OKC Thunder: Paul George crossing threshold to superstardom

(Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Paul George has always been a star, but in his second season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’s become a superstar and an MVP candidate.

When Paul George was drafted by the Indiana Pacers out of Fresno State University in 2010, the NBA world knew he had potential. Not only was his offensive game potent, but he could put you on clamps too. In fact, he was well on his way to becoming one of the best two-way players in the league.

George emerged as the best player on the Pacers by his third year, surpassing his teammate at the time, Danny Granger, who was battling injuries.

He was a rising star. A star that began to shine when he went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the “Heatles” in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.

It was his coming out party, and the Miami Heat were on his VIP list.

He averaged 19.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game and extended the series to seven games, going for 28 points, eight boards, five assists and three steals in Game 6. Although he struggled in that Game 7 and Indiana came up short, George had put the NBA on notice headed into the off season.

But in August of 2014, when the All-Star broke his right leg during a scrimmage with Team USA, it left many NBA fans, coaches, players and everyone else asking this question: “Will Paul George ever come back the same? If at all?”

PG returned to the court just eight months later for the last six games of the 2014-15 regular season, way earlier than people expected when his injury first happened. Indiana went 5-1 in those games. The team, however, finished with a 38-44 record and missed the playoffs.

George came back with a vengeance the next two years. He played all 81 games in the 2015-16 season and 75 games in the 2016-17 season. He also averaged 23.4 points per game in those two seasons.

Fast forward to the 2018-19 season.

He may be with the Oklahoma City Thunder now, but the answer to the question of whether Paul George would ever return to form is obvious: Yes, and then some.

George has returned to peak form, but this time, he’s two times the ballplayer he once was. In fact, he’s crossed into the territory of a bona fide superstar.

The man is flat-out balling.

He’s averaging career-highs in almost every category with the Thunder this year, posting 28 points, 7.9 boards, 4.0 dimes and 2.3 steals per game on 45 percent shooting. His 3-point percentage is up too (40.8 percent), which is better than the 38 percent he shoots for his career.

At age 28, George is putting up these numbers despite having dynamic All-Star point guard and former MVP Russell Westbrook on his team — a player who likes to dominate the ball and take lots of shots at times.

The California native seems like he’s fitting in seamlessly with Westbrook though — better than most expected. He received a lot of pushback after deciding to sign a four-year, $137 million max deal with OKC instead of signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Many critics felt if Kevin Durant, arguably the second-best player in the NBA, couldn’t win with Westbrook, then surely George couldn’t because he’s not on Durant’s level.

Well, the Thunder are one of the top three teams in the Western Conference with PG leading the way. He’s the only player in franchise history to score 35 points in five straight games. PG has 13 35-point games this season, tied with Stephen Curry for the second-most in the NBA. He’s also played himself into the MVP conversation with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard.

In his last 10 games, he’s averaging 34.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 47.7 percent shooting. The Thunder are 9-1 in that span.

PG-13 has become a true superstar player, though there are still questions about his ability to take a team to the promised land. In order for him to emerge, he must rise to the occasion in big moments — particularly in the playoffs — and help lead the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals as the best player on the team.

A first round exit against the Utah Jazz in last year’s playoffs left a bad taste in the mouths of many analysts and sportswriters. George had just five points on 2-of-16 shooting in the final Game 6, going 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

Next. Winners and losers of the 2019 NBA Trade Deadline. dark

But it’s a new year, and this season could be the year he finally makes the leap to being recognized as a true NBA superstar.