The mightiest beast sits atop the Western throne, an already historical force who only grew in strength and title glory with the signing of Kevin Durant. Yes, I’m talking about the Golden State Warriors. But the quest for Western supremacy remains a battle, perhaps more so, as other teams attempt to claim the top spot that many assume belongs to one team.
Chris Paul flocked to James Harden and the Houston Rockets with playoff success on his mind. That pairing could become a devastating offensive factor. In spite of a quiet offseason, the San Antonio Spurs remain a massive threat to conquer the conference. They will be hungry following the hand they were dealt last season in the form of a Kawhi Leonard injury.
It doesn’t end there. Paul George joined the conference after Oklahoma City shocked the NBA with an admirably excellent move. Jimmy Butler all of a sudden has the Minnesota Timberwolves appearing to be a quality squad. With new stars entering the conference and every team circling the Warriors on its schedule, the West will provide fascinating drama all season.
Let’s break it down with takes from Tyler Birss and Mike Cortez of H&H.
How will the Russell Westbrook/Paul George partnership go and will either still be in OKC after their one season together?
I anticipate the Thunder cracking the top four in the West as a direct result of this pairing. The 50-55 win range seems obtainable considering OKC totaled 47 wins last year on virtually Russell Westbrook’s will power alone. The beauty of the Paul George addition can only be appreciated after putting forth an accurate description of how Westbrook plays and how OKC’s recent season went – Westbrook plays like a fighter who runs into conflict and mayhem even when he’s significantly outnumbered rather than running away.
He will eventually lose, without question, but the flesh and blood of the opposition will be made his before he is ultimately eliminated. Those opponents who crossed his path will know he was there, and they will respect his tenacity even as their edge in numbers takes away his chances. They will beat him due to their strength in numbers advantage, but they will not break him.
Overly poetic or unnecessarily violent description? Maybe. Here’s my point – Westbrook now has another guy to go into the trenches with, and he’s not just another guy. He’s a two-way playing superstar who has his own signature shoe deal with Nike. With George, the fights Westbrook walks into will now present a greater chance of the Thunder exiting with a victory.
I by no means am attempting to disrespect Westbrook’s Thunder teammates, all professionals worthy of respect, when saying that the MVP was largely alone last season. When accounting for the talent difference between Westbrook and those he played with, he was basically on an island.
He is no longer alone. Paul George is not Kevin Durant. In fact, he’s nowhere near close to Durant. But he sure is significantly closer than most NBA players. Translation – the Thunder won’t be the squad they were during Durant’s OKC era, but they have gone from a hopeless contender (last year) to a hopeful contender (this year).
Last year was hopeless since a one-man show, no matter how excellent the man is, has no chance of playoff success. With a second superstar in the fold, the Thunder now have the opportunity to compete on a meaningful level. They can win a playoff round and compete in the next. Considering the rebuild and fall off that could have transpired after KD’s exit, that’s a remarkable job of maintaining stability by OKC management. Furthermore, when the juicy Warriors and Thunder matchups occur, OKC now has a world class defender to face off with Durant.
That all answers how the Westbrook/George pairing will go. I see them being successful on the court, winning 50-55 games, and losing as a 4-seed in the second round to the Warriors. All steps up from a season ago. Beyond that, I see Westbrook staying in OKC long-term while George darts elsewhere. There’s been such an overload of noise behind George ending up on the Los Angeles Lakers, and ultimately, I see that occurring. I don’t see George’s desire to play for a big market and his hometown team being outweighed by a moderately successful one-year run with the Thunder.
On the flip side, Westbrook’s legend grows with each OKC bucket that occurs in the post-Durant era, meaning his long-term stay with the Thunder seems like a much greater possibility.
I think we’ve already seen a much better iteration of this duo. Paul George is a top tier wing, but compared to Kevin Durant he is still a lesser dancing partner for Russell Westbrook. It just would not make a whole lot of sense that Westbrook would mesh with George any better than he already meshed with Durant. George and Durant have similar games, just that Durant is clearly the superior talent.
Having said that OKC should snag a top four seed in the loaded Western Conference. Last season we saw Westbrook have to exert a tremendous amount of energy every night just to keep the Thunder in games. You slot George alongside Russ and things can revert back to the way they were when KD was in town. In transition they will be electric and hopefully bring back a fraction of the excitement LeBron James and Dwyane Wade possessed in the open floor. In the half court George can get any shot he wants which will come in handy late in the year, and especially in the playoffs.
As for the length of this partnership I can easily see it being more of a trial run than a one year fling. George is already set to hit free agency next July and Westbrook can join him by opting out of his current deal at the end of the season. A fat extension is sitting in front of Russ right now and he has yet to sign. We saw John Wall do the same thing before ultimately signing, but this is a completely different situation.
Both George and Westbrook are LA guys. The Lakers are finally rising from the ashes of the Jimmy Buss regime. Magic Johnson is once again running the show. They just drafted a point guard in Lonzo Ball who loves to pass and LeBron is watching from Cleveland.
The thought of forming such a super team sounds ludicrous at first. But remember we are in a Warriors world where no one seems capable of stopping one. Russ has an axe to grind as does LeBron. The revenge factor alone instantly makes this the best rivalry in basketball if it happens. In the meantime Russ and PG-13 can figure out how to thrive alongside each other.