NBA: Is Paul George a Top 3 Player?

At age 28, Paul George is having a renaissance season. On a top five team, George is putting together one of the best two-way seasons in NBA history.

George is in his ninth season in the NBA, and second with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In Indiana and even last year in OKC, George had been mentioned as only ever being a second or third option on a championship contender. Not this season.

Through 60 games, George is firmly in the MVP conversation as one of the top three players in the league.

Pacer Days

The Pacers runs to consecutive Conference Finals were meant to be the building block for bigger and better things. Unfortunately for George, this was followed by a horrific injury early in 2015 while working out for Team USA. Breaking his leg badly in preseason, he missed 90 percent of the season as the Pacers failed to make the playoffs.

Pacers management tried improving the team, but like most small market teams they couldn’t attract a top free agent to pair with their perennial All-Star.

Paul George to the Thunder

After a first round sweep by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in 2016, George had had enough and forced the Pacers to trade him. The Thunder were happy trade partners and sent back Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo.

It was a match made in basketball heaven. The Thunder needed a star next to All-Star Russell Westbrook after losing Kevin Durant. George needed a fresh start to refurbish his image.

It was rough last season for PG and the Thunder. A first round exit in the 2018 season prompted many to wonder if it was a good fit or if he would return. However, George inked a new deal in the offseason as OKC went all in.

With coach Billy Donovan refreshing the defensive system, George took it upon himself to crank his defensive effort up. Now free to lock down the oppositions best player, George can use his physical tools to grab steals, deflect the ball and recover loose balls from opposition misses.

Elite Defense

The Thunder defense this year ranks number one in the league in steals and turnovers forced. With multiple strong defenders in the team who can switch and guard multiple positions, this has meant George can often get mismatches where he uses his length and wingspan to overwhelm small guards.

This season George leads the league in steals, is second in deflections, and is first in loose balls in recovered.

A strong candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, George is also having his best season on the offensive end of the court. It’s no coincidence that Russell Westbrook is averaging a career high in assists per game. With the ball in his hands or shooting off a Westbrook pass, George is scoring the ball at a whole new level.

MVP Candidate

Second only to James Harden in the scoring title race this year, his efficiency has been what has surprised the most this year. Third in the league in three pointers made, only Steph Curry and Buddy Hield are shooting a similar volume with a percentage of 40 or higher.

Thanks largely to George’s ascension into the NBA’s elite, the Thunder have the third best record in the West. Harden may score more heavily but George’s versatility on both ends means he is a legitimate candidate for the MVP award.

When George is on the court the Thunder are a whopping 18 points per 100 possessions better off. Recent losses without George show the Thunder are a top five team in the league when fit. Without him they are a mere playoff team likely to exit in the first round every year.

Not since LeBron’s peak has an MVP candidate been such a force on both ends of the court. With 21 games left, George may win Defensive Player of the Year while finishing second or third in MVP voting. If the Thunder finish the season strong then there is a chance he may hoist the MVP trophy also.

Regardless of the silverware, George has firmly put himself in the upper echelon of talent in the league.

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