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Thunder bulk up their defense

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press via AP
Paul George, left, and Patrick Patterson are the newest additions to the Thunder lineup.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma City Thunder might have one of the NBA’s best defenses next season with the addition of Paul George and Patrick Patterson through free agency deals this past week. An improved defense that should help make a deeper run into the playoffs.

Sam Presti, OKC’s general manager, acquired George from the Indiana Pacers, in a surprise deal last Friday. Presti traded Victor Oladipo and Damontis Sabonis to the Pacers for George’s services, for at least one year. George, a four-time NBA All-Star, is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He is expected to earn about $19.5 million next season and did not want to sign with the Pacers for another season. A Palmdale California native who played two seasons at Fresno State in college has his sights set on playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

George’s signing and contract terms are forthcoming. The 6-9 small forward averaged 23.7 points last year for Indiana, including 6.6 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per outing.

Since Taj Gibson signed with Minnesota, it left a void in the Thunder lineup for a power forward. So, Presti went after unheralded Patrick Patterson, a 6-9 veteran of nine years, the last four in Toronto. He averaged 7.9 points and 4.7 rebounds last year for the Raptors while hitting 40 percent from the floor.

Jordan Heck of The Sporting News recently wrote that Presti “got a steal” for Patterson with a contract worth $16.4 million over three years, and a player option for the final year.

“The 28-year-old forward will help spread the floor as a 3-point shooting big (37 percent from last season),” Heck wrote. “He's not a versatile offensive player, but in this offense, he doesn't have to be. He provides OKC exactly what it needs, a player who can catch-and-shoot on the perimeter while reigning MVP Russell Westbrook operates the offense.”

Although his stats don’t reveal a strong defensive presence, Heck said Patterson and Steven Adams “can protect the rim while allowing other star players a reprieve on that side of the ball.”

Oklahoma City recently hosted Rudy Gay, a power forward Presti coveted, but nothing came from Gay’s visit to OKC last weekend.

“While Gay would have been better, Patterson is a solid consolation prize,” Heck said. “But as it stands now, the Thunder could make some noise in the West.”

Chris Barnewall, an NBA writer for CBS Sports, believes Patterson will be effective on defense and is a player who “doesn't need the ball in his hands.”

“This is perfect next to two ball-dominant players like George and Westbrook, and he’s not too bad at setting screens either,” Barnewall wrote. “The real win here, however, is on defense. Oklahoma City has long, athletic defenders that can do a lot of switching, which will make it tough for opponents get baskets.

“Patterson is a great fit in Oklahoma City thanks to what he can do on the defensive side of the ball and his ability to stretch out the floor will work well on a Thunder team that couldn’t do much shooting last season.”

The Thunder was dead last in 3-point shooting last year (32.6%) and 17th overall (45.1%) from the field. George will add some shooting prowess as he hit 46.1 percent from the field—39.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Ben Golliver, an NBA scribe for Sports Illustrated, gives the trade for George an A-.

“George fills multiple major needs for the Thunder,” he wrote. “He’s a secondary scorer who will alleviate Westbrook’s unsustainably high workload. He is a quality, versatile defender who can credibly check elite wings like Durant and Kawhi Leonard in possible postseason match-ups. And he is a signal to Westbrook that the Thunder are serious about building a winner around him rather than merely riding his coattails to exciting but empty regular-season success.”

Golliver believes OKC can enter next season with the hopes of winning at least one playoff series and possibly reach the Western Conference finals.

“That was never going to be possible with Oladipo and Sabonis,” he opined.

Scott Rafferty, an NBA contributing writer for The Sporting News, believes George could be a long-term player for the Thunder.

“A successful season with the Thunder could convince him to stay in Oklahoma City long-term, but he can’t sign an extension until January at the earliest,” Rafferty said.

“Put that all together, and the Thunder have a lot riding on how Westbrook and George will fit together next season. Fail to mesh, and George will likely leave them a year from now for absolutely nothing. Become one of the best 1-2 punches in the league, however, and the Thunder could be on their way to building a Western Conference powerhouse once again.”

Rafferty said that George shouldn’t have any problems playing alongside Westbrook and that George will make the Thunder’s good defense much better.

“He has all the tools to be a glorified 3-and-D wing in today’s NBA, which makes him an ideal candidate to play with someone who led the league in usage rating last season.

“Andre Roberson proved to be an elite wing defender in the NBA last season, and George has long been dominant in that regard. They can both match up with the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Harden in the playoffs and switch onto bigger or smaller players in a pinch, which gives the Thunder the type of two-headed monster in the backcourt they need to make a deep playoff run.”

“Seeing as the Thunder were among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league last season, George will space the floor for Westbrook in ways Oladipo and Sabonis couldn’t with consistency. His ability to hit 45.3 percent of his midrange pull-ups also means defenders can’t simply run him off the line on closeouts, and he’ll prevent teams from loading up on Westbrook in the half court as one of the best shooters off screens in the league. Doing so should help Westbrook be a much more efficient scorer and playmaker across the board.

“We already know how good the Thunder were when Westbrook and Durant were on the same team, and George is similar to Durant in many ways as a knockdown shooter who is a terrifying option as a secondary ball handler. George is obviously nowhere near as good as Durant in totality, but his game might make him a more natural fit with Westbrook.”

Roberson re-signs

Andre Roberson has agreed to a three-year, $30 million deal Wednesday to remain with the Thunder. The 6-7 forward is known for his defensive performances by averaging 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game while starting all 79 contests last year. Roberson is expected to slide over to the shooting guard slot next season.

“He’s developed into an excellent role player for the Thunder,” tweeted ESPN’s Adam Wojnarowski.

“(Robertson) and Paul George will now be arguably the best wing defensive pair in the NBA,” wrote Austin Sternlicht of Thunderousintentions.com. “On offense, it will be up to the coaching staff to make sure that he is being used effectively, and not just being parked in the corner. Roberson is at his best when cutting and on transition.

“Even if Roberson can’t improve on offense, his defense will be more than worth his new deal. Plus, Roberson’s offense will be less exploited with the additions of Paul George and Patrick Patterson. This signing looks great now, and could look even better a year or two from now.”

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Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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