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Paul George's offensive and defensive fit with the Thunder

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The arrival of All-Star forward Paul George will surely strengthen the team on both ends of the floor. But where should Thunder fans expect to see his impact manifest itself the most?

original image via Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Hey everyone, my name's Jackson Frank and I'm the newest writer for Welcome to Loud City. I'm currently a sophomore at Gonzaga University where I'm studying journalism. The NBA has long been a passion of mine and I look forward to sharing my work with all of you for the foreseeable future. I hope you enjoy my first piece.

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Newly-acquired swingman Paul George is in rare company as one of the league’s few true superstars on both ends of the court. Aside from LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, few, if any, can make the case as a better two-way player.

On offense, the 6-foot-9 forward is a perennial 20-points-per-game scorer while defensively, George’s credentials as a three-time All-Defensive team member place him among the league’s elite.

With the ability to be a strong contributor on both ends of the floor, will his addition be felt more on offense or defense when he joins OKC?

In order to answer this question, let’s take a look at how the four-time All-Star will fit with the current Oklahoma City Thunder roster, and specifically with Russell Westbrook.

Offense

Before I dive into his offensive contributions, have a look at George's Synergy chart on that side of the floor:

So, yeah, in short, Paul George is an extremely skilled offensive talent.

George will provide the team with some much needed 3-point shooting prowess, capable of knocking down shots in both catch and shoot and off the dribble situations. Last season, the Thunder ranked dead last in the league in 3-point percentage at just 32.7 percent and 26th in 3-pointers made. Meanwhile, George shot 39.3 percent from the 3-point line on over six attempts per game (12th in the NBA with 195 made 3-pointers last season).

Along with newly-signed Patrick Patterson — a career 36.8 percent 3-point shooter — George will space the floor, giving the 2016-17 MVP Westbrook substantially more room to operate while affording sharpshooters Doug McDermott (37.0 percent from 3-point range last season) and Alex Abrines (38.1 percent) considerably more open looks. Furthermore, improved floor spacing will not allow opposing defenses to pack the paint, which hindered Steven Adams’ offensive efficiency last year.

Of course, the Thunder go as Westbrook goes. Pairing their franchise centerpiece with another superstar — and one whose skill-set is the perfect complement — significantly increases this team’s ceiling.

Despite all of Westbrook’s heroics last season, he seemed to run out of steam late in games — and understandably so. Westbrook had the highest usage rate in NBA history by wide margin last season (41.7 percent; Kobe Bryant is second with 38.7 percent in 2005-06) as the Thunder lacked a proficient secondary ball handler to take pressure off of their superstar point guard. This issue manifested itself during the team’s playoff series against the Houston Rockets, in which Westbrook shot just 28.6 percent from the field and 19 percent from 3-point range during fourth quarters.

Enter George, who will likely serve as the team’s secondary ball handler. Last season, when Westbrook went to the bench, the offense stalled. This season, things will be much different as George — in a pinch — is an adept point forward. Per Synergy, George averaged 1.013 points per possession as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations last season, placing him in the NBA's 92nd percentile. His presence alone will ensure that the offense continues to run efficiently and transitions away from relying so heavily on Westbrook while also giving the Thunder another player capable of creating their own shot with regularity

The importance of rostering two supremely offensive players cannot be overstated and has been magnified with the past two NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. With a pair of go-to scorers in Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, the Warriors were able to exploit any defenses lapses from the Cavs (see Game 3, 2017 NBA Finals, 4th quarter, 45 seconds left). And last season, Cleveland’s secondary scorer — Kyrie Irving — hit a championship-winning shot while LeBron was the offensive catalyst on nearly every other possession.

With the Thunder possessing championship aspirations, rostering a player of George’s caliber is vital. The 27-year-old has repeatedly gone toe-to-toe with LeBron James in various playoff series, refusing to give an inch and always appearing to take his game to another level during postseason play, a commodity of utmost importance for teams eyeing the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

George has demonstrated the ability to thrive as a go-to scorer and giving Westbrook the opportunity to take a possession off when necessary, shouldering less of a burden offensively, will have a substantial impact upon the offense as a whole.

Throughout his NBA career, the Fresno State product has developed into one of the more well-rounded scorers the league has to offer. He can score in a bevy of ways, primarily utilizing a pull-up (60.8 percent on 171 attempts last season) or step-back jumper (48.1 percent on 81 attempts) to do so. Furthermore, George possesses the necessary explosiveness to attack the rim and beat his defender off the dribble. All are skills necessary during late-game situations when possessions become a premium and the weight of each play is magnified.

Defense

To follow up with the Synergy chart I posted above, which focused on George's offensive game, here are his defensive numbers:

As previously stated, George is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. With a rare combination of size, quickness and length, the Palmdale, Ca.-native has the versatility to guard three, sometimes four positions. He rarely bites on ball fakes, knows when to dart into passing lanes — wreaking havoc — and if ever hung up on a screen, uses his 6-foot-11 wingspan to remain a factor in the play.

As the above chart highlights, he excels in isolation and pick-and-roll situations defensively. With many of the NBA's top scorers regularly utilizing both, it is crucial that the Thunder roster a player capable of limiting the impacts of these plays.

George has shown elite ability on both ends of the floor and playing alongside Westbrook — the first true superstar he's ever shared the court with — his defensive contributions should only continue to improve as he undertakes less offensive responsibilities. George’s acquisition is likely to have ripple effects throughout the team, helping to transform the Thunder into one of the league’s most vaunted defensive units.

While Westbrook experienced a significant uptick in his offensive numbers last season, he was merely mediocre on the defensive end of the floor. However, the six-time All-Star possesses all the physical tools to be one of the league’s elite defenders. Unleashing Westbrook against the opposing team’s third option — behind George and Andre Roberson — will likely yield favorable results for the Thunder.

In short, George’s presence next season will provide immediate help on both offense and defense. Yet, when push comes to shove, it seems as though his impact will be best seen on the defensive end of the floor. With an elite offensive player like Westbrook alongside him, George will be able to play a complementary role on that side of the ball, focusing his efforts on defense. The Western Conference is loaded with gifted perimeter players including Durant, Curry, Leonard and James Harden among others, further emphasizing the need for an elite two-way player to not only contain said stars but to challenge them defensively as well.

As a proverbial Swiss army knife on defense, George will allow his new teammates to excel in their niche defensive roles (Adams, Roberson, Jerami Grant, etc.). Whereas last season, due to a somewhat depleted roster, these players were forced to expand their games, mitigating the effects in areas where they previously thrived.

In order for the Thunder to return to the upper echelon of the conference, George will need to put forth his best defensive efforts. In turn, George’s ability to excel as a No. 1 option will allow Westbrook to return to the ways of old as an above-average defensive player.

Last season, both George and Westbrook were in need of a stronger supporting cast to best maximize each’s talents. Pairing the two together is an ideal fit and should not only make their jobs easier, but do so while significantly improving the team collectively. Finding as gifted a player as George is rare, but with an extremely well-rounded skill-set, the former Indiana Pacer’s influence will be felt across the board for the Thunder next season.

Poll

Do you think Paul George will have a bigger impact on the Thunder’s offense or defense this season?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Offense!
    (216 votes)
  • 36%
    Defense!
    (123 votes)
339 votes total Vote Now