Blogtable: Will Oklahoma City Thunder be significantly better next season?
Each week, we ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder made a big splash by trading for Paul George. Are you convinced OKC will be significantly better next season?
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Steve Aschburner: I’ll skip any quibbling over what we mean by “significant” and just say yes. For this season, sure, adding a Paul George who’s ready for his close-up is a big, impact-y move because he’ll be eager to show how well he can play with his MVP peer Russell Westbrook and because he’ll have a brighter spotlight on him than he ever did in Indy. Also, the players the Thunder gave up won’t nag at that team in their absence — George covers whatever Victor Oladipo did and Domantas Sabonis wasn’t ready to change the front line’s dynamic in a pace-and-space league. I’d still rather see George with the Lakers right now, rather than having player and team moon over each other from afar for a year. But this will be entertaining, and OKC should see a nice bump in victories.
Fran Blinebury: You have to define significantly better. The combination of Russell Westbrook and Paul George does not let OKC crack top three in West of Golden State, San Antonio, Houston. I can see them going from last year’s 47 wins to the 50-51 range that puts them in the 4-5 holes that were occupied by the Clippers and Jazz. Where the effect could be felt is in the playoffs were the new 1-2 punch makes them a much tougher out.
Scott Howard-Cooper: The Thunder will be better. It’s tough to attach a subjective term because improving by, say, five games, could be considered significant to some but not to others. But reaching the 50s in wins and at the very least playing a competitive first-round series after a 4-1 elimination last time, maybe even winning, would be a step forward. All of which sets OKC up for the truly significant moment: Paul George’s decision.
Shaun Powell: I think we should define “significantly” first. Will they have a cleaner look and an additional weapon besides Westbrook? Or course. Will this put them in the mix with the Spurs and Rockets? Perhaps. Do they have a shot at the Warriors? (Cue the James Harden side-eye video clip.)
John Schuhmann: They will be better, and it’s not just about Paul George, because Patrick Patterson is another addition that can make an impact on both ends of the floor. With the two teams in front of them in the ’16-17 standings — the LA Clippers and Utah Jazz — both losing their best players this summer, the Thunder can move up in the standings. But it remains to be seen if OKC can climb into Tier 2 (Houston and San Antonio) in the West. Even with the additions of George and Patterson, their ability to improve on offense (where they were below average last season) will depend on Russell Westbrook’s willingness to cede some of the playmaking burden.
Sekou Smith: If by “significantly” you mean better than the sixth seed in a rugged Western Conference, I believe that to be a reasonable expectation. The addition of Paul George (and some of the other moves Thunder GM Sam Presti has made this summer) put reigning Kia MVP Russell Westbrook in a position to have much more fuel in his tank heading into a postseason. I don’t care that acquiring George could amount to nothing more than a one-season rental — I love that Presti made his play and snagged him before someone else did. It sends a strong message around the league about the way the franchise is approaching things going forward.
Ian Thomsen: They are significantly better, as are the Rockets. But neither team has enough firepower to knock off the Warriors (and maybe not the Spurs either). What OKC has done is to create an opportunity to take advantage if Golden State is weakened by injuries or other issues next year. As always, the question for the Thunder is whether the stars can share the ball, elevate their teammates and get away from the isolation offense that isn’t likely to hold up against the ball movement of Golden State (or San Antonio, if the Spurs are healthy).
Lang Whitaker: Yes. And it’s not only because of George, although to me George gets underrated a bit. His Indiana Pacers teams may not have been wildly successful the last few seasons, but at his best PG-13 is an elite two-way wing player, able to score, create and defend at a level few of his peers can reach. I also love the Thunder adding Patrick Patterson, who will provide an ability to stretch the floor that Sabonis never possessed and will help make up for Andre Roberson’s inability to shoot. I also like the signing of Raymond Felton as a solid veteran backup. The Thunder last season were held together mostly by Russell Westbrook’s attitude and grit. This season, he will have some much-needed help.