“I’m a Thunder. My job is to make this team as good as possible, elevate this team as much as possible. Whatever I can do I will do, and that’s whether I’m on the court or off the court.” – Paul George
Just two practices into U.S. Cellular Thunder Training Camp, and incoming veterans like Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton are already taking ownership of their roles on the team. Whether it’s working with younger players off to the side like George and Anthony did with Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson, and Felton did with Semaj Christon today, or putting everything into building chemistry and continuity right away, the Thunder’s new All-Star talents are working in concert with the team’s leader, Russell Westbrook.
“Really what this has been about is getting familiarized with one another, putting structure into the team, with offense and with defense. And then it was just building chemistry,” George said.
“Russ has opened his arms completely to where myself and Melo feel very comfortable,” George continued. “It’s not our job to try to outshine one another. If we’re gonna do this thing, we got to do it together.”
That type of welcome onto the club has been freeing for George to be himself and embrace what makes him special – the fact that he’s an athletic phenomenon that on any given night can lock down a 25-point scorer and still go get 25 points for his team on the other end of the floor. Being a two-way stud is what George hopes to be for this team all season, filling in the gaps of what the team needs.
“I take ownership in that,” George explained. “I want to have the most complete game. It’s fun to me. It’s a joy to me. It’s not additional pressure to score and having to guard the best scorer. It’s not additional pressure. I’ll sign up for that role any day, every day.”
His abilities will fit right in with the group, and he likes what he sees from his teammates so far. In fact, he had a one-word review for what this Thunder team’s identity looks like thus far.
“Energetic, energetic, energetic,” George repeated. “That’s the one word I can say about how we’ve played and how we’ve looked the past two days. It’s been a very energetic, fast-paced, fun-watching team right now.”
Camp Talk: Paul George – 9/27
– All season long it will be a balancing act to find the right player combinations and rotations that make the most sense for all of the players on the court. With Westbrook, George, Anthony and the rest of the Thunder’s rotation players all having unique skill sets and playing situations that they’re accustomed to, it’ll be up to Donovan to make it all mesh together. Fortunately, he has the support of his stars, including George. Ideally, at least one, if not two, of the Thunder’s three All-Stars could be on the floor at all times for the entire 48 minutes.
- “That’s for coach to tinker with,” George said of the rotations. “I told him I’m fine with anything. I trust coach 100 percent, whatever he goes with. He definitely wants the voice of the players and wants the guys to be comfortable with what he’s doing.”
– Oklahoma City’s fans and the people around town rolled the red carpet out for George when he was first traded to the Thunder, and that love hasn’t dissipated over the intervening two to three months. Over the past couple weeks, George has had a chance to spend more time in his new home and he’s still beaming.
- “Unbelievable people. Unbelievable as far as the fan support. Just being out downtown and being out in the city in general. The love here and the excitement, I haven’t felt this, honestly… I can’t wait to start and really come out and perform in front of this community.”
– Two All-Defensive wings on the same team, on the floor at the same time? That sounds tough to score on. That’s the plan at least for George and Andre Roberson, who figure to tag team on the perimeter when guarding the opposition’s best scorers. On Wednesday a reporter asked whether George and Roberson were going to duke it out to see who gets to take on the challenge. George bantered right back, evoking a Remember The Titans-esque “Left Side, Strong Side” arrangement.
- “Andre is just as good of a defender as I am. We’ll guard sides. That’s what we’ll do,” George chuckled. “’Andre you got the left side of the court, I got the right side of the court.’ That’s how we’ll play defense.”
Camp Talk: Coach Donovan – 9/27
– All the sudden, thanks to a pair of offseason trades, rookie center Dakari Johnson may find himself in line for potential minutes at the center spot if Donovan and his staff elect to go big or the opposition’s matchups dictate it. Steven Adams is obviously the starter at center while Patrick Patterson, Nick Collison and even Jerami Grant can slide in and play that role. Still, Johnson will be a player to watch out for this year.
- “He’s done a great job I think physically of taking care of his body, getting himself trimmer, moving better, running the floor better,” Donovan said. “The best part about Dakari is he’s an unselfish player. He’s got really good hands. He’s a good passer, and again, I think playing against Steven, working with Steven, and Steven’s time with him makes him better.”
– Donovan was also asked about forward Rashawn Thomas, a training camp invitee who played for the Thunder’s Summer League team down in Orlando back in July. He also happens to be an Oklahoma City kid, formerly a standout at Southeast High School. He’s a big, physical presence whose athleticism and motor was on display earlier this offseason.
- “He’s doing great. He’s playing hard, he’s a competitive guy. He brings a lot of energy and intensity,” Donovan said. “He’s going through an adjustment being a younger guy and going through this for the first time, trying to learn and play and compete … I’ve enjoyed being around him just because of his competitive spirit.”
Thunder Minute: Training Camp – 9/27