The Thunder came out of nowhere to snare George away from supposed-frontrunners Cleveland and Houston, among other teams, pairing him with Russell Westbrook for what will be one of the most interesting single-season experiments in recent NBA history.
Simply tossing a pair of superstars on the court together isn’t a free pass to 55 wins. George and Westbrook will undoubtedly encounter some growing pains. But we’ve seen Westbrook operate alongside a certain dynamic, playmaking wing before, and while it didn’t result in a ring, the Thunder won more games than any team not named the San Antonio Spurs from 2010-16. That said, George isn’t on Durant’s level as an overall talent, and it took a few years for Durant and Westbrook to understand how to properly maximize each other’s skills -- realistically, that probably never happened.
The question is whether Westbrook can -- or wants to -- revert back to his old style. Westbrook has always been a score-first renegade, but he took that to an extreme level last season, raising his usage rate by more than 10 percentage points and taking eight more shots per 100 possessions than he did alongside Durant in 2015-16. After mashing the turbo button for 81 straight games last season, Westbrook may welcome the respite George will bring, but just how much of the playmaking and scoring duties he’ll be willing to relinquish remains to be seen.
At the very least, George’s arrival should mean fewer possessions ending like this:
Great as Westbrook is, an across-the-board regression seemed likely even before the Thunder acquired George. And the presence of George should allow Westbrook to take a possession off here and there, a luxury he was rarely afforded last season. But let’s not forget who we’re talking about. This is Russell Westbrook, and a regression toward the mean could still mean he throws up 29 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds per night.
His workload should remain fairly constant -- 34.4, 34.4, 34.6 MPG over the last three seasons -- and though his usage will decrease, Westbrook still has a chance to average double-digit assists, as he did two seasons ago. The rebounding category is where the regression will likely be most tangible. Westbrook’s 17.1% Total Rebounding Rate last season was nearly seven points above his career average, while his Defensive Rebounding Rate (28.8) was nearly double his career average.
George’s situation is a bit more difficult to quantify considering he’ll have to adjust to a new city, new coach and new teammates. While he started alongside All-Stars in Indiana, George never played with anyone on Westbrook’s level, and the fit probably won’t be seamless right away. George is too good to wilt into Westbrook’s version of Chris Bosh or Kevin Love, but it’ll take time to mesh with Westbrook, and the Thunder hope to avoid a redux of the my turn, your turn dynamic that permeated the Durant/Westbrook era.
The good news is George is almost as lethal as Durant in catch-and-shoot situations -- 41.8% FG on catch-and-shoot threes last season -- so whatever might be lost with George spending less time on the ball in the half-court will conceivably be gained in open looks like these created by defenses collapsing on Westbrook.
Of course, teams won't treat George like James Harden treated Andre Roberson off the ball, but Westbrook's ability to probe and kick will force defenders to think twice before cheating too far over.
Oklahoma City ranked dead last in three-point efficiency last season, despite Westbrook shooting the best percentage of his career (34.3% 3PT) and making 99 more threes than two seasons ago.
Victor Oladipo was a passable outside shooter, but George is a significant upgrade, as is fellow-newcomer Patrick Patterson in the frontcourt.