After an up and down first season with the Thunder that was punctuated by an early playoff exit at the hands of the upstart Jazz, Paul George is playing the best basketball of his career in 2018.
He’s posting career highs all across the board, and the result for OKC has been a blistering 17-9 start that has them just a half game out of the top spot in the Western Conference, the pinnacle of which was a 47-point explosion (including 25 in the fourth) and game-winner against the Nets earlier this month.
You could spend a lot of time parsing out just how the Thunder have tapped into George’s seemingly limitless talent reserves, and you’d be justified to point toward Russell Westbrook’s willingness to defer more often — his usage is down while George’s is up this season — but that might be an oversimplification.
If you ask George or head coach Billy Donovan, it’s all about playing a more organic brand of basketball instead of trying to force the issue. That came at the request of George, who reportedly went to Donovan last season and asked him to stop running plays for him. Via Royce Young of ESPN:
“I’ve always been a guy to just let the game come to me. Just play the game,” George said. “If it’s a shot for me, if I can make a play, create for someone else, I’ll do that. A lot of times you run a play, everybody’s watching, everybody’s locked in, everybody’s pulling over and it just makes the game tougher for me.
“I like it when I can kind of manipulate and be on attack mode where they don’t know what to do, as opposed to a play other teams [can] scout.”
It would be easy to point the finger at Carmelo Anthony, who has become the popular culprit for everything that’s ailed his last two teams, but the truth is more closely aligned to the way George has described it. He never quite looked comfortable in OKC’s schemes last season, but a more free-flowing offense that allows him to create and use his creativity as a scorer and playmaker is paying major dividends. Whether that trends continues is a question for next spring.