Thunder Join Western Conference Arms Race With Trade for Paul George
The NBA is not bowing down to the Warriors. Oklahoma City is the latest team to make a big splash before free agency even begins by trading for Paul George.
It seemed that the Indiana Pacers were going to wait to see how free agency dominoes fell before accepting an offer for Paul George, but Kevin Pritchard and Co. decided to deal their franchise face just hours before the calendar flipped to the new league year.
Pacers send Paul George to the Thunder in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. No picks will be sent back to Indiana.
Oklahoma City: A
Paul George — 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 46.1 field goal percentage, 39.3 three-point percentage
Victor Oladipo — 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 44.2 field goal percentage, 36.1 three-point percentage
Domantas Sabonis — 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 39.9 field goal percentage, 32.1 three-point percentage
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George will fit pretty seamlessly in Oklahoma City, and you could even say he’s exactly what they need. Playing off the wrecking ball that is league MVP Russell Westbrook, George will be one of the league’s best sidekicks. In Indiana, George was always good enough to take the Pacers to the playoffs and perform there, but never good enough to get past the Eastern Conference finals.
Playing alongside Westbrook, George’s weaknesses will be minimized and his strengths will be maximized.
One of those strengths is shooting. George has always been a reliable shooter, and now he will have a ton of open looks coming from the havoc that Westbrook creates. George shot 41.8 percent on 4.8 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts last season in Indiana, and both his attempts and percentage should rise with the Thunder next season.
Another strength of George’s is defense. He has slipped a bit in recent years — especially this past season — having to carry more of an offensive load and not having the support of Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill and Frank Vogel. With more standing and less doing on offense, George will be able to catch his breathe and exert more energy on the defensive end. George has made three All-Defense teams in his career, and he may have the chance to get back to that level in Oklahoma City. And, not to mention, if the Thunder manage to retain restricted free agent Andre Roberson, they may be more equipped than any other team in the league to slow down the offensive juggernaut out in Oakland.
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For the Pacers, the fit didn’t matter much with this trade. This is now a rebuilding team that wanted to get young players to pair with Myles Turner for the future no matter the position. They received Oladipo — who can finally fill the starting shooting guard spot that Indiana has been trying to fill for years — and Sabonis. Power forward is currently a crowded position in Indiana, with Thaddeus Young and 2017 no. 18 draft selection T.J. Leaf. With Jeff Teague on the way out, Indiana will probably end up dealing Young in the coming weeks, allowing Sabonis and Leaf to fight for the starting minutes.
Indiana takes back a fair amount of money here, with Oladipo’s four-year extension kicking in July 1 with an annual salary of $21 million. Sabonis, entering his second year in the league, is slated to make just over $2.5 million for the 2017–18 season.
Oladipo and Sabonis are an intriguing duo to pair with Turner. Oladipo — who attended three years at Indiana University — is a combo guard who has steadily improved as a shooter over his four years in the NBA. He benefited tremendously playing off of Westbrook this past season, and if Lance Stephenson does end up starting at point guard in Indiana, Oladipo may reap the same benefits to a lesser degree. Stephenson is great at penetrating the defense and finding open shooters. The two could be fairly good on the defensive end together, too.
Sabonis may have to beat out Leaf — an athletic scorer from UCLA— for starting minutes in training camp and preseason. When he does play, though, he could be a good fit next to Turner. He’s fairly skilled offensively and showed more than many expected from beyond the three-point line in his rookie season. He had a hot start and slowly faded as the season went on, but in Indiana — where he will get developmental minutes instead of “help a good team win games” minutes — he will have a good chance to bang out the kinks in his game.
As expected, Pacers fans were disappointed and Thunder fans were pumped about this deal. Even media members couldn’t believe that OKC got George for so little. George, an elite player on both ends of the floor and a top 15 player in the NBA, should have netted Indiana a bevy of young talent and/or draft picks.
George, a rental with strong ties to Los Angeles, wasn’t going to net Indiana equal value in a trade. There is too much of a risk that he will leave next summer, and teams didn’t want to be left in the cold if he did leave and they were left shy of useful assets.
This deal was about as good as it could have gotten for the Pacers. They get two young players in exchange for someone that was going to leave next summer. That’s how Pacers fans have to look at it.
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Now, Indiana and Oklahoma City take two separate paths. The Pacers may not go full rebuild, as that has not typically been their MO. But, they will look to build around Turner — the young, talented big man that has “star” written all over him. The Thunder will look to get back to the Conference Ffinals. If they can do that, George may stay, and Westbrook may commit long-term — a current question mark for the reigning MVP.
George is no Kevin Durant, but if the Thunder can get even somewhat close to the level they were at with Durant with George in his place, Oklahoma City may have Westbrook and George for the foreseeable future.