Last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder ended their season with a quick four-to-one loss to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. Despite the fact that Russell Westbrook had a remarkable MVP season, the rest of the team was atrocious. Although the Thunder were a somewhat productive team when Westbrook was on the court, the team’s most glaring problem was that their net rating plummeted from a +4.0 to a -8.5 without their MVP.
On June 30, however, all of the Thunder’s misery was alleviated with the biggest steal of the NBA offseason when they traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for superstar Paul George of the Indiana Pacers. This move completely changes the Thunder’s standing in the Western Conference. Their roster was depleted after superstar Kevin Durant left to join the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 offseason; however, with another superstar small forward (SF) to pair alongside Russell Westbrook, the Thunder should be able to once again compete with the best teams in the Western Conference, both offensively and defensively.
Paul George is one of the best wing players in the league, and has the ability to score from anywhere on the court. After averaging a career high of 23.7 points per game last season, he will be able to contribute tremendously to the Thunder’s offense. One of the main causes of futility while Russell Westbrook was off the floor was that the roster lacked a second playmaker to help players create shots. Without Westbrook, the Thunder’s offense was highly stagnant, which allowed other teams to easily outscore them. Paul George completely solves this problem because he is an excellent playmaker that can instantly boost the Thunder’s offense whether or not Westbrook is playing. Additionally, Paul George is quite a good floor spacer, shooting an excellent 39 percent from three-point range. This is extremely beneficial for inside scorers like Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, who will have more opportunities to work inside of the paint and have a pass-out shooting option. This will also give perimeter shooters on the roster, like Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott, a shooting threat who will attract defenders on the perimeter, creating open and less-defended shooting opportunities.
While nowhere close to the caliber of Paul George, the Thunder made two great offensive signings in Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton. Patterson is a stretch four (power forward) who will also help greatly with floor spacing. As a 37 percent three-point shooter last year, Patterson will most likely continue to be a threat behind the arc, and will bolster the Thunder’s three-point shooting abilities. Raymond Felton will be a major contributor to the Thunder’s bench by creating more plays and passing the ball to open shooters. Assuming that the rest of the roster will stay intact and that their younger players progress, the Thunder will be a formidable offensive threat next season.
Besides the major improvements the Thunder made with their offense, the Thunder also improved significantly in terms of defense. Paul George, standing at 6 feet 9 inches, is one of the taller wing players, and is an all-around defender who can defend a variety of positions. With his length, he is able to guard shooting guards, small forwards, and even some power forwards. His versatility allows the Thunder to have flexibility with their defensive matchups and can help create favorable mismatches. Alongside Paul George will be Andre Roberson, a gritty defender who was a 2017 All-Defensive Second Team selection, who will often be asked to guard the other team’s best player. These two players will inevitably help to prevent the opposing team from scoring, and will lead to more transition points. Hopefully, defensive liability Enes Kanter can learn to play some defense to avoid getting benched when other teams insert smaller lineups.
Overall, the Thunder have revitalized their team to be one of the league’s top title contenders. The Thunder were already one of the top defensive teams in the league last year, but with the acquisition of Paul George, they will certainly be more dominant. The trade, as well as their other signings, will revolutionize their offensive game, and the Thunder will certainly be a top-10 offense in next year’s NBA. With the current MVP, a star player, and a viable bench, the Thunder should be able to strive for around fifty-five to sixty wins next year.