Paul George Is Playing the Best Basketball of His Career

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When Paul George committed to signing a long-term deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA community was shocked. All signs appeared to point towards a hometown return with the Los Angeles Lakers, especially after the Thunder suffered a disappointing first-round loss to the Utah Jazz. After all, it made sense for him to team up with LeBron James and the Lakers, who had enough cap space to pay him a max contract. Instead, George stuck with the team that traded for him. He wanted to play with Russell Westbrook — something that contradicted some of the NBA’s most popular narratives. Many fans criticized his decision, insisting that it wasn’t the right move for his career. Half-way into the 2018-19 NBA season, it’s clear that those fans were horribly wrong.

The Oklahoma City Thunder currently hold the two seed in the Western Conference and Paul George is amidst a career season. Instead of being the second fiddle to King James on a fringe playoff team, George is a legitimate MVP candidate at the top of the Western Conference.

I think he made the right decision.

The New Paul George

It’ll be tough for George to win Most Valuable Player honors. The Thunder would probably have to finish with the best record in the NBA for George to get votes for Giannis and Harden. Regardless, nobody could have even predicted that George would be in the discussion for the award this far into the season. While many insisted that his decision to re-sign with the Thunder would have a negative impact on his career, he’s enjoying the best year of his basketball career.

His career high in scoring was 23.7 points per game in 2017. This year, he’s averaging 27.0 points. If you look at advanced stats, his win shares per 48 minutes, offensive and defensive box plus/minus totals are all the best of his career.

And even though he’s not currently the favorite to win the award, Paul George has certainly been one of the most valuable players in the league. There’s a noticeable negative difference in the Thunder offense and defense when he isn’t on the court. There are not many players you can say that for.

 Paul George On - OffJames Harden On - OffGiannis Antetokounmpo On - OffKawhi Leonard On - OffLeBron James On - Off
Team Offensive Rating+9.5+6.1+2.7+8.3+3.9
Team Defensive Rating-4.8+2.7-2.7+2.0+3.6

The defensive rating measures the number of points allowed per 100 possessions, so the lower number is better. Only Giannis had a positive impact on both sides of the ball among MVP candidates. Even he didn’t have the same effect as Paul George, though.

George has developed into a star two-way forward that dominates on both sides of the ball, like Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. If we take a look at the NBA’s TPA Metric, this becomes even more clear. TPA calculates a player’s offensive points added and defensive Points saved based on adjusting offensive box plus / minus (OBPM) and defensive box plus / minus (DBPM) to account for the number of possessions the player in question is present for. The sum of these two values is finalized as Total Points Added. Unsurprisingly, George excels in a metric which values both sides of the ball. He ranks 6th in the league — a steep improvement from his 28th-place finish in 2018.

Along with being in top-10 in Total Points Added this year, George is also extremely well balanced on offense and defense. Unlike players like Rudy Gobert or Damian Lillard, George is a lethal weapon on both sides of the ball. Of course, this was not always the case. Last year, George ranked 251st in the league among qualifying players in defensive points saved. This year, he ranks 26th (5th among forwards).

Paul George’s statistical defensive improvement is in part due to his newfound ability to clog passing lanes and force turnovers. His steal percentage is at a career-high 3.0%. This year, George leads the league is dominating the league in terms of both deflections and loose balls recovered. After receiving a big pay-day in the offseason, he hasn’t become lazy — Westbrook’s energy has apparently rubbed off onto him.

If Paul George continues to play at this extremely high level, there’s no limit to what the Oklahoma City Thunder can accomplish in the postseason. Paul George clearly made the right decision for himself by sticking with OKC and it’s paying off for him and the team.