Paul George has been one of the NBA’s best two-way stars, but he’s in that great yet not quite transcendent range where a strong supporting cast is needed to be a real title contender. Now George gets to slide down a spot and be the second star behind Russell Westbrook and all it took for the Oklahoma City Thunder was the same package they acquired when they traded away Serge Ibaka a year ago.
Since returning from his leg injury, George has been better and stayed healthier than even the most optimistic prognosticators could have imagined. George hasn’t been quite the same player on defense, but he’s been a more efficient scorer with his True Shooting Percentage hitting .586 this past season. George is getting to the rim about as half as often as he did before his injury, but he’s offset that by growing into a more reliable shooter on 3’s and in the mid-range. George won’t have to try to create as much off the dribble as he’ll get to spot-up with Westbrook collapsing the defense and either have wide open looks or make plays against a closeout.
George ranked 37th in the NBA in Real Plus Minus this past season and really wasn’t all that close to making an All-NBA team. George's supporting cast, lacking in talent and floor spacing, deflated his production. George will still be called upon to anchor his own unit when Westbrook is off the floor, which was a big issue for the Thunder last season.
The defensive upside of the Thunder if they re-sign Andre Roberson is very high. Roberson and George on the wings can be suffocating along with Steven Adams at center. Roberson's very obvious limitations on offense are less of an issue with George traded in for Victor Oladipo.
Sam Presti was opportunistic and gives Westbrook a second chance with a truly elite small forward. Even if the experiment doesn’t work and George leaves for the Lakers in 2018, the gamble is more than worth it. George will elevate the Thunder but the top of the Western Conference is obviously crowded with the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets. As good as Westbrook and George are, it is hard to conceive of the 17-18 Thunder being better than the 15-16 Thunder and convincing George to re-sign will involve less sentimentality than it did for Kevin Durant.
This presumably also makes Westbrook even more likely to sign his Designated Veteran Player Extension, which is still the most important part of their offseason. If Westbrook decides to wait on his extension until 2018, there is a chance he and George get one season of experience playing together with the Thunder before joining the Lakers.
Grade for Thunder: A
Since those feisty and memorable Conference Finals teams fell apart and Paul George broke his leg, the Indiana Pacers have had a sparsely talented roster that he simply isn’t quite talented enough to overcome. The identity switch to play faster while weakening their floor spacing and defense with moves like signing Monta Ellis certainly didn’t help maximize the strengths of George.
The Pacers weren’t prepared to trade away George at the deadline when he could have still qualified for a supermax extension by making an All-NBA team, but this irrevocably cost them in starting off their rebuilding project.
A package of players who decidedly don’t have All-Star potential instead of waiting on an improved offer from the Celtics or Lakers doesn’t do much long-term for the Pacers. It is hard to see how Oladipo and Sabonis were going anywhere else. But at least Oladipo was a Hoosier before and now he'll be one again at $21 million per season until 2021. Even still, an offer of multiple first round picks would have been preferable to only receiving Oladipo and Sabonis.
Superstar players are being traded for less and less in 2017 despite being more valuable than ever and George is the latest example following DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmy Butler.
Grade for Pacers: D+
To be fair, George was as consistent as humanly possible in his messaging with the Pacers. Their surprise he openly informed them he wouldn’t re-sign should be considered a blessing and he left them with enough leverage to at least recoup some value.
George could have taken a stronger position on going to the Lakers where he could be in the city he prefers and be in a position to sign a five-year max in 2018 with full raises.
Grade for Paul George: B