced the Pacers to trade him. The Oklahoma City Thunder were happy trade partners and sent back Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo.
PG now had a running mate and All-Star foil in Russell Westbrook. Though the Thunder had struggled since the departure of Kevin Durant, they had budding centre Steven Adams and young forward Jerami Grant who were on the up and up. A first round exit in the 2018 season prompted a rethink for the Thunder. George and Grant both inked new deals in the offseason and Thunder management went all in on their young core.
George took it upon himself this season to crank his defensive effort up. With coach Billy Donovan refreshing the defensive system George was free to lock down the oppositions best player and use his excellent physical tools to grab steals, deflect the ball and recover loose balls from opposition misses. The Thunder defence this year ranks number one in the league in steals and turnovers forced. Having multiple strong defenders in the team who can switch, and guard multiple positions has meant George can often get mismatches where he uses his length and wingspan to overwhelm small guards.
This season George leads the league in steals, is second in deflections, and is first in loose balls in recovered.
A legitimate candidate for Defensive player of the year, George is also having his best season on the offensive end of the court. Having never played with an elite point guard on the Pacers, PG is making up for lost time. It’s no coincidence that Russell Westbrook is averaging a career high in assists per game. Be it with the ball in his hands or catching and shooting off a Westbrook drive, George is scoring the ball at a whole new level.
Second only to James Harden in the scoring title race this year, his efficiency has been what has surprised the most this year. Third in the league in three-pointers made, only Steph Curry and Buddy Hield are shooting a similar volume with a percentage of 40 or higher.
The Thunder go into March with the third best record in the West thanks largely to Paul George’s ascension into the NBA’s elite. James Harden may be scoring more heavily but Georges versatility on offense coupled with his lock down offense means he is a legitimate candidate for the MVP award.
Per Basketball Reference, When George is on the court the Thunder are a whopping 18 points per 100 possessions better off. As evidenced in the losses in the last few games that George has missed due to injury, The Thunder are a top five team in the league with him on the court. Without him they are a mere playoff team likely to exit in the first round every year.
Not since Lebron James times with the Heat has an MVP calibre player been such a force on both ends of the court. With 21 games still to go this season Paul George may well win Defensive Player of the Year while finishing second or third in MVP voting. If the Thunder finish the season strong then there is a chance he may hoist the MVP trophy also.
Regardless of the silverware he ends up with, Paul George has firmly put himself in the upper echelons of talent in the league.