OKLAHOMA CITY — Paul George’s injured shoulder not only hampered his play but the destiny of the Oklahoma City Thunder. No doubt, OKC could have used “MVPG” in the postseason.
“We’ll approach it,” George said following Game 5. “We’ll address it this summer. Coming back next season healthy. That’s the plan, get as healthy as possible going into next year.”
George originally hurt his right shoulder following a 121-112 loss on the road to the Denver Nuggets on February 26th. Following the loss, George sat out the next three games — Thunder went 1-2 — until returning March 5th on the road against Minnesota.
Prior to the shoulder injury, George was shooting 45 percent from the field, 40 percent from three (10 attempts a game) with an effective field goal percentage of 53. Once he returned, George’s numbers dropped to a more-mortal 40 percent from the floor, 35 percent (10 attempts) from deep and an effective field goal percentage of 49.
After hitting a three with seconds remaining to defeat the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, April 9th, George sat the final regular season game the following night in Milwaukee to rest his injured shoulder.
George would later reveal that Game 1 the following Sunday was the first time he had shot a basketball since the Houston win.
“For me, it’s just rhythm,” George said after their Game 1 loss. “Four days ago I couldn’t even lift my shoulder. Fast forward to today [April 14th], it’s the first day I shot the ball. Tomorrow I’ll get shots up, get back in tune. We’ll try and get the same looks that we got tonight.”
George never got it going in the series until the final game where he shot 14-of-20 and led the Thunder with 36 points. He shot 44 percent from the floor, 32 percent on an abysmal nine attempts a game in the postseason.
“I’m pretty much pain free,” George added after Game 1. “I’m good. Throughout the game all it takes it one hit and it gets sore, but if I don’t get hit in that spot then we’re good.”
The Thunder’s Most Valuable Player candidate never regained the level of play he enjoyed prior to the All-Star break. As a result, Oklahoma City stumbled into the postseason and were unable to overcome a Damian Lillard onslaught.
The Plan Moving Forward
Oklahoma City will need two things to happen: Get George healthy and find ways to ease his burden on defense.
Health is paramount. This is a franchise that has seen Russell Westbrook endure multiple knee scope procedures in the offseason. Westbrook was unable to have a full preseason in both years. This forced him to regain his conditioning during the regular season. OKC cannot afford that with George, who has become the Thunder’s primary scorer.
If Oklahoma City is going to avoid another season where a pivotal player’s injury derails their season — Andre Roberson in 2017-18 — they have to ease the burden of George.
George’s greatness on defense is his ability to guard multiple positions and create havoc in passing lanes by breaking through screens by, you know… leading with his shoulder.
No doubt, Sam Presti will bring up George’s injury as one of the reasons for the Thunder’s collapse — he did last year with Roberson.
But to use George’s injury as a what if scenario avoids the issue. George got hurt doing what he does best. If you don’t want your best player hurt, guys like Westbrook or Terrance Ferguson have to pick up the slack in that department. Schemes have to be implemented that doesn’t involve George being asked to blitz up the A-gap every play like a middle linebacker on defense.
Whatever moves Presti makes this offseason should and must address that issue. OKC has been far too reliant on one or two guys to do too much in a team sport. It has now bitten them more times than Thunder fans care to remember.