All-Star weekend has come and gone, the NBA season has started again. The race for the playoffs has now heated up and entering its final stretch. The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the hunt for a top seed in the West. During the break, they have a solid grasp on the 3-seed and are within five games of the first place Golden State Warriors. This season has been a rough road for the Thunder, but behind Paul George recently, they have elevated to potential contenders. Here’s a look at the mid-season check in with the Thunder.
Oklahoma City Thunder Mid-Season Report
Carrying the Team on his Back
Paul George is an MVP candidate this season. He is currently averaging 28.7 points, 8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. He’s seated at third in most people’s votes, firmly behind James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. His play this season is highlighted by the fact that he was not having a solid season earlier. The defense he displays night after night is at the top level and combined with the high shooting percentage, he is clearly one of the best players in the league currently.
A Cohesive Unit
The Thunder are 11-2 in their last 13 games before the All-Star break. They figured out the best way to play as a team and it took one major change: Russell Westbrook needed to let the ball leave his hands more. Westbrook has always been the ball-handler and assists creator, but with such great talent around him, he has to learn to play off-ball more. This is something he’s needed to do for a while, especially with the addition of Dennis Schroder. In order for this strategy to work, however, the entire team has to produce. This is where Steven Adams comes into play. Adams’ hustle and constant movement create so many lanes for George and Westbrook to create offense.
The Triple-Double Machine
For the third season in a row, Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for the season. The main difference from the prior two seasons is his points average, which is ten less than in 2016 and four less than last season. He is taking fewer shots, he is passing more, and he is allowing his teammates to be active in the offense. This is essential because of George’s level of play recently. Westbrook has intelligently taken the back seat into more of a traditional point guard role. Regardless, he’s still averaging a triple-double in points, rebounds, and assists.
Young players like Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson have stepped up to give the Thunder a boost. Both are shooting consistent from three and have stepped up on the defensive side as well. Grant and Ferguson are shooting above 37% from three giving a much-needed boost to their point totals for the season. Other young players like Patrick Patterson, Alex Abrines, and Nerlens Noel have also added to the team dynamic. Moving on from the experimental big three of Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder have ditched the superteam idea and instead attempted to form a unit that will be able to sustain with the stars on the bench.
The Thunder are sitting in third place, which gives them a favorable matchup throughout the playoffs until the Western Conference Finals. The best team they would face before the probable series against the Warriors is the Denver Nuggets who sit in second place. Although, the current standings would match them up with the Utah Jazz who knocked the Thunder out in five games last season. A revenge series could see the Thunder really step on the gas and try to make a statement. Look for the Thunder to really come together and shine in the playoffs. They may have the best chance at dethroning the defending champions.
Oklahoma City Thunder Paul George wears one of the new league jerseys representing a new partnership between Nike and the NBA on September 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. / AFP PHOTO / DAVID MCNEW (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)