In the 2017-18 season, Paul George will have a new home base for the first time in his NBA career. On Wednesday, he had a chance to set foot upon it for the very first time. He saw the weight room, the film room and the practice floor where he’ll pour in hours of work. Above all, he witnessed the embodiment of the Thunder’s renowned player’s-first environment first hand.
With his family and friends in tow, George took a tour of Oklahoma City in his first full day on the ground. He met with Thunder staffers, posed for photos and sat down for an interview with Thunder broadcaster Lesley McCaslin. He visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial in the morning before heading to the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center to check out all of the amenities the facility has to offer Thunder players. Now, with his feet on Oklahoma soil, he had a chance to reflect on the whirlwind of the past two weeks since word of the trade swept through NBA circles.
“I was surprised, but I was excited and I was thrilled to play alongside one of the best players in the league right now,” George said, referencing the NBA’s MVP, Russell Westbrook. “What I did know was how this fan base is excited and crazy about their basketball. I knew right away that I was going into a great situation. I was happy about that and looking forward to the journey.”
George was greeted by that fan base on Tuesday afternoon, despite the summer swelter. He had gotten wind from his traveling party that fans were going to rush out to Will Rogers World Airport to catch a glimpse of him before he embarked downtown to a hotel near Chesapeake Energy Arena. There was no way of knowing just how it would feel when he was embraced by the Thunder faithful.
“Coming off the airplane, the energy was surreal,” George recalled. “That part, they couldn’t have prepped me for that right there.”
Even before he touched down, George had a chance to take stock of the landscape in the final hour of the flight. He may be from southern California originally, but George’s favorite pastime with his father wasn’t catching waves or bustling through a metropolis. It was being out on the water in a boat, silently casting a line in hopes of a fish. What George saw as his plane descended into Oklahoma City was a welcome sight.
“I was a little kid flying in,” George said, before pointing left and right to describe what he saw. “A lake, a lake, a lake.”
“The only thing you’re focused on is a bite. That’s what I love most,” said George, explaining why he loves fishing. His description could have also served as a metaphor for NBA competition. “Some days, you go out there and you don’t catch anything. You don’t get a bite. That’s part of it. It’s just the joy of going out there and the calming of the water. Then you have good days where every cast is a fish. It’s just fun. I find real joy in it.”
On the court he’s filled the bucket more often than most. This past season, in 2016-17 with the Indiana Pacers, George compiled his best statistical year of his NBA life. He averaged 23.7 points on a career-best 46.1 percent shooting while draining 39.3 percent of his 3-pointers. George also reeled in 6.6 rebounds and tossed 3.3 assists per game this past year, which earned him his fourth All-Star appearance in five years. Needless to say, the 27-year-old is confident about his ability to be a star in Thunder blue, providing a precise, efficient scoring vehicle to pair alongside Westbrook.
“I feel good about my game. At this point in my career, I know who I am as a basketball player,” George said. “I know what level I can play at.”
“The best part about this whole thing is having another guy alongside me who is at that same level. I’ll give (Westbrook) the notch, since he won MVP. He’s a little ahead of me,” George chuckled, amending his preliminary statement with an asterisk. “But it’s great to have a like-minded counterpart to work with.”
George’s partnership with Westbrook will be a vital factor in this upcoming season, in which the Thunder will have a chance to challenge for one of the top spots in the Western Conference. How George meshes with the rest of the team – from stalwarts like Steven Adams and Andre Roberson to fellow newcomers Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton.
“We have a little bit of everything,” George said, before beginning a list of what he sees when he looks at the Thunder roster. “We have leadership. We have great veterans. We have the hard workers. We have talent. We have potential.”
The hallmark of this 2017-18 Thunder squad, under the tutelage of Billy Donovan, could be a versatile, physical defensive unit that can get out and score in bunches on the break. A three-time All-Defensive team selection, George knows that it’s a collective blue-collar mentality that is required to get the job done. He sees that in the Thunder and believes he’s a perfect match with that identity.
“Russ is the pulse of what this team is about. Really, the diving-on-the-floor guys, the taking charges guys, the hardest workers in the league,” George reviewed. “I fit right in. That’s something I pride myself on, doing whatever it takes.”