OKC Thunder: Paul George undergoes second shoulder procedure of offseason

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, left, walks off the court after losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Tuesday, April 23, 2019, in Portland, Ore. The Trail Blazers won 118-115. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Let’s see.

Billy Donovan:

Is he even allowed to coach Russell Westbrook?

Russell Westbrook:

Can he not only play hard and with passion, but responsibly, too?

Terrance Ferguson:

Can he become the offensive player he offered during one glorious mid-season run all or most of the time?

Dennis Schroder:

Can he not play so hot and cold?

Patrick Patterson:

Can he ever be a consistent shooter and keep himself on the court?

Andre Roberson:

Can he get back on the court?

So many questions — so many unknown answers — may be leveled against Thunder personnel.

One, though, may be immune.

Paul George.

Had he no media contact since Oklahoma City was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Portland Trail Blazers, his consistency could be seriously questioned.

Into to the All-Star break, George averaged 28.7 points, shot 45.3 percent and 40.5 percent from 3-point land. He grabbed 8 rebounds and nabbed 2.3 steals per game. And in the middle 40 games of the Thunder’s 82 game season, the numbers were still better: 31.2 points, 46.2 percent shooting, 41.8 percent 3-point shooting, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals.

It's what had fans chanting “M-V-P, M-V-P.”

However, post-All Star break, George was not the same, averaging 26.4 points, shooting 40 percent and 33.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Though his rebounds were up, to 8.6, his steals were down to an even 2 per game.

Along the way, George made no excuses. It turned out he had a great one, though. He never couched it as an excuse, but it was eye-opening information just the same.

Both his shoulders were in seriously rough shape, each suffering partially torn tendons and each requiring offseason surgery, one having already taken place.

George was asked if it affected his game, even the team’s game.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said, before slightly changing course. “Fact of the matter is, injuries are a part of the game. It’s what goes on during the game. I don’t got no excuses for it. I mean, I was out there and I was able to compete. You know, I was limited … but it didn’t stop me from competing.”

It didn’t, but it played a role in the general ineffectiveness of the Thunder, who went 7-13 coming out of the All-Star break before running off five straight wins to finish the regular season.

Nobody may want to claim George’s injury as the Thunder’s biggest issue, George included, yet it may well have been.

A moment after mentioning the injuries he played through, George tried to address OKC’s early playoff exit.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around that, on what’s the next step, on what’s the next step, the next phase for this group going forward,” he said. “So you know, that’s something we’re all trying to work on internally, figure out like what we can do, because this is a team that can go far.”

It should be refreshing George feels that way. After all, he's the player who shocked the world by choosing to sign long term with Oklahoma City. That he’s not disheartened by a fairly disheartening season is meaningful.

“One of the closest teams I’ve been a part of, still,” he said. “It’s just a real brotherhood, where you enjoy going out with those guys. I think that’s a big part of it. I think that’s a big positive going forward for this group, how close-knitted we are.”

If there’s one thing the Thunder appear to need next season, it’s a healthy George. Because when he was at his best, so were the Thunder.

That may have been in Games 45 through 56, when the Thunder won 10 of 11, scored at least 117 points in every game, with George averaging 36 points, while shooting 49.2 percent overall and 49.3 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

“Paul did an amazing job,” Russell Westbrook said.

As long as he was healthy, that’s pretty much right.

The Thunder have plenty of issues, but Paul George isn’t one of them.

Editor's note: Horning is senior sports writer for The Norman Transcript. This is the third of a 13-part series evaluating Thunder personnel under contract heading into the 2019-20 season. Next: Steven Adams, May 21.

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