The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the midsts of a stressful playoff chase. As of April 5th, the Thunder sit at the sixth spot in the Western Conference and realistically need to win two games in order to clinch a spot in the postseason.
Oklahoma City has no one to blame but themselves for being in this position this late in the game. One thing that would help their chances dramatically would be Paul George returning to his pre-All-Star break shooting performance.
Prior to the unofficial mid-point of the NBA season, George was a walking inferno from beyond the arc, shooting near 42 percent from three. Since the break, George has struggled to find consistency since, shooting 29 percent from three, 37 percent overall from the floor.
Even George himself acknowledged this poor shooting after the Golden State loss on Tuesday night.
“Yeah. Gotta figure it out,” George said in the locker room after the loss. “There’s something mechanical in my shot. I’ve had struggles throughout the season in my career shooting it. I don’t know what it is it feels funny. Shooting the ball feels funny. I’m working with our trainers trying to figure that out. I don’t feel like myself shooting the ball right now.”
It has certainly looked that way from a results standpoint. Last Friday against the Miami Heat, George shot an abysmal 3-for-16 from the floor and only added 12 points to a Thunder win. He followed that up with a 4-for-15 performance against the Portland Trailblazers and a 5-for-19 outing against Golden State. All these games within the friendly confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
In the most critical hour of the year, George is struggling.
Head coach Billy Donovan’s stress level on George’s shooting is minimal to the outside observer. The usually stoic Donovan was candid in practice earlier today on George’s struggles.
“The biggest thing I try to encourage him on is getting back into rhythm,” Donovan said at practice. “The more you can generate game speed shots in practice, I think really helps you. I think sometimes when you get into a difficult shooting period, I think really moving, cutting, running off screens helps you.”
It’s certainly something George has taken to heart. During the brief media availability over the last week, George can be seen running shooting drills off of screens or rolling to the basket.
Donovan doesn’t believe there is something wrong with George’s shooting mechanics, but rather that it is connected to rhythm and confidence.
“No, not really, there’s nothing I’ve seen that makes me think his shot looks different to me,” Donovan said. “I feel like elite scorers, like Tiger Woods — no one knows his shot better than him — no one knows George’s shot like him. He’ll work his way at it and I’ll encourage it, but it just comes down to him putting himself in situations where he can expose it in practice and work on it.”
Considering the well-documented struggles of Carmelo Anthony and the emergence of Steven Adams as a viable offensive option to go along with Russell Westbrook’s MVP-level play, George’s efficiency would be a welcome site.
Simply put, if George finds his rhythm and confidence in his shooting, Oklahoma City could very well find themselves in a more comfortable spot in the standings. Not to mention a stronger optimism heading into the postseason.
They have a tall task Saturday on the road against the Houston Rockets. Donovan and company would love to see pre-All-Star break George make his triumphant return against the first seed in the West.