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The Advantageous Chemistry Between Russell Westbrook And Paul George

Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

Despite Russell Westbrook’s poor shooting, the franchise guard and Paul George have been one of the league’s most potent duos.

At 25-14, the Oklahoma City Thunder currently hold one of the NBA’s best records. Their success can mainly be attributed to the superstar duo of Russell Westbrook and Paul George, who are combining for almost 48 points per game. However, with George now leading the team in scoring and Westbrook shooting extremely inefficiently this season, how have these two ultra-competitors established a symbiotic relationship while maintaining a team-first mentality?

Despite the team’s solid play up to this point, it can be said that Russell Westbrook is having a disappointing season for his standards. After missing eight of the team’s first 15 games with an ankle injury, the 30-year-old guard has had some of the worst shooting marks in his career. Westbrook is averaging the fewest points per game (21.1), having his worst three-point shooting (23%) season since his sophomore year, and holds his worst overall field goal percentage (42%) since his rookie season. 

With that being said, Westbrook has still figured out how to contribute to winning basketball through his adept passing and ball-hawking abilities. The former league MVP is currently leading the NBA in assists per game with 10, and is quietly, yet again, averaging a triple-double this season. Further, Westbrook has upped his intensity on the defensive end of the floor, and is currently leading the NBA in deflections (3.8) and steals (2.7) per game.


After receiving a max contract extension from the Thunder this summer, Paul George has more than proved that he’s worth it. Now in his second season with Oklahoma City, George is averaging a career-high of 27 points per game on 45% shooting, the highest mark since his rookie season. Also, George is making 38% of his three-point attempts and is averaging about 1.5 offensive rebounds per game, the latter of which has contributed to the Thunder’s league-leading 12.7 offensive rebounds per game. 


George has proven his value this season on the defensive end of the floor as well. The Thunder’s star forward is averaging a career-high 6.6 defensive rebounds per game, proving his ability to secure defensive stops after a missed shot. Like Westbrook, George is averaging more than two steals per game to go with 3.5 deflections per game, the latter of which is good for fourth-most in the NBA. Not only has George created these turnovers for his offense, but he’s been extremely hungry for 50/50 balls as well, as he’s leading the league in loose balls recovered per game with 2.4.

As you might be able to tell, there’s a trend going on between these two - especially on the defensive end. George and Westbrook are combining for 7.3 deflections per game, which is only 0.2 fewer per game than the worst ball-deflecting team in the NBA, the Los Angeles Clippers. As a result, the Thunder have created a ton of chances off of the ball-knacking capabilities of Westbrook and George, and currently lead the NBA in steals, deflections, and loose balls recovered per game.

On the offensive end of the floor, Westbrook and George trust each other more than any of their other teammates. More than half of Westbrook’s passes (55%) go to either George or big man Steven Adams, with George receiving almost a third of his passes. Similarly, 30% of George’s passes go to Westbrook, showing that while George may have established himself as the team’s primary scoring option, both players count on the other to make plays for the team as a whole.


                                                                                                                                                      

While the NBA season is certainly in full swing, it is only about halfway through, giving Westbrook a solid amount of time to improve either his shot selection or shot-making ability. If he does, at least to some extent, the Thunder could quickly establish themselves as one of the best teams in the league with a 1-2 punch similar to Houston’s last season with James Harden and Chris Paul. And considering that the Rockets were a historically bad shooting streak away from dethroning Golden State, Oklahoma City should not be taken lightly.

What makes this superstar duo unique, however, is their unheralded competitiveness at the defensive end of the floor. With the exception of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and a few others, we rarely see dynamic playmakers like these together on a team who are both defending at a high level, as they generally reserve their talents for creating offense. With two exceptional two-way stars on the roster, the Thunder should be a team to look out for come playoff time.


Edited by Joe Sparacio, Brian Kang.

SQuiz
When Russell Westbrook won the MVP award for the 2016-17 season, how many three-pointers did he take per game?
Created 1/8/19
  1. 4.5
  2. 5.8
  3. 6.3
  4. 7.2

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