Hi all, I’m Dominic (Dom) Flaim, formerly known as bondom34 to those who’ve been here a while. I’m a Thunder fan living in Pennsylvania who has posted here for about 3 or 4 years now and finally decided to take the jump into a little bit of writing. I plan on writing a bit of analysis as well as some around the league and trade/transaction information. I’m a huge fan of Russell Westbroook and, outside of the NBA, am a big Penn State fan who graduated with my Masters in 2012. I look forward to working with the crew at WTLC and writing for you all.
On June 30th at 10 PM EDT, Paul George’s abrupt trade interrupted ESPN’s free-agency preview coverage.
When I saw the news, my reaction was the obvious “Boston or LA, where’d they trade him?” Though behind confused and even shocked faces, every anchor responded to my foregone inner dialogue with: “to the Oklahoma CIty Thunder.”
Nobody saw this coming, and in that moment the Thunder expanded from one-man-show to a dynamic duo of All-Star talent. Not even Brian Windhorst knew what to make of it:
Sam Presti shot his shot, stealing Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. While the latter are decent players, they’re not an ideal fit alongside Russell Westbrook. And given Oladipo’s hefty contract, George is actually cheaper (!!!) this season than his wing predecessor.
After digesting this information, my next question asked if PG is a better fit with Russ than the traded duo.
Conversely, part two of that question became a curiosity of whether Russ fits better next to PG than he did with his old teammates. While looking into the numbers, I’m not sure the former match is as good as it appeared upon first glance.
First, we can examine shot charts from Oladipo and George to see where their shots came from and how they fared.
When poring over the data, what do we see?
We see both guys took similar shots, but George’s midrange game was far more prolific —especially from the right side of the court, as well as his right corner three.
This season, I expect these improvements to create space for both Westbrook’s penetration and for the big men *cough, cough (Steven) cough, cough* to work underneath.
Though, if we want comparative numbers on three-point shooting, we get:
Again, we notice the effect George should have via perimeter spacing. Further, he added these numbers on higher-volume attempts and make percentages than Oladipo.
Per NBA.com, George averaged 7.4 points-per-game on catch-and-shoot field goals at 43.6%, and 6.7 points for pull-up shots, and 42.2% for an overall effective field goal percentage of 53.6%.
On lower percentages, Oladipo averaged fewer points in both categories (5.3 and 3.6 points respectively on 37.6% and 41.4 %) for an effective field goal percentage of 51%.
Finally, one last shot chart. If we want a true comparison, how does OKC’s newest star stack up in his overall shooting to a certain pastry themed ex-Thunder player?
Well, that’s encouraging. I’m not saying George is Kevin Durant, but if you could find a guy to replace him I think this is what his shot chart would look like.
Using NBA.com, we now see the types of plays teams and players run, along with the efficiency of said players and teams (in points per possession), the frequency at which these plays are used, and the percentile rankings of the players and teams running them —both offensively and defensively in various categories.
The primary options run by the Thunder perimeter players are basic: isolations, pick-and-roll, spot ups, and coming off screens.
While these are the main plays used, they weren’t always the most efficient or effective. And, again, Oladipo was a solid player, but he definitely struggled offensively at times.
Via NBA.com, in terms of his 29.8% play usage, Oladipo ran the pick-and-roll as ballhandler second-most often on the Thunder last year (though, third-best league wide in terms of frequency).
In those instances he ranked in the 56.8th percentile among all NBA pick-and-roll ball handlers. The pick-and-roll comprised 17 percent of OKC’s plays, and the team finished in the (gulp) 34.5th percentile.
PG? Yeah, he ran it less often than Vic did, only 17.5 percent of his plays. But his rank? The 92.3rd percentile! This ranks closely with where Durant placed in the 2016 season.
We notice a similar trend across the board for most play types, as seen here:
And these trends aren’t far off defensively, either. As a defender, PG is known to hold his own, and Oladipo’s top contributions last season were on the defensive side.
George also compares well to Durant’s 2016 season. The former All-NBA forward projects as a standout offensive improvement to what was often an anemic Thunder offense sans Westbrook.
Finally, let’s delve into another question that occurred to me when I thought about George: How does Russ help him?
If we look into George’s past he’s never been on a team with a player near Westbrook’s MVP status. His recent primary ball-handlers consisted of Jeff Teague and George Hill/Monta Ellis.
While I’m admittedly a Hill fan, he’s not Russ. Myles Turner is a fantastic young big; but again, not Russ. Likely, Danny Granger circa 12’ is George’s best pre-Russ teammate. And in 2012 George had yet to reach his full potential.
So, how did George fare on these teams without other stars, when he was relied on most heavily? Since he’s likely going to be a de facto secondary ball handler we can explore some history to get an idea.
In 2016, George’s primary starting point guard was Jeff Teague. In the season when both were on court, the Pacers managed a solid 111.5 points per 100 possessions and ceded 109.2 for a net rating of 2.1 via NBAWOWY.com.
However, when Hill sat, the offense actually improved slightly; though, curiously the defense dipped (115.5 and 111.6 points per 100 for a net rating of 3.9).
Also, during the listed season, George’s assist percentage jumped from 16.2 to 17.7 percent, a sign he’s able to create for others when needed. Similarly, his usage increased as well, showing he’s capable of carrying an increased load which we never saw with Oladipo.
George’s 30 percent usage when Hill sat is far more comparable with Durant’s final-season OKC averages than with 16-17 Oladipo’s.
In theory, this should allow Westbrook to assume a slightly decreased role where he doesn’t use all of his energy by the fourth quarter to ensure OKC can run a somewhat-competent offense.
In 2015 PG played more minutes with Ellis than Hill, but we see pretty similar patterns.
Alongside Hill, Indiana’s offensive rating was 105.0, and without Hill that figure slipped to 105.9. Again, the defense dropped slightly (from 101.4 to 103.2 def rating) with a decrease in net rating.
Though, the offense wasn’t the issue, and given that’s been more of the Thunder’s struggles without Russ, it is an encouraging sign.
Alongside Ellis, again, we see the same pattern though as Monta was more of a facilitator two years ago than this past season. With Ellis and PG, Indiana had offensive and defensive ratings or 105.1 and 101.9 for a net of 3.2.
Take away Monta and the offense goes to 106.1 and PG’s assist percentage jumps to 22 percent. So again we’re seeing what he can bring, and in theory it looks to be exactly what this Thunder team needs.
When we look back on this summer it will likely be remembered as Presti’s shining trade. Not only did he manage to get a star, he may have found the perfect tag team partner for his current franchise player.
With Paul George added, the Thunder offense just became far more potent while the team’s defense projects as elite.