Years in the NBA: 9
Weight: 220 lbs.
Key Stats: Averaged a career-high 28.0 points per game (previous high was 23.7 with Indiana in 2016-17), making his sixth All-Star team, placing on the All-NBA First Team for the first time (fifth All-NBA overall), and finishing a career-best third in Most Valuable Player voting. By the way, he also led the league in steals (2.2 per game) with 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists (all career highs as well). His shooting splits: 43.8/38.6/83.9.
Contract Status: Signed 4-year maximum salary contract with the Thunder on Friday, July 6, 2018. Traded to Clippers on July 10, 2019 with three years, $106.4 million remaining on his contract (2021-22 is a player option).
It’s still, frankly, unbelievable to be typing that Paul George is a Clipper. Of course, the bizarro scenario of promising and selecting Al-Farouq Aminu No. 8 overall in 2010 prevented George from coming home nine years ago (he was, of course, selected 10th by the Pacers). It matters little now. Paul George is a Clipper, and in his words, it’s going to be “scary.”
The expectations for George, and the Clippers, are higher than at any time in franchise history, and peak at being one of the expected winners in June. But in the short term, especially when it comes to George, expectations need to be tempered. George has looked excellent playing in non-contact situations throughout training camp, but it’s been reported consistently that he won’t see game action until November. Even then, things won’t likely hit full stride until December.
“As far as my health, I’m pretty good, but nothing contact, but all five on none stuff, all the scripted stuff I’ll be a part of [in preseason],” George said. “I’m used to being in this rehab stage and knowing what it takes to get my body prepared and get my body up to speed. It’s a long process, but you know, again, to be going through it and having [had] a drastic injury in my leg. I know what to expect. I know what pressure to put on myself and what pressure to not put on myself as well. That comes with a lot of stress when you’re going through rehab. So, I’m just in a good place. I know I know what I need to do. I know what I’m capable of. Ultimately, I know when my body’s ready.”
When George is ready, the team gets a top-tier two-way player. He can guard four positions, has the ranginess to disrupt passing lanes and ball-handlers alike, and in lockstep with Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley, and even Mo Harkless, can conserve more energy than at any other time of his career on the defensive end. He won’t be asked to guard the opposing team’s best player every night and on every possession. He will be well-rested come May and June and ready to become an absolute terror on that end of the floor.
“It’s gonna be scary, you know, with myself, Trez (Montrezl Harrell), Kawhi, Pat, Sham (Landry Shamet), Mo, Rodney (Rodney McGruder),” George said. “We really got a chance to do something special on the defensive end. And I think it’s going to be an energetic team. Watching Pat get out there and picking somebody up 94 feet, that’s gonna get me going, it’s gonna get Kawhi going, and it’s just gonna become contagious on a nightly basis.”
Offensively, George will be asked to do far less than he did in Oklahoma City as well. The supporting cast, in terms of depth and firepower, is far superior than his two seasons with the Thunder. However, because of the burden placed on him partnering with Russell Westbrook, George found a way to raise his game to an MVP level. In November and December last season, there was no player more worthy of the award. He single-handedly won games against the Nets and Jazz. He did a little bit of everything — creating off the dribble, slithering to the rim for dunks and layups, and becoming a near 40-percent marksman from 3-point range. In fact, he likely would have lived a couple of percentage points higher than the 38 percent he finished had his shoulders not become putty by the start of March.
The expectations are deservedly high; higher than ever. George is a true superstar, the likes of maybe two or three other players in franchise history (and one of them is currently on the roster). However, I’m going to throw a little bit of water on the fire. Just a few drops. I watched about 60-plus Thunder regular season games the past two years. I saw all of their 11 playoff games. Let’s just say, George being option 1B is better than unequivocally 1. For all of his accolades in the early portion of the season - and it was sustained for three-plus months, making the Thunder one of the least fun teams to play before Westbrook’s balky knee undercut his shooting - George withered at times. He made some baffling decisions. In one regular season game on the road in Indiana, he had two consecutive turnovers in the final 30 seconds that effectively handed the game to his former team. Facing elimination against Utah in 2018, the game that Westbrook chucked 44 shots, George was held to single digits. And don’t forget, he ceded the final blow to the Thunder’s existence when he gave Damian Lillard enough space to bang home an iconic series-clinching shot. He’s also twice requested a trade from solidly run franchises with fanbases who adored him.
Not everyone has the mental makeup of Kawhi (trade “request” in San Antonio understood), or the ultimate tip-top A+ superstar wattage, and that’s OK. But let’s also be eternally grateful that when the toughest parts of the season arrive, Kawhi is there to absorb the biggest blows.